Video Prayer

I spent the first morning of suspended church activities in my office watching videos of tips for recording YouTube videos and writing a script for one I planned to post urgently later in the day for my youth. I did not enjoy this. In a text exchange with a friend, I complained that I’m much more comfortable with audio than I am with video. His reply? “Well, now’s your chance to get comfortable with video.”

Thanks a lot, Landon.

I was interrupted by a call that someone was at the church who wished to speak to a pastor. I went out to meet the person and was greeted by a smiling guy in a Carhartt jacket and a goatee. He told me he was from Indiana and that his wife was having a procedure at the hospital across the street. I prepared myself mentally for the heavy news he was about to share about his life. But instead, he explained that he was part of an online church and that, when he saw our church building, he felt compelled to come in and find someone to pray with about Coronavirus. He added that he wanted to video our prayer and post it to the church’s Facebook page.

So to recap: one moment I’m alone in my office fretting about having to do a new kind of work for church that makes me feel inadequate and self-conscious, and the next minute a complete stranger walks into the church looking to do with me that very kind of work, because it’s literally the only way his church does church. Got it?

It was not comfortable. His vocabulary for God and his framing of the urgent need of the moment was very different from my vernacular. I felt a momentary panic that I would be publicly associating myself and my congregation with some fringe religious entity. But only a moment. I thought instead about what kind of discomfort this person had overcome to walk in here and express this invitation to a complete stranger, one wearing a clerical collar no less. After a couple minutes of conversation, he propped his iPhone 5 up on the table, hit record, and we prayed.

Later that day, I did the same thing for myself, confident that this is a thing you can do to be church.



In the first moments after we decided to suspend worship activities, I sat alone in my office in a stifling quiet, exercising my brain on all the youth activities that would be affected. These moments weren’t the first in which I’d thought this through; for three days at least the possibility of program suspension hovered over everything. But I didn’t have any answers, and I could hardly move.

Was I going to start recording YouTube videos for youth group? Could I experiment with video conferences? These aren’t tools I use, and I don’t feel confident with them. I hadn’t even written the email to parents explaining the decision yet.

Email, right. Something to do! I opened it up to begin writing, and there in my inbox was a message from a parent of one of our students. It simply said that she figured we might need to cancel programming, and that if we did she could connect me with the webinar software she uses for her job and could train me and my colleagues how to use it.

Whoah. Was she reading my thoughts?

We spoke on the phone the following day, and this feels kind of perfect. Webinars were not in the repertoire of things I was mulling over, but they will work perfectly for things like the Confirmation parent meeting I have scheduled for this week. Anything that involves one person presenting content to a group can work as a webinar. She’s training us on it today.

It feels like a kind of physics of the Spirit: if we just start moving, people will move with us. And those people are super smart and generous and passionate. We can’t lose.



Indefinitely means we don’t know how long.

We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know how long “normal” will be suspended. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Indefinitely is a very uncomfortable thing to say as a leader.

But indefinitely also means we don’t know: the resilience of our community; the capabilities we possess but haven’t been using; the needs that have been hiding.

Indefinitely is an opportunity to make an impact in a different way, if we’ll take it.


The Question

It isn’t a question of calm vs. panicked. Inappropriate calm and inappropriate panic are both harmful in their own ways. There is a time for every season . . . including panic.

No, the question is more about awareness vs. mindlessness. If we can keep aware, first of our own internal processes–our emotions, our bodies, our thoughts–and then of the state of those around us, those we seek to serve, we will be on much surer footing than if we react, react, react and never stop to inquire.

In this moment, inquiry is just as valuable as declaration



You can’t act with courage in the face of fear if you don’t admit you’re scared, not only to yourself but to the people who are counting on you. Admitting fear isn’t the same as running on it, and running from fear isn’t a long-term strategy.

We’re going to weather it. Being honest about what we’re afraid of is how.


What I Told My Students About Why We Didn’t Have Bagels for Them Last Sunday

It’s not that you should fear getting really sick yourself, but that you have a role to play in preventing others more vulnerable than you from getting sick.

