Pointing the Way

Toward post-pandemic life with help and hope

Last week’s Cottage essay, “Religion After Pandemic” generated a huge response in the form of emails, sharing, and comments on social media. It seems people are hungry for thoughtful, helpful, and hopeful ways of understanding this last year — as well as honest and humble possibilities about what might lie ahead.

To follow up, I’m offering a COTTAGE CHAT on religion after pandemic on Friday, May 7 at 2:30-3:30 (eastern). I’ll be available here at the Cottage to answer questions and talk about your concerns regarding post-pandemic faith.

Chats are just that — back and forth conversations via written comments and questions on threads (like a Facebook chat), not audio or video. It can be a little tricky catching on, but it isn’t hard at all. You don’t even have to ask a question, but you can simply follow the conversation as it develops. One of the most fun aspects of a Cottage chat is seeing if I can keep up as the questions flow in!

On Friday at 2:30 eastern, click on the front page of THE COTTAGE and look for “Religion After Pandemic CHAT.” Click on that link and enter the room. It won’t be live until 2:30 (so don’t show up early!).

In the same spirit, those of you who are clergy or who hold leadership responsibilities in congregations might be interested in this conversation from CHURCH ANEW. They’ve created a good series to nurture the post-pandemic imagination of religious leaders.

Next week, I’ll be sending out a second piece on post-pandemic spirituality, one geared more toward finding new direction for our personal spiritual lives. I hope that given the two approaches, you’ll gain some perspective and confidence in how and where God has been with you these many months.

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On a different subject, I was delighted to see that one of my favorite biblical texts appears in the upcoming Sunday readings. Jesus speaks to his disciples about love and friendship in John 15:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends…” (John 15:12-15)

In recent weeks, as I’ve spoken about Freeing Jesus with podcasters and book groups, I’ve been surprised at how warmly readers have embraced the chapter on Jesus as friend. Perhaps because we’ve missed our friends so much through the pandemic — or maybe we are searching for a more gentle, intimate Jesus than the one who finds his way into public conversation or preaching. Whatever the case, people are eager to talk about the sacredness of friendship, its theology, and the dream of a God who befriends us.

Here’s a selection from the chapter that readers have found meaningful (and that preachers might find helpful for their sermons this weekend!):

“I do not call you servants,” Jesus said, “but I have called you friends.” Astonishing.

Imagine how Jesus’s close followers felt when they heard those words for the first time. Of course, he was their friend. They had been through so much together, years of wandering homeless in Israel, learning from and teaching each other, sharing meals and prayers. They had come to suspect their companion was something more than a regular friend — a great rabbi, a spiritual healer, a mystical prophet, the Son of God. That last one made no intellectual or doctrinal sense to them. They were Jews, and there was only one God. Yet this friend of theirs knew and loved God more intimately and more uniquely than they had ever imagined possible.

Jesus brought them to the very heart of God and then revealed that God’s heart longed for friendship. They had heard this story before — Abraham, Moses, and Miriam were friends of God, as were the prophets and seers of ancient times and the great heroes of Israel like Ruth and Naomi, Esther, and David and Jonathan. They were more than servants to God. God was their friend; and they were friends of God. Servanthood, although admirable, is the lesser thing. Friendship, the knowing, loving, and free and joyful giving to another, is the passionate desire of God.

And now Jesus is saying, “I have called you friends,” not just to special people of the past whose names were recorded in sacred memory, but to the ragged fishermen and curious women, sitting around him listening to his tales, trusting for the first time that the God of Israel had not forgotten them, souls broken under the weight of Roman oppression, suffering under imperial slavery. They were not slaves, not even servants. They were friends of Jesus, friends of God.

Jesus calls us friends. God reaches toward us, not as a fearsome master or judge, but a friend, beckoning us to reach back. Memories of Eden flood the heart, that ancient longing for friendship with God. The exile is ended, the embrace endures. Once, we were created by that hand that reached to dust and rib; now that same hand joins ours again and again, the clasp of the unfailing friend.

As the pandemic exile ends and we reach for one another again, may we remember the God of friendship and the healing power of that enduring embrace.

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No one knew the name of this day;  
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And the wisdom of the soul become one.
John O’Donohue, The Inner History of a Day


I didn’t assemble a conventional book launch team for FREEING JESUS. Instead, I prefer the organic, old-fashioned approach — I hope all my friends and readers will spread the news of Freeing Jesus to their friends and associates! My dream for Freeing Jesus is that folks will have more confidence in sharing their own stories of Jesus — and that together we can speak easily of a loving and just Jesus in this aching, wounded world. 

Please share pictures of, comments about, and quotes from Freeing Jesus on social media. After you read the book, post a review on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or on Goodreads (don’t forget the little stars!). Plan an in-person event for your church or college for fall or winter. Consider Freeing Jesus for a book group. Buy a copy for a friend or for your local library. Share the links I post to interviews or book talks.

Also, I don’t know how many authors ask, but I truly appreciate your prayers for stamina (virtual book launches are harder than in-person ones), clarity, and wisdom as I do interviews, plan schedules, write talks and sermons, and as the publishing team reaches out to media to book events. 

All of this makes a huge difference. THANK YOU!


From the show notes: And now we might begin to realize that we've put God in a cage of our own making. How insane is that?

From the show notes: Diana’s new book, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presencereally captured my imagination. I’m planning to do a Jesus timeline in my own life. Diana got me looking back at who Jesus was at pivotal moments and important seasons of my life. 

From the show notes: Vote Common Good is inspiring, energizing, and mobilizing people of faith to make the common good their voting criteria. And, we train and support Democratic candidates to connect with Evangelical and Catholic voters. In this episode, Diana Butler Bass sits down with host Doug Pagitt to talk about her new book, Freeing Jesus