Picking Out A Frame
Scripture, History and the Present Moment
by Ken Rummer
The canvas before us looks to be from a surrealist artist.
In the center, a figure in a beaked plague mask rides a green horse. To one side, bed-sheet banners with the message “No Job, No Rent” hang from apartment windows. To the other side, shirts on marching protesters bear the inscription “BLM.” And scattered through the scene are darkened churches painted upside down.
What frame goes with a picture like that?
Classic black with a simple profile? Elaborate gold over faux carving? Industrial chic with applied metal gears and a bit of rust?
I see pastors and church leaders trying to pick out a good one. I’m trying, too.
Which verse of scripture best fits our situation? Which Bible story parallels the present moment? Is there a chapter of history that frames the current crisis?
Are we wandering in the wilderness with Moses as he deals with people who are finding it hard and wanting to go back to Egypt (Numbers 14)? Or are we waiting for the edict of Cyrus that will let us exiles go back home and worship as we used to (Ezra 1)?
Are we being called with the prophet Jeremiah to symbolic action? And which should it be? Smash a new pottery jar to show that worse is yet to come (Jeremiah 19)? Or buy a field just overrun by the enemy as a sign that normal times will come again (Jeremiah 32)?
Do we sing with Avery and Marsh, “The church is not a building,…the church is a people”? Or can we sing the Lord’s song at all in this strange land (Psalm 137)?
Are we being challenged to amend our ways and our doings (Jeremiah 26)? Could this plague be underlining a let-my-people-go message addressed to hardened hearts, both ours and Pharaoh’s (Exodus 9)?
Or, with the preacher of Ecclesiastes, is it time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3)? During the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, people hammered crosses into court house lawns to mark farms lost to bankruptcy. Do the deaths of these days cry out for a visible memorial?
Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon that their return would not be soon. Is this the word we need to be living out: to plant vineyards and build houses and form families and settle in to this strange COVID world because we’re going to be here awhile (Jeremiah 29)?
Is it time to choose the frame of science? To reprise the Dr. Salk polio story of the ‘40s and ‘50s by donating our dimes toward a vaccine against the virus?
Do we lift up Martin Luther’s advice to pastors in German cities ravaged by the plague: carry out your calling, take care of your neighbors, and utilize all available measures of protection and prevention (c. AD 1500)?
Have we beamed up into a Star Trek movie where Jim is debating with Spock the good of the many versus the good of the one? Is that how to frame the choices before us?
Or should loving our neighbor be the mandate for our moment? Jesus lifted up this Leviticus contribution to the divine teaching as the second greatest commandment in the Torah (Leviticus 19, Matthew 22).
Is it time to remember that Jesus healed the sick and to believe that Jesus can do it again (Luke 4)? Is it time to channel the ministry of the apostles as recorded in the longer ending of Mark, praying for the sick and seeing them recover (Mark 16)?
Are we being invited to join Anthony and the first monastics in the desert (c. AD 300), leaning into isolation and separation from regular life as a spiritual discipline?
Or does Romans provide a better frame, helping us see ourselves as those who believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even a deadly virus (Romans 8)?
I’m finding quite a few frames to choose from.
And these are just the samples that caught my eye. You might discover one you like even better still stuck with a Velcro dot to the carpet strip on the slat wall of the frame shop.
Whichever frame you choose, get the little rubbery feet for the back corners. They really help when the floor shakes or the dust wand brushes past.
Ken Rummer writes about life and faith from the Middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. Additional posts are available at http://presbyterianmission.org/today/author/krummer