Circling – A Poem

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Life is a circle.
It loops and it circles around again.
It circles back through the beginning
and around and down through the end.
What once was before
now circles round into trend.
God knelt down low and breathed
dirt to become man and life.
His breath circles back
to raise man out of strife
when Holy Spirit wind divides
dead heart from new like a knife.
What began in a garden
with successful tempting of man,
circled back to a garden
and the culmination of God’s plan.
Temptation was repeated
but this time was banned.
God’s love and God’s holiness
leads to God putting on skin.
His wrath pours out on sin,
His mercy pours it out on Him.
When wrath circles back to the cross,
it turns out that love wins.
When Word became flesh,
He climbed down into time.
He breathed our air and
turned water into wine.
One day Word will circle back
and earthly life will join the Divine.
Life is a circle.
It loops and it circles around again.
It circles back through the beginning
and around and down through the end.
What once was before
now circles into trend.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

edited from the archives

The First Step to Take Toward Justice

Justice.
justice
There are so many different voices crying out for justice right now.
There are so many different ways in which people are responding to those cries.
searching for justice
How should we, as Jesus followers, think Christianly about justice? How should we respond to individual as well as systemic injustice?
One thing is certain: We serve a God who concerns himself with justice.
God tells Israel through the prophet Isaiah to Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause, and through the prophet Micah, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
In the New Testament, Jesus heals the leper, cares for the woman caught in adultery, and laments that the religious leaders tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
We, then, as followers of this God of justice and mercy, must also concern ourselves with justice.
However.
It does not necessarily follow that we should submit to the path of the loudest and most popular voices.
There are many loud voices right now proclaiming the right way to think, to act, to pursue justice in our country.
Maybe they are right. Maybe this is the way God wants his followers to seek justice for the oppressed.
Maybe. Although it is rare that the path the world urges us to follow is the right path.
It also does not necessarily follow that every disciple of Jesus should walk the same path of fighting for the same justice for the same group of people.
We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and his feet and his eyes and his arms and his legs and…
We have different abilities and gifts. We have different passions and loves.
There are so many different kinds of people in need of justice in our world, in our country, in our town. People of color. People who are enslaved. People who are abused. People who are homeless, starving, mentally ill, without hope.
So how do we know? How can we find the right way? How in the world, how in this broken, grieving, noisy world can I know how God wants me to pursue justice?
be still
We stop.
We wait.
We must wait for God to fill us up with Himself so that it is His love and His compassion that flow out of us, rather than our own ideas about what ought to be done.
Springing into action is not our first step.
It is when we simply are still, keeping our gaze fixed on Christ through such habits as silence and solitude and lectio divina, that the Holy Spirit changes us and stirs us to His work.
Andrew Murray writes, It is when the soul becomes utterly passive, looking and resting on what Christ is to do, that its energies are stirred to their highest activity, and that we work most effectually because we know that He works in us.
As the Spirit of God dwells in us, we are more and more able to be led by the Spirit to do the work He has for us.
We cannot charge ahead and try to take the lead, but rather must wait on the Spirit to change us, to instruct us, to show us the way in which we should go. It is the Spirit’s role within the trinity to produce fruit, to bring every work to completion.
We see this in a beautiful way through the early Church.
God of justice
As you read the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit leads the Church in her various missions, sending people out as they are waiting on Him in prayer. He gives direction and the words to say, He produces the fruit that results, and the only thing the people do is to follow. The Spirit is the One who gives joy and spreads the Word.
The Holy Spirit does His work as He moves us to do our work. As we are still before God, we learn to understand how the apart from me you can do nothing is only the beginning of the I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The Church is not a way to escape from this world. We follow the way of Christ, and he gave himself wholly for the life of the world.
God cares deeply about justice, and we should care deeply about what breaks the heart of God.
How do we know how best to pursue justice in our land?
Wait for justice
Not by listening to the loud, clamoring voices of the world, but by first listening to the still, small voice of God.
Only then can we work and fight for God’s kingdom rule to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
I end with a quote from Father Alexander Schmemann. He is speaking of the Eucharist as communion with God –
It is the very communion with the Holy Spirit that enables us to love the world with the love of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth: here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view.
Intercession begins here, in the glory of the messianic banquet, and this is the only true beginning for the Church’s mission. It is when we ‘lay aside all earthly cares,’ when we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.
God has made us competent to be his witnesses, to fulfill what he has done and is ever doing. This is the meaning of the Eucharist; this is why the mission of the Church begins in the liturgy of ascension, for it alone makes possible the liturgy of mission.
Don’t flail blindly at the foe. Go and be still before God. Wait for him to send you out on his mission.
Our world needs you.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Dove of the Holy Spirit by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; all other photographs copyright 2020 Made Sacred

