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The Upside Down

The Upside Down[1]—Matthew 5: 1-12

 (March 29, 2020—5th Sunday in Lent)

If you’re a fan of the Netflix series, “Stranger Things”, you know about a place called “the upside down”, the alternate reality where the rules of daily living no longer apply, where fear and confusion dominate and danger lurks, I was going to say “around every corner” but there are no corners in the “upside down”.  A sense of danger and foreboding simply dominates in this space, the “upside down”.

It feels like that right now, like we’re in the upside down, where all the rules that guide our living are gone, where fear, confusion, a sense of danger and foreboding dominate.  My body told me all this before my brain could make sense of it.  I began to notice my heart racing.  I could feel it beating where previously I was completely oblivious to it.  My focus was and is still off—my thoughts are scattered, my memory is a sieve with even larger gaps now, and my thinking is fuzzy.  I’m having a hard time with decision making.  I’m exhausted.  I’m sleeping as much as before but not feeling as rested.  These physical reactions were accompanied by a strange sense of déjà vu.  Then it hit me, I’ve been here before.  This is exactly how I felt and reacted when my oldest son and my daughter were in the midst of major health crises.  I’ve been here before, in the “upside down” of life.   

Living in the upside down means living with trauma.  Friends these are traumatic times, this is not hyperbole, this is our reality.  We are embroiled in an event that is deeply distressing and disturbing, an event that shakes the foundations of our security, which threatens our health and the health of those we love.  An event that creates an insecure and uncertain future and that at times overwhelms our abilities to cope. 

I want to share with you some lessons that I’ve gleaned about living in the upside down of trauma.  First, be aware that you’re emotionally vulnerable at this time, as are those around you.  We’re all doing the best we can to cope.  If you feel safe to do so, share that vulnerability with people who will affirm you, who won’t try and talk you out of your feelings.  Tell someone you’re scared, you’re worrying about parents, grandparents, you’re angry at the whole damn thing, you’re anxious about money.  Offer someone else the gift of being a safe place to share their vulnerability.  This is so important because the reality is we can be cooped up in a house or apartment with a bunch of people and still feel lonely. It’s honest, deep sharing with someone who accepts you that staves off loneliness and if we can stave off loneliness it can go a long way toward staving off despair.

Be kind and be compassionate with whoever you’re with but also be kind and compassionate with yourself.  These are tough times, but tough times also need tender people.  Give yourself and others some slack.  It’s not likely we’ll be as productive as we’ve always been, it’s likely we’ll be short-tempered with each other at times, especially as we’re forced close together for long periods of time.  Do your best not to judge yourself or others, there is no field guide for these times, we’re all groping in the dark.  As one of my favourite spiritual writers says, “When the going gets tough turn to wonder”.  Take the behaviour, the anger, the irritation, the lethargy and ask I wonder what’s behind this, what’s fuelling this?  Answer it for yourself and take care of that need, now is not the time to push through.  Tell others what you’re noticing and ask how you might be able to help.

That’s what I’ve learned about living in the upside down of trauma.  Maybe you have some of your own lessons that you can draw upon in this time.  What our scripture tells us this morning is there are blessings to be found in the upside down of life because that’s where God is, That was Jesus’ message in the beatitudes. 

Most of us don’t really know what to do with the Beatitudes. We’ve been hearing them so long maybe they’ve lost their shock value.  Sometimes, we hear them as new commandments, wondering if we’re being meek enough, persecuted enough, or pure enough. But, these aren’t instructions or commandments. A beatitude is a blessing or an announcement of God’s favour.  These nine sentences describe the way things already are. They describe the grace that is already present in the midst of life’s gritty and unsettling realities, the gifts that present themselves to us in our vulnerability. Not in our accomplishments and mastery of life, but in our vulnerability.[2] 

For what are we now in the midst of this upside down, traumatic time if not vulnerable.  For who can say they are masters of life in this situation, only the delusional.[3]  In traumatic times the myth of control vanishes and the truth of our vulnerability comes into focus.  In the upside down of trauma, where normal has been obliterated, where the future is uncertain the values of independence, success and achievement won’t see us through this time very well.  It is shared brokenness and vulnerability, despised by a success oriented culture that will see us through this time, drawing us closer together—if not physically then in spirit, creating and strengthening community, taking care of each other.  These are the blessings, this is the presence of God in these times.  The more we get comfortable with brokenness and vulnerability in ourselves and with each other the more we’ll spread that presence, like a virus, a virus of healing—a virus that strengthens and builds resilience.  Blessed are those who live with tenderness and compassion for they will know God as a constant companion in the upside down of life.  Amen.

[1] This reflection relies significantly on the work of Rev. Barbara Brown-Taylor in a sermon entitled Blessed Are the Upside Down, from her 1986 book  Gospel Medicine, page 159.  As well as the work of Rev. J. Curtis Goforth in his sermon  at

[2] Fred Craddock, Hearing God’s Blessing (Matt. 5:1-12),

[3] Unfortunately one such person currently occupies the office of United States President.