Church

Win

Yesterday the 12 year-old spent hours writing a novel, working through the process laid out in this book she picked up with her mom two weekends ago, sketching out a protagonist and her “misbelief,” as well as the defining moments of her story. This writing is not a school assignment, though she’s spoken with her teachers about it, and they will figure out a way to credit her work.

Hours, though. Unprompted and uninterrupted. Committed.

This is the positive side of school at home. It’s just one day, I know, and today may be very different. But we should celebrate the wins where they happen. This is a win.

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Church

Practice

Yesterday we conducted three youth groups over Zoom. It worked. Succinct debriefs with leaders affirmed the usefulness of short, repeated, one-on-one breakout conversations combined with about 10 minutes of 5-6 person breakouts and some time all together on the same screen. It worked. It can be done.

It feels like there is an opportunity here to reprioritize practice in what we’re doing. Planning for an hour on a screen can lull you into a fixation on content: what story are we hearing? What discussion are we having? But the formation of disciples (of any age) demands the practice of faith’s claims of new life in the midst of death and its promise of hope. Those are not ideas to teach but practices to try on.

That, too, can be done.

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Church

19

It was the worst thing to happen in my lifetime. All white hot terror on us in a moment. The terror stayed for days, while people clustered with their closest friends and relations, staggered by the force of it. Terror moved on, but it was replaced by a maturing knowledge that things were different now and would never go back to how they were before we saw what we saw ( and then saw it again, and then saw it again), before we knew what we now know, before we lost what we’ve lost.

That was 19 years ago today. 19 years before most of us had any notion of a novel Coronavirus, which has, of course, become the other worst thing to happen in my lifetime. The loss of this is multiplied almost 70 times over, yet parceled out in daily reports that obscure its immensity and protect us from the terror that a sudden attack delivers. The impact of this will almost certainly outweigh, in terms of scale and duration, the impact of 9/11, yet 19 years from now I don’t expect we will mark a specific day as the locus of our loss.

Be safe today. Hug your dear ones.

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Church

Shell

The late night walk with the 12 year old to the convenience store for chocolate (let the reader understand) was a balm that followed an afternoon tempest of pre-teen contempt (let the reader understand).

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Church

Seasons

When I declared it fall last Friday (the air had cooled and pumpkin spice was already announcing itself in shop windows), the 12 year-old resisted. “No. It’s still summer. Fall doesn’t start until October.” Never one to pass on a gag, I intensified my autumn declarations over the next several days, to her increasing irritation and intransigence.

This morning over breakfast I shared with her the strange news of September snow in Colorado. “No,” she demanded. “It’s fall, not winter.”

I win.

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Church

Cat

It started in the morning and worsened through the afternoon, such that, by bedtime, I laid out with an ice pack over my puffed and bloodshot eye. Allergy, no doubt, just the latest phase as the days cool in which, in any case, I spend interminable hours indoors with three cats. Especially this one, who lays on my lap as I read and twists to contort herself to explicitly suggest the spot to be petted (she prefers the under-chin). I comply. My eye twitches.

Now she starts to sneeze, though, in violent bursts of four, five, six cat-snorts that leave her licking at her nose, dazed. Could she be allergic to me, too?

Ours is a pact of mutually assured destruction.

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Church

Process

Process is a scrim. Under these conditions, its flaws are well-lit and its limitations infuriating. But with a slight lighting change, it disappears to reveal the outline of figures behind it.

Process is real. It has measurable, concrete effects on people who don’t understand it. The process for applying for unemployment; the process for group deliberation; the process of a toddler’s bedtime—most things that matter involve process.

Justice is a process.

Focus too intently on the mechanics of a process and you miss the human actors enmeshed in it. Some of those actors built the process. Their motives and incentives are fair game for scrutiny. But others behind the scrim have their hands on it now, and they’re using it for aims it may not have been designed to pursue. They’re not passive actors.

These are the questions I put to complaints about process: do we understand it as well as we can? And can we wield it to do the things we want to do? If the answer to either question is “no,” we have work to do.

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Church

Wicklow

There is a collection of sonnets set in the middle of Seamus Heaney’s 1979 book, Field Work. The 10 poems take a house in county Wicklow, Ireland, as their subject, the Heaney family domicile for four years.

I’ve been to Wicklow. A Priest named Gerry introduced me to Robert, a zealous Catholic convert my age and—like me—aspiring seminarian, and mere weeks into our friendship Robert proposed a weekend trip to Avoca, in Wicklow, to haunt the setting of the hit show “Ballykissangel.” We stayed in a bed and breakfast, drank at Fitzgerald’s, and, of course, attended a mass (everywhere we went together it was a mass) at St. Mary and St. Patrick’s parish.

Today, the passing observer would take us for a couple. But I spent the long Saturday afternoon of that weekend greeting the approach of dusk while finishing a Russel Banks novel as Robert snored through an interminable nap.

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Church

Magic

I flip through the pages of the New York Review of Books regularly and order titles that look promising from my local bookstore. Last week one arrived, a biography of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It’s lovely, and reading it is taking me back in time.

I have a water-damaged paperback of selected Heaney poems on my office bookshelf. There’s an inscription on the back of the cover and a letter tucked in the middle. The letter and the water damage are related. It’s a whole story.

The magic of a book is its ability to summon other books that cast a spell over you in some earlier time. You may have forgotten about that spell, but any new book will recall it.

See? Magic.

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Church

Confirmation ExZoom

Yesterday our church Session examined a slate of Confirmation youth over Zoom, and now we all have another thing in our ministry repertoire. It felt so daunting back in April, when the exam would have normally occurred, so we punted. But we’re months yet from being back in-person for things like this, so now was the time. And it worked.

The same things we’ve found critical to ministry in this milieu came through here: a dedicated technician to arrange breakouts so that the person moderating isn’t juggling multiple tasks at once, printed materials sent out well in advance, and clear prompts for feedback. Those things are all in our control and make a world of difference.

But the more meaningful factors are the best ones—the people. Elders who are curious about the church’s young people and eager to hear their stories. Youth who are earnest and open-hearted. Time and space for the Spirit to bob and weave among them. That’s the secret sauce. It always has been. It’s no less secret for being online.

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