What I Learn When We Are Apart

There is an old heresy that has circled around again and again since the beginning of Christianity.
the physical
It is the lie that creation, the physical world, is bad or, at best, unimportant. The spiritual alone is what truly matters.
the spiritual
I have seen this creeping into the Church in recent years (The Western Church, that is. I will not presume to speak about the global Church).
What we do with our bodies during worship is not important.
Being physically together is nice, but it doesn’t matter in the larger scope of things.
Watching church online is just as good as being in a building.
I confess that as an introvert, I find the draw of church online to be alluring. It is a lot less messy when you don’t have to face so many people.
I do know, however, that the Church is a sacrament, a place where the spiritual reality of God becomes embodied in the physical world.
embodied world
The whole of creation was originally intended to fulfill this role, created to bring man into relationship with God. The physical world would make the spiritual reality of God known to man; man would take the physical world into his body and live out the life of God to the world.
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. ~ Alexander Schmemann
But then man chose to hunger for the world instead of God, to live the life of the world rather than the life of God, and the circle was broken.
Jesus embodied
The circle remained broken until Jesus came and once again offered up the embodied life of God for man.
Now the Church has become the means through which the spiritual reality of God enters the material reality of the world. There is no longer any need for temples or sacred places, for Christ’s Body, the Church, embodies the life of God to the world.
The Church now finds herself in the middle of a pandemic. We are sheltering in place and are unable to be together physically. Ever.
When you are not allowed to have physical contact with anyone, suddenly being together seems much more important.
It makes me wonder whether one way in which God will bless this time for our good, as he promised he would, might be to show us how essential it is to meet together in an embodied way.
Technology is a good and helpful tool, but that is all it is or should ever be. A tool. A substitute. We are embodied creatures and as such need embodied interactions.

Emile_Claus_-_Orchard_in_Flanders

C. S. Lewis used the metaphor of eating tinned fruit when writing about mistaking something necessary for what is best. Tinned fruit will feed and sustain you when there is a famine, when you cannot visit the orchard, yet the fruit loses much of its flavor and goodness in the process of being tinned.
In this season of shelter-in-place, we are being fed and sustained by our online communications, and our souls are grateful for it, but deep down we hunger for incarnate communion.
There is, of course, the opposite danger in being sustained only by virtual fellowship, and that is that we might acquire a taste for it. This we must absolutely guard against.
But do not let us mistake necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have actually learned to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. ~ C. S. Lewis
May we, the Church, in this time of being bodily separated, begin to understand and truly believe in the goodness of creation and the importance of our physical bodies.
May we continue to hunger for the fresh fruit of embodied fellowship rather than being satiated with tinned communication in the virtual world.
When this is over, may we recognize our incarnate communion for what it is – undeserved gift.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: The Last Supper from So-called Hours of Philip the Fair; Orchard in Flanders by Emile Claus

