Choices

We came back from the holiday on Sunday to a single junior high youth and four senior highs–two pair of siblings. Omicron is Omicroning and the temperature was in the teens and icy, but whatever the reason that’s a different state of attendance than we’ve seen. We’re wondering about switching to Zoom for awhile.

Here’s my hunch about that: 6th and 7th graders will tolerate it better than high schoolers will. Since we resumed in-person youth group last September, it has seemed to me that the younger students who show up do so because their parents come to in-person worship, while the older students come largely on their own; they want to be with their peers more than their younger counterparts do.

We could go to Zoom tomorrow with no difficulty. It might be better for some younger students whose parents are staying home until Covid numbers subside appreciably. Or it might take away somebody’s in-person lifeline.

Choosing between bad options feels routine.

Interesting

Heaving and gasping through a video exercise routine, I take inspiration from the instructor’s motivational pablum. “I never said this would be easy!” she shouts, and then adds: “I’ve never met an interesting person who had an easy life!” Yeah, that kind of thing works on me; I want to be an interesting person.

Not Daughter though. Overhearing, she scolds from the other room, “That’s toxic!”

Now heaving and gasping and laughing. That works on me too.

Juice Box

A worshiper arrived late to our small afternoon service and walked, mid-sermon, straight to the front seat. He carried a large red “American Girl” shopping back and wore a camouflage coat, a baseball hat, and tan colored boots with shimmering diamond-like material at the ankles. He sat down quietly, making sure to not squeak the wooden chair he’d selected on the tile floor.

He sat attentively for a few moments, and then he reached inside his big red bag to retrieve a small box, which made a crinkling sound as he fidgeted with it: a juice box and its cellophane straw wrapper. He poked the straw through the top and stealthily raised the box to his chin. The straw slid beneath his face mask, and he took a long drink, eyes constantly on the preacher. The box’s sides caved in quietly as its contents were emptied, and then he placed it back into the bag.

Come, you who are thirsty.

Saying

If I have to say “I’m not saying,” then I’m probably saying what I say I’m not saying. And people know it.

What if we cut down on the negations and the qualifications and tried to speak only in assertions? We can assert negative things positively, like “I don’t like this idea,” and that is probably more useful than “I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but . . . “

It feels like the positive assertion of a negative thought is kinder than the non-assertion, or even the half assertion, of it.

Provisional

“You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

“Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)

We’ve started making backup plans for worship leadership should someone need to quarantine for 10 days. Soon I suspect we’ll need backup plans for those backup plans. The provisional “if the Lord wishes” is becoming habitual; Lord willin’ and the test is negative. Lord willin’ and I don’t develop symptoms. Thinking beyond today in 10-day possibilities makes such a sentiment eminently practical.

And that’s enough for today. The next two weeks have been imported into today’s troubles for all of our planning with our work and our kids and our leisure. I know people planning a trip to Portugal in February, and the whole thing was conceived as mere potential; it seems just as likely as not that it won’t come off. Yet they don’t seem worried. They’re playing with house money if they actually make the trip.

I wonder is taking stock of today in light of the next two weeks is a mental habit that will stay with us to our benefit.

Story

The gospel is a story, and we don’t really understand it without some awareness of the conventions of narrative and storytelling. Telling the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand, his arrest and his resurrection, with intention and care as storytellers is ministry, is evangelism. It’s my favorite.

And yet I’m becoming aware of story’s limitations, too, the primary one being that we can hide behind the classification of “story” to stop short of asserting what the gospel asserts. I’ve recently begun to sense a serious gap, for example, between the claims “The gospel is that God raised Jesus from the dead” and “The gospel is the story of God raising Jesus from the dead.” The first asserts that a thing is actually true and must be reckoned with, while the second qualifies the assertion as a narrative, which is true in the way that stories are true and must be reckoned with as one reckons with a story, namely on a literary rather than a personal level.

What I’m after is a personal grasp of the gospel as true and critical for my life, for our life, that is powered by an appropriation of its drama, conflict, and . . . surprise ending–more narrative than propositional, more personal than empirical.

Imposter

The things you’ve done and the way you’ve done them that have made it so that you’re about to take on more–they’re sufficient for the more. If they weren’t, the more wouldn’t be. Remember that when you’re making middle-of-the-night lists of new books you need to consult and new habits you need to adopt and new systems you need to put in place in order to succeed at the more. You don’t need any of that. You didn’t need it before and you don’t need it now.

You know that this is a bad case of Imposter Syndrome, and not your first. And you know the best remedy for Imposter Syndrome is forward motion, progress on one thing today and then another thing tomorrow. The problem with the books and the habits and the systems is that they aren’t forward motion. They’re lateral. They’re focused on you, not on the project(s) and the goal(s).

The thing about Imposter Syndrome is that real imposters don’t have it. It’s probably a good sign that you do.

Sources

I used to quarrel over peoples’ sources. Links from sketchy websites, second hand anecdotes, statistics: whenever people would employ these to a persuasive end, I’d point out the unreliability of the source, hence invalidating their point.

I was right. And ineffective.

Fake news didn’t start with the internet. Just ask anyone who’s heard the tale of the fish Young Tom caught or the description of Joe’s girlfriend, who you wouldn’t know because she goes to a different school. The more interesting question for Young Tom and Joe is not “Is it true?” but “What is at stake for you in the story?” Treating a tall tale as an incorrect fact misses the point; it’s a story about the person telling it, and it should be handled according to the conventions of narrative, not forensics.

Elevator

The group getting on the elevator was too big, so I hung back and let them board without me. The door closed and I waited one, two, three seconds before pushing the call button. I would have the next car to myself. I’ve been in six worship services in six days, including three on Christmas Eve in an unbearably tight N95 mask that had me scratching at my beard like it was on fire. I’ve been around too many people in these days of surging Omicron, and I’m not trying to cram myself into a crowded elevator.

This one took too long, because before the elevator could arrive I started hearing the approach of a group of children. Not good. They reach the elevator bay and I casually turn to look: mom, unmasked and coughing, attended by four girls under 10 with American Girl dolls tucked under their arms. No masks on any of the kids, and two of them are red-faced, coughing and sniffling. The light above the elevator dings and the doors open. “Go on ahead,” I say kindly to the mom.

“OK” is her only answer, and she hustles her crew inside.

Alone again, shaking my head. There are only two elevators here, and I’ve watched them both go up. The next one available should be the first one that left. As I’m thinking through the timing of its return, a couple quietly arrives and leans against the wall. No problem. Two people I can handle. Except when the first elevator returns, it’s full of people who disembark slowly, unsure of which direction they want to go. When they finally clear the door I defer to the couple to get on first, and they defer to me, and in the time it takes for our mutual politeness to get sorted out the door closes and the elevator is gone.

Only one more person arrives before the next elevator returns, the one that took the sickly mom and her kids. It, too, is full of uncertain passengers, but I get my arm in the door before it closes and our quartet is loaded. Buttons are pushed for floors. I’m first at floor seven. But the lift stops at floor six, which can only mean someone there called it to go up; more people are getting on. The doors open on six to reveal a woman and four girls under ten–no.

“Come on!” she orders, and the whole coughing crew shoves their way into the car. I hold my breath for the one remaining floor, but I can barely manage it.

The door opens and I emerge alone to inhale deeply of tires and oil stains.