28 April 2020
Granny was unapologetically Charlestonian. She loved her hominy (grits); she handled live crab with her bare hands; she rolled her eyes when anyone insinuated that Savannah was the Holy City’s equal. (I roll my eyes too.) In public, Granny was gregarious and commanding, gifted with the ability to silence and then direct a crowd by deploying her trademark, “Now listen here…!” In private, Granny’s authentic love for us came through; she always made time to hear each of our stories, offer advice, and remind us that God would help us endure all things. Granny was my “mother confessor.” Granny’s intellect dwarfed my own. Granny shared the newspaper with me many mornings, quizzing me to see if I was fully abreast of the happenings in the world. One Saturday, in front of a 13-inch black-and-white TV, Granny clandestinely introduced me to Notre Dame football while the rest of the family kept shouting “Roll Tide!” at their own screens.
As the weeks of our collective captivity become months, I find myself leaning on the lessons of the saints like Granny. And you? Maybe you’re finding old recipes for breads and casseroles, making your kitchen the epicenter of family life. Maybe you’re seeking dusty photo albums to revisit and retell great stories from the analog days before our histories were only memorialized on Facebook. I suspect many of you are taking the time to pass on the wisdom and encouragement that were shared with you.
We are, as scripture reminds us, “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” May the witnesses who surround us—the saints—inspire us to encircle our beloved ones with love that heals, teaches, and encourages.
I’ll keep the hominy on simmer and keep pullin’ for the Irish, Granny.
Reading for Today: Hebrews 12:1-12
20 April 2020
There’s a definite shift in the tenor of my morning radio shows. For the past six weeks or so, most of the programs I frequent have focused on the deepening crisis of Covid-19 and how governments, hospitals, businesses, organizations, and families were reacting to the crisis. In many ways the programs had a wartime tone, with constant reports from the “fronts” of medical and economic intervention keeping listeners abreast of the small victories and the emerging challenges. Today? Everyone seems to be talking about recovery.
While I think it’s premature to declare victory over the virus—please stay vigilant in maintaining all those mitigation recommendations—I do think it is important to begin a conversation about what we’ve learned about ourselves during this pandemic and what needs to change in our lives moving forward. I, for one, realize that maintaining some of the meaningful shifts I’ve made in my daily schedule (more sleep, more time in the yard) will keep me happier and healthier over the long term. When I think about Messiah, I’m wondering how we can leverage technology to connect to more folks while bringing heightened efficiencies to the “business” of the church. I also recognize that the lasting impacts of the pandemic will require congregations like ours to deepen outreach to families working through grief, unemployment, displacement, and a host of emerging challenges. Indeed, the world six weeks from now will look quite different than the world of six weeks ago.
I point your attention to the tail end of Acts chapter two today, a favorite of mine and the scriptural basis for Messiah’s strategic plan & Let Your Light Shine campaign. The text describes the workings of the early Church at a time when the people of God are discerning what to do next after the Holy Spirit rouses them from their slumber. While it will take generations for the Church to refine the details of its mission, the first Christians recognized that worship, connection, and service would be essential pieces of the Church’s identity.
Recovery? It may be a bit premature to claim we are in a state of recovery on April 20, but it’s never too soon to envision how we want to emerge from this trouble—and thrive beyond it—when the season of recovery does arrive.
Reading for Today: Acts 2:43-47
31 March 2020
Special Afternoon Addition (Got a little busy)
This morning I noticed a neighbor’s driveway inundated with cardboard boxes. At first glance I reckoned that the family was engaged in some intensive Spring cleaning like just about everyone else in the Upstate. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the kids in this particular family were deploying boxes for a morning of improvised fun. One child seemed to be rowing in his box like he was piloting a canoe down a concrete river. Another kiddo was in full architecture mode, stacking his boxes skyward in what I must assume was an attempt to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building on the planet. I admit, I thought it would be a lot of fun to build a fort with my own kids if they were still into that sort of thing. (Sigh) That’s the beauty of cardboard boxes: Your F1 race car is my rocket ship; my bunker is your mountain cabin.
We’re doing a lot of improvisation these days. Restaurants retooling for curbside service. School at all levels delivering instruction through E-learning. Board meetings via Skype and Zoom. Brick and mortar churches delivering worship and learning opportunities digitally. Kids playing with boxes—and unleashing the creative juices—like it’s 1979 all over again. Our routines are upended, friends. But we’re in a creative mode too, no? I’m already imagining which of today’s improvisations will become tomorrow’s standard practices.
Speaking of improv stories, one of my favorites focuses on the arrest and imprisonment of Paul and Silas. These coworkers in mission have been arrested because their ministry keeps upending the status quo in the community. “Put ‘em jail to muzzle them,” the thinking goes. Makes sense; doesn’t work. While in lockup, Paul and Silas publically pray and sing as the other prisoners listen with interest. Faith is stoked in an unexpected venue.
Improv is good for all of us. As we rise to meet the challenges of the current impasse, we are establishing healthy patterns of love, life, and faith for this moment that might be adopted permanently. That’s a good thing.
Who’s got appliance boxes? Asking for a friend.
Reading for Today: Acts 16: 16-40
Special Request: Send me a few sentences about how you and your family are doing. I would like to share all of these with others. Email is best: firstname.lastname@example.org
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