Lord, Have Mercy – A Collection of Prayer

Right now, I believe, mine is to be still and listen.
I offer, instead, prayers from others in hopes that they will help you find words to lay before God when your own heart is too weighed down to find the words yourself.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy
Lord, help us assemble ourselves before you today through our acts of peace and reconciliation with neighbors near and far. Help us to teach the children in our communities what it means to be children of a God who loves us like a mother.
Give us discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that instead we may live deep within our hearts. Grant us anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may wish for justice, freedom, and peace. Bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen. ~ Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
Prayer
O Father in heaven, who crafted my limbs to serve you and my soul to follow closely after you, with sorrow and repentance of heart I acknowledge before you the faults and failures of today. For too long I have tried your patience and too often I have betrayed your trust; yet you still want me to come to you with a humble heart, as I now do, imploring you to drown my sin in the sea of your infinite love.
O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to apply to myself the standards I demand of others;
My blindness to the suffering of others, and the time it takes me to learn from my own:
My apathy toward wrongs that do not impact me, and my oversensitiveness to those that do.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen. ~ John Baillie
Peace
O God, who makest man to be of one mind in an house and hast called us into the fellowship of thy dear Son: draw into closer unity, we beseech thee, the people of all races in this and every land; that in fellowship with thee they may understand and help one another, and that, serving thee, they may find their perfect freedom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Joost de Blank, Archbishop of Cape Town
Unity
O Lord, forgive the cruelties of men in every age,
their insensibility to others’ pain,
the deliberation which gives pain
to satisfy and to express
the evil that rebels from love’s surrender to others’ needs
to exalt itself.
O Lord, forgive the carelessness that passes by,
the blunted consciences that will not see,
or fear to see,
the wrongs men do to other men.
Most merciful, most loving Judge, Redeemer of mankind,
thou dost restore the fallen,
thou dost seek out the scattered sheep. ~ Gilbert Shaw
He is with us in our grief
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Grief by Bertram Mackennal; Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; The Anchorite by Teodor Axentowicz; Black Men Praying by Aymara Mejia; Prayer by Mednyánszky László

What to Do With Your Half-Finished Songs

I often feel as though I fall short.
falling short
No, that’s not quite true. I mostly feel as though I fall short.
I fall short in my marriage. My pride so often chokes me up.
I fall short in my parenting. My selfishness makes me stumble.
I fall short in my writing. My laziness keeps me from doing all that God desires.
It is enough to make me quit.
failure
This continuous falling short is enough to make me want to stop trying.
Why bother, when all of my very best efforts are never quite enough?
I am learning in my God-life, and I think that it applies to all of life (as all of life is and should be my God-life), that falling short doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that I do not give up.
What matters is that I continue to persevere.
Trying matters.
We live in a broken world and we inhabit broken bodies. We shouldn’t be surprised when our best efforts fall short.
We shouldn’t be surprised when the outcome toward which we are aiming doesn’t quite come to fruition.
But all of our failures don’t change a thing about who we are.
For we are God’s beloved.
And as I wrote earlier, nothing that we do for God is ever wasted.
nothing is wasted
We are a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, and even our failures are used to that end.
It is a beautiful truth that God uses our broken efforts to restore His broken world.
All of creation is aimed with all of her being toward her creator, giving of herself in praise, waiting with eager longing for her freedom.
This is what we are asked to work toward in our marriage, in our parenting, in our art, in our work.
…since creation is going to declare (his great faithfulness) either way, we might as well jump in with our half-finished songs and join the chorus. ~ Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark
Dear one, we must not let our failures keep us from trying.
God desires even our failures, especially our failures, for His kingdom purposes.
He looks forward to hearing all of your half-finished songs.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

We Are Slicing Off Ears Again

I made a mistake on Facebook the other day.
A friend of a friend posted something harsh about those who believe differently than she does about face masks, and I had had enough.
I responded.
I shouldn’t have, but I responded.
When she escalated, making comparisons to people in concentration camps, I realized my mistake. I am not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook. I cannot not argue someone into a different viewpoint.
I can, however, love people on Facebook. I can show the unity and love of Jesus in the way that I interact with others. My comment, while not harsh or ugly, did not show unity or love.
I deleted my responses.
I expect harsh words and vitriol from the world. Christians, however, should never engage in that kind of vicious attack and nasty rhetoric.
As emotions become more volatile in this season of uncertainty, as choices about what to do next vary wildly, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning, a plea, to myself as well as to you.
Satan wants this. This is a perfect opportunity for him to divide the church over this issue of shelter-in-place vs reopening the economy, over enforced face masks vs the freedom to choose.
I’ve already written of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
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Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this season?
As more and more people get sick with COVID-19 and die, as more and more people lose their jobs because of prevention measures, we become more and more afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
We are living in uncertain times. Our lives and our livelihoods are threatened. The illusion that we are in control has been stripped away.
We find ourselves fighting back against this invisible enemy by fighting with the people we can see.
We as a Church are good at fighting.
crusades
We have a tendency, when we are afraid, to lash out at anyone who disagrees with what we believe to be true. Rather than following Jesus’ way of loving those who hurt us, of being at peace with those around us, we strike out blindly at anyone near us in an attempt to fight the enemy we cannot reach.
This is what Peter did. He was terrified of losing Jesus, terrified of losing his own life, uncertain of what would happen next, and he reacted by pulling out his sword to start slicing off ears.
st-_peter_cut_slaves_ear_by_duccio
Jesus, however, picked up that ear, calmly placed it back onto its owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We have a perfect opportunity in this season to react out of love rather than out of fear. To treat those who disagree with gentleness, bringing peace rather than war. To show that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love each other.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or hatred.
When Jesus gets down on his knees to wash the filthy feet of the apostles, he washes Judas’ feet as well.
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Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to convince other believers that we are right and start figuring out how to work together to show God’s love to the sick and the jobless. Perhaps we should begin by humbly admitting that we don’t have all the answers and we might be wrong. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service, not through arguing angrily on social media.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Our Cry to the Creator and Covenant God

