Church

Supplement

Literally from one day to the next, the work we’re all doing changed. Running youth groups on Zoom, recording Facebook Live devotions, livestreaming worship from living rooms–these are not different ways to do the same things we were doing before. They are different things. They are the things we should be doing, because they are the things the moment demands. But they’re different things.

I hope when this is over that we can resist the urge to replace what we were doing before with what we’re doing now. Some of those things we were doing before needed a shakeup and serious scrutiny, but I fear that these digital alternatives will appear the obvious solution. I hope we can find the value in Zoom and livestreaming that is durable and persist with those elements to supplement what we were doing before. That might require letting some of those older things go, and I hope we were thinking about letting them go before the crisis.

Supplement feels more fruitful than replace.

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Church

The End of Religious Liberty

A government order forbidding religious gatherings during a time of contagion is not an attack on religious liberty. It’s an invitation for your religious community to play a constructive part in solving a public health crisis in which scores of people, most notably those already made vulnerable by economics or health or age, may die. Any community that refuses that invitation in the name of “religious liberty” shows clearly enough that its liberty is actually a prison.

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Church

People Have It Worse Than Me

Yes, and people have it worse than them.

Privilege is real, and checking it takes maturity and self-awareness. We do not, in fact, want to hear about the tanking of your mutual funds on a day when unemployment claims quintupled from a year ago.

But ranking suffering on a privilege scale will lead to less empathy, not more. We need more.

“Empathy is good. Lack of empathy is bad. Holy math says we’re never not together.”

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Church

Young Adults

A college senior I don’t know is trying to organize a remote orchestra to record Pomp and Circumstance over Zoom for use in home graduation ceremonies.

A young adult I do know was recalled from his Peace Corps appointment after only six months. His term, like all Peace Corps volunteers, is terminated, and he will not be allowed to return.

College students I’ve spoken with were on spring break when their campuses shut down. They are miles and miles away from their dorm rooms with all their clothes and books. It may be September before they can go back. Some of them are leaders on campus; their peers are looking to them to solve problems and they don’t know what to do. Others who are abruptly “home” are in a place they don’t recognize, since their parents moved after they left for college. One says, “I just can’t be here.”

This moment of dislocation and suspension feels particularly grievous for young adults who were taking some of their first meaningful autonomous steps into adulthood. We have made so much of college as the conduit to becoming a “grown up”; who is a college student who can’t be at college? Institutions like the Peace Corps serve as containers for critical vocational discernment and the development of lifelong skills and agency. Who is an ejected Peace Corps volunteer?

I expect these young adults to thrive in these changed conditions–they are smart and full of conviction. But the more I talk to them the more understand how much is being asked of them.

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Church

112

My friend’s grandmother passed away yesterday near the ripe old age of 112. She was the oldest living person in her state.

If 2020 was her 112th year, she was born in 1908, which means that she was 10 years old during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. I am the father of an 11 year-old in another pandemic, and it is quite something to imagine her at 112, in the year 2120.

RIP Ella Gertrude Ellison.

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Church

YouthZoom

Involuntary change offers opportunities to go with losses. In the case of the junior high youth at the church I serve, a forced transition to Zoom youth group, at 5 pm on a Tuesday, after years of only offering a youth group on Sunday morning in the church building, enabled some students to participate–for the very first time.

Just as important as the functionality of the tools we’re all-of-a-sudden adopting is engagement. Who is able to connect this way who couldn’t before? And when the “need” for Zoom diminishes, will it have proved itself indispensable in engaging those kids?

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Substance

The time for substance was before the crisis. The time for kindness and self-control, goodness and faithfulness–that was before those things were most critical. Because, of course, if we waited for the moment we needed love and peacefulness to develop them, we’re already behind.

Of course, given no other choice, this moment is just fine too.

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Church

Hide The Clock

I don’t exercise well or enough, and when I do I think only of how long til I’m done. If there’s a clock, I watch it closely. My mind breaks down effort into manageable increments: only two more minutes until I’m 1/3 of the way done.

A couple weeks ago I hid the clock, though. I wanted to experience more of what I was doing in the moment instead of thinking about how much of it I had left to do. I’ve been hiding the clock ever since.

We don’t know exactly how much time is left in this current moment of flattening the curve and the economic impact that will follow, that has already begun, so the analogy is flawed. There is no reliable clock for this. But maybe there is something here in this day-to-day that might benefit us to focus on and feel, and maybe if all we care about it how long it’s going to last we’ll miss it.

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Church

Zoom?

I’ve participated in four Zoom gatherings in two days and been trained on a webinar.

This is exhausting.

Seth Godin has a useful framing of the move online with our work. He thinks it’s an opportunity to work differently; trying to replicate what we normally do using video calling tools is ineffective. Because it’s not the same medium, so the rules are different and the effect on participants is different.

Last night we did youth group over Zoom–15 high school students, two staff, and leaders on a video call for an hour. I did my best to keep it organized, and I think it mostly worked. It was pure joy to see our students and hear them talk about the things they’re doing to endure. But when it was done I felt keenly what this forced separation is taking from us, and that is the moments of deep breath and relaxation in the company of friends. Even when it’s your job, even when you’re in charge, those moments are energizing–they’re a kind of fuel to get through the agenda.

You just don’t have that on a screen. Instead it’s mostly tension. Your eyes and neck and shoulders are straining most of the time. Somebody’s audio cut out. Your audio cut out. Some participants couldn’t be seen at all.

I’ve heard someone suggest that, when this is all over, we may discover that these remote tools are superior to our conventional way of working in-person, in a church building. It’s early days yet, but that seems very unlikely to me.

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