As Easter and Good Friday are soon approaching, the Register continued its series of conversations with religious leaders in the community by speaking with Pastor Kenyon Kaehr of First Christian Church in Iola.
Again, the topics of conversation focused on faith/reason, anxiety, grief, isolation and celebrating Easter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of thinking critically about the current medical crisis, Kaehr said “God has given us all a gift that a lot of folks don’t necessarily utilize … it’s called common sense!”
And “[w]hen there’s a pandemic floating around,” that’s an opportunity to use this gift, say, by following the advice of medical experts.
He further elaborated that faith in the face of a pandemic means “none of this has taken God by surprise,” and that “[w]hen everything’s said and done, there will be good that comes out of this.”
“We may not see it now,” Kaehr added, but “faith allows us to believe that God’s got it under control.”
Such control doesn’t mean people won’t get sick or even die. Nor does it mean that God gives us “magic beans and say[s]: ‘Take these! You’re going to be impervious!’”
Rather, Kaehr contends God’s “control” is about hope that we can overcome obstacles in the present such that there’s hope for the future.
“God doesn’t remove [life’s] obstacles; he just teaches us how to deal with the obstacles … [such that] we become better people for it.”
ONE obstacle many people are facing during this difficult time is anxiety or fear.
Along these lines, Kaehr points to one of the most well-known passages in the Bible, Psalm 23, which in the New Revised Standard Edition reads: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley [or: the valley of the shadow of death], /I fear no evil; /for you are with me.”
Kaehr explains that when we’re going through “the worst of the worst,” God doesn’t abandon us and say “Good luck with that!”
Instead, the sentiment is “I’m going to be right there with you; I’m going to hold your hand … We’re going to walk through this valley together.”
Kaehr said he tells people who are wracked with fear: “You just gotta hang onto God a little tighter” and use faith as an anchor.
As for what it means to know that you are in God’s presence, rather than necessarily a concrete feeling, “believing that God is with you is a leap of faith.”
Another leap that Kaehr encourages us to take during the pandemic is reaching out to others in order to overcome isolation.
His own church is checking on people over the phone daily, and he doesn’t evince much sympathy for those who currently feel as if they’re alienated given “cell phones and [the] internet and computers.”
“Everybody’s got somebody!” he exclaimed.
Kaehr likewise argues the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies why belonging to a religious or other community is so important, precisely because “we take care of each other … [and] that’s what family’s all about.”
Kaehr’s remarks suggest that during a crisis, everyone needs other people — a truth perhaps highlighted most when we are grieving.
He called grieving a “process of adaptation,” where we struggle to make adjustments following an interruption to our life’s routine.
It’s a “normal process,” Kaehr said, and part of learning to be flexible to changes.
However, he suggested what makes grieving so difficult — from the loss of normalcy to the loss of a loved one — is that we have a tough time letting our guard down, admitting that we’re vulnerable and need the love of others.
“I’m too tough for that,” is the most common response — yet “we’ve got to give ourselves permission to grieve” if we are to heal and live on.
FINALLY, when asked what Easter has to teach us about living in the shadow of COVID-19, Kaehr said: “It’s always darkest before the dawn. … Sometimes we just have to get through … [but] it comes to an end eventually.”
He further explained that “getting through” is about having faith in the broadest sense, since “faith is the hope that we have [that] things will get better.”
It is a message that seems to transcend any specific belief system and speaks to what each one of us is going through now, together.
We all have to “get through,” find hope and look for dawn beyond the darkness.