How long, O God?
This has been our cry from the beginning.
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
Rescue us
Our world is broken and we are broken and we need you to make all things new.
You created us and you promised us. Save us, O God!
All through Scripture, God reveals himself as Creator God and as Covenant God. He is the one who made us and he is the one who promised to restore us.
Over and over again, Israel cries out for rescue to the Creator God who has an obligation to his creation and to the Covenant God who has an obligation to be faithful to the promises he has made.
creation and covenant
The Psalms are full of the bringing together of these two aspects of God.
Psalm 19 begins by praising God for his power in creation, The heavens declare the glory of God, and ends by praising God for the beauty in his covenant law, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
Psalm 74 begins by pleading with God to remember his covenant people, Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old and ends by reminding him of his power and ownership over creation, Yours is the day, yours also the night.
The covenant was given to solve the problems in creation. God calls Abraham and establishes Israel as his people to hold to the covenant. Through Israel, God will solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to the nations.
Creation is invoked by the prophets of Israel to solve the problems within the covenant. “When Israel is in trouble, and the covenant promises themselves seem to have come crashing to the ground, the people cry to the covenant God precisely as the creator.”
creation and covenant
It did, indeed, seem that the covenant promises came crashing down.
Israel was supposed to be God’s messenger to the nations, but instead tried to achieve a covenant status for itself alone. What did God do? Abandon the covenant and move to a vastly different Plan B in Jesus?
He most certainly did not. God remains true to his covenant, to his plan, even when man proves false.
“…he will require a representative Israelite who will be faithful…to God’s purpose not only for Israel but through Israel for the world…we see God’s covenant faithfulness operating through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Precisely as Messiah, he offers God that representative faithfulness to the plan of salvation through which the plan can go ahead at last, Abraham can have a worldwide family, and the long entail of Adam’s sin and death can be undone through his obedience.”
It is through Jesus that the one who created us and our world is able to fulfill his covenant to restore us and our world.
creation
 covenant
We see this displayed beautifully in Isaiah 40-55, that great passage in which the prophet lays out God’s entire plan for rescue.
In chapter 40, YHWH is beseeched as the sovereign creator in whom Israel can trust completely. In 55, there is celebration of the way in which his Word will have the same effect of restoring Israel that the rain and snow have in making the earth fruitful.
Creation and covenant.
In between, in chapter 51, Creator God is declared to also be the Covenant God whose Word will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy.
The covenant will be renewed and thus creation will be renewed. When God rescues Israel, the nations will share in the blessing. And “the human blessing is the means by which God the creator, who made humans in his image to be his stewards in his world, will renew the whole creation itself.”
And all this, says Isaiah, through the Messiah. This Messiah, we now know, is both the Word of God and the one in whom all things were created. Paul tells us that the image of the invisible God, the true fulfillment of Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, both was the first born of all creation and in him all things were created AND was the first born from the dead and through him God reconciled all things to himself.
Jesus himself is the point where creation and covenant come together.
creation
covenant
Jesus is the means by which God has done what, “as creator, he has the power and right to do, and what, as the covenant God, he has the responsibility to do.” Through Jesus, God has set things right again. He has set in motion the restoration of creation and has killed sin and death on the cross.
Which brings us back to where we began.
How long, O God?
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
creation and covenant
Praise be to our God! Through the obedience of Messiah and the power of his Spirit, our Creator and Covenant God has already done it.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Credits: These ideas, and all of the quotations, come from N. T. Wright and his book, Paul. I have merely synthesized and condensed them for you. The painting of Peter drowning is an excerpt from a fresco inside the cathedral of Maria Saal in Austria. All photographs are mine.