I am feeling a persistent anxiety about our capacity as a culture to pull in the same direction in order to protect vulnerable populations. Offering an explanation to teenagers about why we’re not setting out boxes of bagels and tubs of cream cheese for them feels like a constructive thing to do with that anxiety, more constructive than stockpiling Purell.

Seriously, stop stockpiling Purell.



I grudgingly posted an album cover to Facebook in compliance with a high school teammate’s nomination for a “10 Influential Albums in 10 Days” exercise, but I’m up to six now and thinking seriously about my remaining four choices.

I’m agonizing over each selection, like “I really like this album, but can I call it ‘influential?'” I feel like I have to justify each selection with an illustration of the where and why of its influence. Meredith thinks I’m overthinking it.

She’s doing it , too, this albums exercise, and she pointed out that we think about influence differently. For her, the influence of music is on her life; she is sharing albums that she says defined seasons of her experience. I’m thinking of influence more in terms of a footpath–stones laid down in a winding line that lead a traveler along. Each stone influences the next step.

For me, influence is about the next step on the path–and the step after that. For Meredith, influence isn’t about the steps at all, but rather about how the stone you’re standing on shapes your experience of the surrounding trees and brush.



Maybe it’s true that the moment needs youthful energy and ambitious ideas to drive experimental initiatives. Why, in an era of rapid change and intensifying division and unprecedented challenges like climate change and Big Data, would we ask a person to lead whose career began six decades ago, practically in another world?

Maybe that’s a mistake. If age is a serious consideration and, we are convinced, a liability, and if white hair bespeaks accumulated privilege above all else, then the only choice for leadership is youth.

We don’t have to see age that way, though. We can seek leaders who can be relied upon to employ the privilege their age has afforded them to elevate those to whom it has been denied. Instead of a liability, we can view long years of work as an accumulation of expertise (gathered as much from failures as from wins), trust, and (critically) maturity. Those assets seem to be as much under assault in this era as any progressive conviction.

An old leader doesn’t bother me.



Last night I canvassed for my Alderman. He was only elected last spring, so he’s not running for reelection as Alderman yet, but for the Democratic Committeeperson. In Illinois, the political parties elect representatives for this role apart from another elected office, and though most committeepersons are also their ward’s alderman, they have to be separately elected.

It’s second time I’ve volunteered, because the Alderman himself showed up at my door one December evening and I felt a rush of civic responsibility. I don’t know him well, and I’m not certain the other person running (who seemed very pleasant when I met her at our neighborhood festival last October) wouldn’t be better. But he showed up and asked, and I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to say no.

The first time I volunteered, I spent two hours calling other volunteers, scheduling them for future shifts. I didn’t want to do that again, and I was not disappointed. I was the only volunteer in the office with a single staff person. He had me making calls to voters for the first 20 minutes or so, but because there was only one computer to work from (the calls come up on a screen one at a time), he asked, “Have you ever canvassed?”

“No.” He wrinkled his face a little. He clearly needed something else to do with me.

“Do you want to?”


Campaigns seem to be the kinds of operations where, if you’re game to try something new and minimally competent, you can be of use. So out I went with a map of a neighborhood and a newly-installed app on my phone. I spent two hours pressing apartment building buzzers and tapping “not home” on my phone screen. And to the few people who came to the door and spoke with me, I was with the Alderman’s campaign–no training, no zealous conviction, just a few hours free on a weeknight and an inflated sense of capability.

It seems a serious requirement for political engagement is a willingness to publicly claim belief and warrant for things you’re actually under-qualified to claim.

Viva democracy.



Listening is a kind of speaking. When we listen well we communicate interest and curiosity, and we lift up those who are speaking to have a dignified space in a meaningful conversation. We all can listen more and listen better, especially to folks who’ve been shut out of meaningful decision making conversations.

Conversations pitched as not “for you,” due to something about you, are beneath you. Go find a better one.

Earnest, compassionate, wise people know what to say and where and when to say it; they don’t need to be told that their gender or their age or their race disqualifies them. The best ones know that already and self-select out in favor of others, yet they remain ready to contribute if invited.

Be one of those. Find communities that support diverse voices, and bring yours. Listen. Wait to be invited. Then make your contribution.