27 March 2020
It was an off day. I launched into Thursday with great expectations of finishing a sermon, writing several thousand words of “copy,” and penning at least a half-dozen handwritten notes to the people on my mailing list. Eight hours into the workday, the tally was no sermon, zero notes, and maybe 1200 words of writing. How did I spend the time? Well, I know I stared at the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 map and various news sites for a few hundred minutes. The rest of it? No clue.
It’s been awhile, but I’ve been in this kind of space before. You’ve been there too. I can point to a handful of “spells” in my adult life so ripe with distractions and disorder beyond my control that all I could do was ruminate on paralyzing questions like “Why is this happening?” or “Where do I/we go from here?” Amid the worst of them, I painfully realized that walking away from the distractions and disorder was the only healthy way to get on with living.
Can I/we walk away from the distractions and disorder that the virus continues to dump into this world? Without access to a remote, self-contained tropical island, the answer is a resounding NO. Can we limit our exposure to a 24/7 news cycle that’s just rehashing what we already know to be true? It only takes two mouse clicks.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sometimes stepping away from the distractions and disorder—if only for a few minutes—can give a racing mind and an anxious heart much needed breathers. Jesus modeled this for the disciples and commends it to us.
Remember when we only got our news at 7 am and 6 pm? Give it shot. As of today, I am.
Reading for Today: Luke 6:6-12
24 March 2020
Like most of you, I’m trying to limit my trips to the grocery store to once a week. At this point the goal is aspirational, as I’m the kind of person who shops in spurts, not full-buggy free-for-alls. This morning, however, I arrived early at my neighborhood store to grab a few depleted perishables. While many of the store’s offerings were fully stocked, I noticed some notable empty spaces on the shelves. If you’re looking for meats, cheeses, canned goods, and frozen foods, you may be out of luck until the next trucks arrive. This makes sense, of course, as folks continue to grab the essentials of meal prep. That said, I was tickled by the unexpected absence of cookie dough, chocolate cake mix, vanilla frosting, and sprinkles. Is everyone celebrating a birthday this week? No. Is there an uptick in baking sweet treats? Apparently so.
In one of the most moving sections of Isaiah, the prophet acknowledges the “shroud” of despair that covers the mountains. Isaiah, no fan of hyperbole, is brutally honest about the suffering unfolding among the nations. As bad as it is, Isaiah also sees the movement of Grace amid the suffering and looks ahead to the day when the Lord of Hosts will destroy the shroud that covers the people. “On that day,” Isaiah declares, the Lord will set a feast of rich food and great wine up on the mountaintop.
The shroud covers us, friends, and it’s far more disorienting than the fog that’s rolled over our neighborhoods three of the last seven mornings. How long will it last? We can only guess. Will it eventually lift? I’m counting on it; I hope you are too. On that day, we will feast together. In the meantime, bake cookies, prepare a cake, lather all of it in obscene amounts of frosting and sprinkles, and share your rich creation with the people you love.
Reading for Today: Isaiah 25
23 March 2020
On an Ash Wednesday morning 5 or 6 years ago, I began my day at the town Waffle House. In those days, Waffle House was my “go-to” for hash browns and eggs (heavy on the hot sauce), impromptu church meetings, and teen prayer breakfasts. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed one of my Methodist colleagues offering “Drive Thru Ashes” for commuters who, while in a hurry, were ready to mark the beginning of the Lenten fast. I didn’t engage my colleague that morning. In a highbrow state of mind, I just rolled my eyes, mumbling to myself about all the ways a parking lot isn’t church.
This past Sunday, Messiah offered drive thru communion and prayer. A small cadre of socially-distanced volunteers made this ministry possible, doing everything from preparing communion elements to raising and lowering the canopy that kept the communion elements protected from “the elements.” Two couples were onsite with me, one coordinating emergency food distribution while the other readied Spanish translation services should a Latinx family arrive for communion. Meanwhile, several tech-savvy parishioners contributed from home, posting worship and Sunday school videos prepared by Messiah staff and volunteers. We improvised, we gathered in the parking lot and around computer screens, we were CHURCH.