Take This Chance to Start Over

Most of us have recently found ourselves abruptly forced into a strange new normal.
We were busily running around, bouncing from one activity to the next, spending our days and evenings driving from one event to the next, when it all came to a sudden, screeching halt.
starting over
Activities canceled. Events abandoned. Plans postponed.
We are spending more time at home than we ever have before.
May I make a suggestion? Perhaps I would even call it a plea.
When the world starts back up again, when activities and events begin to crank back to life,
please don’t rush straight back in without any thought or consideration for what you are giving up.
We have a rare chance to start over, to slow down, to make more deliberate choices for our lives.
What do you want your life to look like? Do you want more space in your life? Do you want more time at home as a family? Do you want your kids to have more time to play and just be…kids?
Be wise.
You do not have to leap back into every activity you participated in before.
Consider each one and together with God decide whether it is truly good and necessary for your family as a whole.
Space is good. A slower life is good. Making sure that there is regular time in your schedule to connect with God and with your family is very good.
make space
Most of us didn’t plan to live this way. Many of us added just one thing, then another, and another, and another…
until we woke up one morning with no white space at all in our week.
You do not have to go back to that life, to a life that is cram-packed to the brim.
You can choose.
You can choose which activities and events are life-giving to your family and which ones suck you dry.
You cannot be close to your loved ones, you cannot be close to God without time.
So while we have it, take time to consider. Be prayerful and wise as you begin to resume a more normal sort of schedule. Take this chance to start over.
Make the necessary and life-giving choice of space and time for yourself and your family.
We all need this.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith

Grief Is Weighty

Grief
Grief is weighty.
Even the word pandemic has
A heaviness contained within;
All those fat and rounded letters
Holding it down.

 

It is a collective grief,
Magnified world-wide, of
A million wailing voices straining
To push through the shattered shards
Of lives and dreams.

 

I turn away from news,
From podcasts and posts,
For who can bear this kind of weight?
One who, with tears tracing paths down his face,
opened his arms to bear it all.

 

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Grief by Bertram Mackennal

This Deep Ache I Feel

This season of Lent into Easter always leaves me with an ache in my heart.
Lent
I ache as I sit in the heart-wrenching tension between what is now and what is not-yet.
This year my heart has been even more tender than usual.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to fulfill His promise to make all things new.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to return and set all things right.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God.
ache of longing
We have sat in silent mourning through Lent, grieving our sin and our broken world and longing for Messiah.
We have rejoiced in exultation on Easter, celebrating Christ’s victorious defeat over sin and death.
Now we wake up to a world that is still sinning. still broken, still dying.
We trust, on our best days, that Jesus’ defeat of sin and death really happened, that God will not forget any of His promises, that God’s Spirit truly dwells inside of us.
And our hearts ache.
We are filled, more on some days than on others, with an aching, homesick kind of longing for what is still to come.
This is good. This is as it should be.
We should not be satisfied with this world in its brokenness.
We should not be satisfied with ourselves in our sinful nature.
We should not be satisfied to be physically separated from God.
Listen to this ache, for we are not yet home.
Let yourself feel this tenderness fully.
We should allow this ache in our hearts to spur us on to seek God more, to love God more, to love those around us more, to do all we can to bring His kingdom to rule on earth.
It is good to have seasons in which your heart is more tender, in which that longing ache is closer to the surface.
It simply means the end is not yet here.
On the day when our earth is made new, when heaven and earth are joined together, when Jesus descends from the clouds and we run into His arms,
On the day when God will dwell with us and we will be His people,
On that day, this ache we feel will melt away.
We shall be home.

feel your ache

For now, learn to be still and truly feel this ache in your heart. Let it draw you closer into the arms of the One who will someday heal you completely. You can trust Him.
Easter has already come.

Easter

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020