Composting During Coronavirus

I read this New Yorker essay about food composting in Korea in early March, and my imagination was stoked. I’d done composting before, with my neighbor Barbara, when the two of us planted a garden between our apartments. We used a trash can that I drilled a bunch of holes in.

But since moving to Chicago all my food waste has gone into the trash. I hadn’t thought that much about it until this paragraph in the essay snapped my head to attention:

Organic waste doesn’t just stink when it’s sent to landfills; it becomes a climate poison. Yes, we’ve been schooled again and again in the importance of recycling—by friends, by pious enemies, even by “wall-e.” But the recycling of organics is arguably more important than that of plastics, metal, or paper. Composting transforms raw organic waste into a humus-like substance that enriches soil and enhances carbon capture. In landfills, starved of oxygen, decomposing organics release methane, a greenhouse gas whose warming effects, in the long run, are fifty-six times those of CO2. The United States has greater landfill emissions than any other country, the equivalent of thirty-seven million cars on the road each year.

I’m not set up to compost in my second floor apartment, and I wouldn’t know what to do with any compost I cultivated. But a quick search for composting services in Chicago turned up Collective Resource, an organization that delivers an empty five gallon bucket to your door and returns a week later to pick it up, filled with your food waste.

I signed up.

Then the world shut down.

Over the past five weeks, the thought has recurred to me that paying for a composting service is unwise, non-essential, even frivolous. It’s not going to feed my family today or next month, and the $10 I’m spending every week on it could buy, I don’t know, a stockpile of toilet paper or something useful. It could be donated. To feed people.

I keep answering that thought with the conviction that this is actually the perfect time to invest in future-focused projects like composting. Because if we’ll do it during a crisis we’ll do it when the crisis abates. And if we don’t do it, the next crisis will be even worse.



I’ve had three interactions with retired Presbyterian ministers in the past seven days, only one of whom I actually know personally, and I spent a good bit of time talking about a fourth one in my Sunday sermon. I’m reminded that the ranks of retired clergy are full of some of the most decent people you’ll ever meet.

Thanks be to God for them.


Fun on Zoom As A Ministry Skill

Recreation has moved online, like everything else. Playmeo, a service I’ve subscribed to for about a year and a half , added a “virtual” tab to its searchable database of icebreakers and team-building games last week, which proposes simple adaptations for several of its activities to make them work over Zoom. Meanwhile, its founder and CEO, Mark Collard, has been busy hosting webinars about how to play on Zoom (without drinking). Two weeks ago The Youth Cartel made a “Mobile Games for Youth” packet available for free on its website. I’ve found these efforts immediately valuable.

Because fun is not intuitive in this context. The need to stay attentive and connective to the people we care about it urgent, and I think most of us in ministry feel like we know how to do that, even if it means learning a new tool. But the longer this goes on, the more that urgency will recede, and the more we will need to bring something of value to our work beyond immediate presence and attention. One of those things is fun, especially for youth ministry. Personally, I don’t know how to have fun on a video call with students, so I’m grateful for resources like the ones above to get me started.

What are you using in your ministry that is just for fun?






What Next?

Not in two weeks, or even two months, but more like three, six, or nine months from now–what’s next then? Zoom youth groups and committee meetings will have to evolve from their current utility as stopgap into events designed specifically for the the platform hosting them. Can we imgaine planning a year’s worth of ministry online? We’d probably better.

It might not be all bad. Some healthy differentiation might be possible between, say, a Zoom gathering for over 20 teenagers mostly to check in and stay connected and one with less than half that number facilitated by a small group leader for Bible study. Or what about the aynchronous content we’ve hastily posted to YouTube? What does a months-long strategy for that need to look like? What are those videos even for?

This moment has taken a lot away from ministry, but it is giving some things back too. There are biases in these technologies we can turn to our advantage in serving the people we care about.



A Typology of Adolescent Developmental Stages as Revealed by Zoom

Junior high kids stay in place in the frame and stare intently at the camera, raise their hand to read or answer a question, and are breezily compliant. Of course. They can’t kick one another under the table or make a joke to the person next to them.

High schoolers recline in their rooms and fill their video with the blue and green lighting flashing on their ceiling and walls. They are more reluctant to raise a hand than their younger counterparts and look a measure or two less interested in what’s going on. But they’re there, together, and they keep coming back.

The college students are the most unruly. Delighted to see and be seen, they never stop replacing their background with some digital creation of their own, usually a photo from their roll, often one they have photoshopped in some clever way. They are riveted to one another’s performances.

They are delightful and instructive in their own way, all of them. I’m trying to learn from them.


I Don’t Wanna

I don’t want to read another editorial. I don’t want to watch another uplifting video. I don’t want to take part in another social media “challenge.”

There’s work to do, though I don’t really want to do that either. I don’t want to organize enrichment activities for my child. I don’t want to cook or clean. I don’t want to go for a walk. I don’t want to watch a movie. I don’t want to Zoom.

I’m doing these things, of course. We all are. Only, the moment is requiring performance minus interest. That’s good, though it doesn’t feel good; doing what is required but not desired is a way of performing some of humanity’s more durable–and valuable–functions: service, sacrifice, learning.

God be with you today.



It’s getting very difficult to read anymore analysis. My mind can’t focus on argument and the making of a case. It all seems persuasive, if only I can bet past the third paragraph, but a sledge of over-used terms and phrases bog me down and I have to look away.

I’m looking to fiction and narrative non-fiction. I have struggled to read fiction my entire adult life; I read to learn–personally, professionally, and politically–so novels have always felt like a luxury. Funny that now they are a lifeline. Station Eleven and The Plague, for starters (they don’t all have to be end-of-the-world stories, I suppose). It is surprising me to discover that the only things that can hold my badly worn attention right now are stories. What’s that about?

Even real stories. There’s an essay in this week’s New Yorker by a guy who moved to Lyon, France, and apprenticed under a baker that kept me up past my bedtime. Reading it prompted me to email someone I know who did something similar and wrote a book about it, just to recommend the essay to someone.

Recommending books and essays is a better use of my speech than the more natural, for me, alternatives of the moment: complaint, speculation, and the all-purpose shrugging of the shoulders. And who knew stories could be so important?



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.