“You will seek me and find me, where you seek me with all your heart.”
- Jeremiah 29: 13
“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? Is it higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you do? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.”
- Job 10: 7-9
Today is the State of Union and, by every measure, our sense of union across difference, politics, and even faith traditions, is under more extraordinary pressure than in recent memory. We find ourselves evaluating the national and even humanitarian “State of the Union” in terms that are anything but ordinary. It does make me ask myself if there is really greater disunion or if we are conditioned by our media outlets of choice (on either end) to look for and observe (celebrate?) discord more than the love that still unites people across difference in ever more extraordinary ways? Just a thought…
Lucky for us, we are facing these extraordinary times with the safety and security of a Christian faith tradition grounded first and foremost in the idea of eternal hope—both for this Realm and the next. We are, if we do Christianity right, embedded in a culture and even a Savior of hope. Moreover, somewhat ironically, this liturgical season between Epiphany (anything but normal) and Lent (certainly strange) is actually a short month of “Ordinary Time” in the midst of liturgical seasons of great instability. This is, whatever truth we find in it, technically Ordinary Time in the Church Year.
As we all grapple to find and remember our collective Baptismal Call to Hope and to seeking God in all things and in every time, I would like to invite you to join me in a new practice. Our Baptisms call us to look forward in hope to a better day rather than backwards towards how it was before our current perceived state of disunion. Hear me on this: Things will never again be the way they were before or how they were when you were a kid, so our greatest hope lies in God and in uncovering the immense potential of a New Ordinary Time. Hope isn’t a thing of the past. Hope is the way of seeing the gifts of now. It is trusting that God can make good come from even the worst imaginable and then acting and working to do our part to make that envisioned future of union possible… come tomorrow or come three lifetimes from now.
Here is a short tale I want to tell from my Canadian history that is a small floral example of what I mean. All of our families bring stories with them from the places we were before. My maternal family happens to be Canadian and has a trove of stories similar to but nuanced from our American narratives. Here is one of my favorites that, while simple, always gives me hope in the face of global disunion:
If you ever visit the stately Canadian Capitol City of Ottawa, you will be surrounded by a deep sense of history, civic pride, and beautiful grounds. If you visit in the winter, you will see that the canals throughout the city are used as linear ice rinks to form a public transit infrastructure for ice-skater commuting to class or to work. It gives being late for work and speed skating practice a nice overlap! If you visit in the early summer, when the canals are melted and form more of a calming backdrop, you will be surrounded by the largest tulip gardens in the world. Tulips, tulips everywhere in every color! It is like Pella or Orange City, Iowa or Holland, Michigan multiplied by the tens of thousands. “Where did these Tulips come from,” you may well wonder, “and why Ottawa?”
As the story goes, on May 12, 1940, when the tulips were still blooming, the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands boarded a ship for Ottawa for safe keeping during the ravages of World War II. In Canada, she met an unmatched sense of hospitality, care, and true national mutuality. The Canadian government even went to the lengths to declare the hospital room where Queen Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet to be official Dutch Territory so as to make the birth completely Dutch.
In 1945, when she finally got home, Queen Juliana sent 100,000 bulbs to the City of Ottawa and then another 20,000 plus bulbs to the hospital that had shown such understanding and went to such lengths during the birth of Margriet. Every year, for the rest of her life, Queen Juliana sent tulip bulbs over the North Atlantic to the Ottawa as a sign of union and connection. That is the story, as I have heard it, of the Tulips of Ottawa.
Why does that matter today? The New Ordinary, after a time of great darkness and international disunion like we have never seen before in history, still has signs of flowers, or relationship, and of hope. The uncertainty and disunion in the world today cannot even begin to be measured against 1940, but still the sense of despondence and pessimism, particularly in the Mainline Progressive Church, is concerning. We cannot start over from 1957.* We can only start over in hope from today.
This is our New Ordinary Time with which we have to work and create anew. At the end of WWII, the people of the Netherlands and Canada couldn’t wish away the pain and the loss, but they could see what God was leading them to in a “new ordinary” with new potential for good, for connection, and for tulips.
This spring and summer in Ottawa Canada, and probably forever into the future even after the origin story is forgotten by human memory, tulips will bloom along the canals and in the parks and every public place.
The Realm with which we have to work and within which we are called by our Baptisms to plant bulbs of hope will never again be 1957, 1992, 2007, or even yesterday. The only place where we can plant flowers of union, is today. It is your Baptismal Covenant to look for any ground that might be ready for flowers of union between people even in unexpected times.
In Hope and Tulips,
*1957 is the date of creation of the United Church of Christ
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.