By Barbara Fiske | Life Coach, Spiritual Director, CCDA member, CCDA Cohort 6, Fresno CA
Will these dry bones live again? This is the question the Lord asks in Ezekiel 37. Remember that field of scattered bleached bones? Ezekiel responded, God, only you know. What an appropriate question for now. 2020 has been exhausting. Like all of us, I have struggled with how to respond to the layers of trauma this year has brought. I have felt like a captive audience witnessing injustices that are continuously paraded in front of me. I’m also confessing my social media habit here.
I registered for the CCDA Collective just days before it began. I was and am busy providing mental health resources to my community and am networking often, mostly online. Like so many of us, I have struggled to maintain healthy boundaries, especially as it seems it takes longer to get things done. And to be honest, attending an online three day conference did not feel life giving to me.
I am so grateful I was wrong. You see, relationship matters and once again, I felt I had found my tribe. Following the instructions of the CCDA Collective site, the first thing I watched was our new President and CEO, Reverend Cecilia J. Williams welcome video. Her grounding message reminded me that this family, the CCDA community, is a place that I do not need to explain why I do what I do, live where I live, and believe what I believe.
I spent most of the three day Collective trying to participate in as many of the Critical Conversations and Affinity Groups as possible. The panels in the Critical Conversations discussed the current issues that we face as practitioners, advocates, ministry leaders and neighbors. We as nonprofit leaders whose funding has disappeared were seen. We as church leaders reaching out to congregants that are isolated and lonely were heard. The discussions defined and clarified a lot of lingo that we tend to throw around. For example, the different definitions of what we mean when we say “church”, “reconciliation”, and “justice”.
Our wounds were spoken out loud, stories of family members transitioning because of Covid-19, and the heartbreaking restraints of limited community mourning because of social distancing. Thank goodness there were so many stories. Tales of organizations pivoting, of needs being met, and of Jesus being with us in the exhaustion. I appreciated the awareness of change, the good reminder that new wineskins are needed to avoid bursting old wineskins and losing the precious wine.
Did you respond to the email, Has Your Voice Been Heard? I did and one of my critiques was that it was hard to connect on a personal level to other participants. But as I looked over the notes I took and chats I saved, I remembered that I connected with so many. The facilitators did an amazing job of sharing our questions with the panelists. And the chats! You know, that ongoing conversation that participants have while the speakers are speaking? I gleaned so much! Ministries highlighted. Book titles shared. Who to follow on social media.
Here are a handful of quotes that I will continue reflect on: we need a public theology, imagination in the midst of hopelessness, abundant community, faith-rooted activism, organizing helps us be a better student of Jesus, Jesus was outside the walls, move church to the streets, centering youth power, porch ministry, translating our faith now with the people we are with, and creating space for reconstructing faith.
Have you read Ezekiel 37 lately? The Message version reads like a post-apocalyptic fiction that ends with life and promise, “When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live.” Totally appropriate metaphor for these times. Jesus met us at the Collective gathering, hearing our laments, sitting with us in our pain, witnessing our frustrations. He offered us stories from others that brought hope and perspective.
We heard of new ways of loving our neighbors. Of pivoting in real time. Of work that is not yet finished. That practicing self care personally and as a community is not an option. Change brings life. I am looking forward to the 2021 CCDA Collective, knowing that although I cannot imagine what our current normal will be then, I can trust that I will be met by a family who understands and stories of hope I didn’t expect.