When the Spirit moved on the Day of Pentecost, hunkered down disciples stepped away from their shelters and into the streets of Jerusalem. With passion and purpose, the daughters and sons of God announced the Good News to a crowd ripe for transformation. The Church wasn’t confined to a space, it was (and is) the connected family of God on the move for the sake of the world.
While we can’t sit in our pews right now, huddle in Sunday school rooms, or sip our coffee in the Gathering Area, we can still be the Church. The Spirit is moving among us, with invitations to improvise, gather around Word and Sacrament, and keep the People of God connected.
We’re scattered these days, friends, but covered by Grace without end.
Reading for Today: Acts 2:1-21
21 March 2020
A group of our young adults met for “Festive Friday” last night. We checked in with each other. We sipped beverages, shared stories, and tried to lighten our collective anxiety by dishing the occasional slice of dark humor. Some ordered pizza, while others feasted on chips. Dogs and cats were invited too. No, there was no violation of social distancing. The Spirit was present.
The venue was “Zoom,” a web-based conferencing program that brings people together who can’t physically be together. Leveraged by large and small businesses alike, Zoom is available to anyone with a computer and a high-speed internet connection. Since Monday, Zoom has become more than a business tool; it’s a vital conduit of connection for people separated by virus and threat of virus. With a few keystrokes and adjustments to the camera on the computer, you’re linked with the important people in your life through real-time voice and video. You can even join by phone if you’re computer does not have video capability. Here’s the link: https://zoom.us. If you keep it basic, it’s free. (I am not being compensated by Zoom for endorsing their product.) Look for a tutorial coming soon to the Messiah webpage and Facebook group.
In the dark hours after the crucifixion, the disciples have decisions to make. Scatter or stay connected. Some leave Jerusalem of course, too wounded to spend one more minute on a lost cause. But many stay connected, hunkered down in the space where Jesus hosted the Passover just a few nights before. These disciples have no concept of Resurrection at this point, but they understand that the hard stuff of life is a lighter load when it is carried together.
Stay connected, dear friends.
Today’s Reading: Matthew 11:28-30
Tea Tree oil
I learned about Tea Tree Oil on Thursday. Extracted from Tea Tree leaves by a process called steam distillation, Tea Tree Oil is a powerful disinfectant with proven effectiveness in fights against the spread of fungi, bacteria, and yes, viruses. The timing of this essential oil education was sublime. I was listless on Thursday afternoon, unable to write in a substantive way, unmotivated to return phone calls, and unwilling to absorb one more article about the unwelcomed guest. For thirty minutes, I just sat in my office chair, staring at the map of Charleston Harbor that hangs on the wall, wishing I could turn the clock back to 1987 or so, when my biggest concern in life was ensuring my bike chain was up for a ride to Pitt Street Pharmacy.
Meanwhile, over in the sanctuary, three energized saints readied cleaning supplies for a scrub down of the sanctuary. That’s where I needed to be. We kept our distance, of course, as we cleaned for the better part of an hour. It felt good to do something purposeful, instead of just drifting into nostalgia until further notice. As we scrubbed and disinfected the space, I absorbed information about tomato plant selection, stock market volatility, and yes, Tea Tree Oil. Most importantly, I felt like I had a regained some control of my day—reclaimed some purpose—instead of just handing my time over to melancholy.
Remember John’s version of the loaves and fishes story? Aware that a flood of thousands are looking for something to eat, the disciple Philip (and probably several others) sense that they have no power to assuage the hunger. About that time, a boy presents his basket of bread and tilapia. You know the rest of the story.
Friends, we can’t control the rate of clinical trials, the breadth of government intervention, or the number of ventilators constructed for hospital use over the next several months. Are we powerless? No. We can pick up a prescription for an elderly person, plant a garden, learn something new, and teach others a valuable skill we have already mastered—and of course wash our hands and stay home as much as possible. Cumulatively, these loaves and fishes give us the edge.
Reading for Today: John 6:1-1