When have we heard this before?
Oh, that all too familiar question bellowed from the back seat from many a child to their parents while traveling on some form of a vacation or to a special event. It seems many modern vehicles are now equipped with drop-down screens for passengers to watch a favorite movie or to play a video game while donning a set of headphones so as not to disrupt anyone else’s riding experience. Gone are the days when impromptu sing-a-longs broke out, made-up games where the license plates on passing cars are used to go thru the alphabet, and God forbid someone notices a Volkswagen Beatle and gives you a “Slug Bug” punch directly to the arm. Oh to have that moment of human connection, when at least someone asked, “Are we there yet?”
While daily statistics are still rattled from the television of who is sick and who has died the question for many of us is, “Are we there yet?” Has the curve flattened or is it still on the climb? Can we let ourselves believe that we have come to the end of a global health crisis that leads us to start-up a back to the way things where before the first Cough was reported? Personally, I wish this were so. But then a sense of caution raises its head and says, “Do you really want to go through something like this again?” I pray, “Dear God, not again.”
As states are being told to take their own steps to social reentry, we can’t get so caught up in the excitement to publicly reconnect with family, friends, and strangers without considering precautions, steps, and potential risks. But it won’t be too long when we begin to ask, “When can we begin meeting for church again?” “Are we there yet?”
As I write this reflection, my heart and my mind tell me, “No, we are not there yet.” However, when we arrive, we will need to be ready to accept different forms and means of functioning from what will be a different norm than the normal we lived within before we first made laughter about virus with a name of popular beer. As we have learned and lived through this ordeal, this has been no laughing matter.
So, if we are not yet there, then, where are we? This is a good question. A cartoon comes to mind with God and the Devil engaged in a conversation. The Devil says to God, “See how this virus has closed all of your churches?” To which, God responds to the Devil, “Yes, but it’s opened a church in every home.”
There will be some lessons to learn from having to adapt to be the church because of COVID 19. One lesson is, “The church will always be the church.” I have been in awe how people of all faiths have found new and old means to be in community and to give thanks to the Divine. Another lesson is seeing how we have been able to reach out to others through online means. From the winter visitors who have joined us for Sunday worship who say, “Don’t leave us when you return to the building,” to the family who gathers in Zimbabwe to hear the Good News from Scottsdale, there is no stopping how we share God’s love that reaches out to others locally and around the world.
Perhaps the big lesson will be an epiphany, “If I felt this alone only for this short amount of time, then what must this be like for the people who experience similar isolation all the time?” The work of the church has not come to a screeching halt, rather, it’s allowed us to ramp up our cause and purpose that calls us to be the hands of Jesus that touch the heart and embrace the soul of everyone.
Are we there yet?
We’re getting closer.
My best to you!
So, I don’t know how you feel about the Holy Spirit, or how the Divine moves among humanity and all things created. But I know this as truth. Every once in a while, I get this idea or tingling that is far more than an impulsive knee-jerk. There is this action that calls me to look beyond myself and my family and to do something for someone that is unknown to me.
Case in point. Last October, my family traveled to a small beachside town on the Oregon coast. There, we fell in love with a family-owned pizza restaurant. Since we were there on the off-season, the two times we partook in dinner allowed us to have the entire place to ourselves. We felt a love that spoke to us, “Come and make our home your home.” In the southwest we say, “Mi casa is Su casa.”
My wife and I hold a fondness for small local businesses. So while on vacation, like back home, we always try to stick to taking our meals at some local establishment. Suffice it to say, we fell in love with our new-found pizza shack alongside the shores of Oregon.
The other night, while looking at locations for our next get-a-way (after this plague is behind us) my wife and I kept returning to the western coast. We love the Pacific coastline, and we love the small communities that make these locations their year-around homes so that they can serve visitors, like us, who search to make lasting memories.
So the other night my wife said, “Hey honey, do you remember that little pizza restaurant we went to in Oregon?”
My response, “Oh I sure do. We ate there two times, and I bought a baseball cap with their logo.”
My wife edged, “I think we should do something for them.”
Curious I poked, “Oh? Do you mean something like the time we bought meals for those two people celebrating the end of their chemo treatments at the restaurant near home?”
She smiled and replied, “Something like that.”
After a quick Google search for a phone number, I picked up the phone and made a call to the pizza place in Oregon. When someone picked up and said the name of the memorable place, we identified ourselves as previous patrons, and we wanted to do something special. “Was there anyone in line placing an order?”
“No, we’re doing a lot of call-in/online orders during this health crisis. And we’re about to close for the night. We’ll be open on Thursday.”
I told them fine, and we’d be calling back. We contacted the owner on social media and again affirmed our desire to do something for some of their customers and would be calling back later. Although a small amount, my wife and I will be committing to pay for some three to four meals.
We’ve experienced this ourselves when someone unknown to us has picked up the tab when out to lunch or dinner. We’ve come to discover this anonymous joy ourselves to return the favor to someone else.
It doesn’t take a world-wide pandemic to become grateful for others to express generosity. This caring act is something we can do all-the-time. But it has come to mind in these days of distancing that we can say thank you to others who go the distance to make us feel special when we least expect it to occur.
Now don’t get us wrong, this is not something we do willy-nilly. This spark of the moment comes from out of nowhere and calls us to be a part of greater flame of hope that goes beyond a means of doing unto others and becomes that glimmer that I believe marks a touch of the creator’s hand.
I thought I’d never be saying this to my wife, who is an accomplished seamstress of many things. To date, she’s always made me my stoles I wear with my robe for worship services. Now it’s all about a swath of material and some elastic she’s found at a local store to keep me from coughing or sneezing beyond my mouth when in public. Well, so be it. “Make me a mask honey, but I want the Spider Man material to make me look cool.”
So we now live in a stay at home, no toilet paper available, time to get another bottle of wine, society. When this whole COVID thing is over we’ll either come out with less than we ever expected or packing an additional twenty pounds from all the food and booze we’ve stocked up on and have eaten or drank throughout our days.
I about lost my mind the other day. I found myself so rapidly trying to prepare for my work that I counted some seven or more computer programs and applications I’ll use to produce a worship service that I pray my congregation will attend via online come Sunday. (God, that was a long sentence!)
THEY NEVER TAUGHT US THAT IN SEMINARY!!!
But the hell with all of that. (Yes, clergy use those words too.)
What I’ve discovered is that beyond the liturgy, beyond the hunting for YouTube hymns with imbedded lyrics so that my peeps can sing along, to the staying in tune with the liturgical season, to the moments when I want to cry, and the fact I get up way too early these days to begin working is all that matters is the sixty minutes of multiple screened images of my congregation being in community with each other.
Oh my God, I sure do miss being with the people you called me to serve in the first place. Now I know what Moses felt when he stood before Pharaoh and demanded, “Let my people go!”
I have no idea what the first Sunday will look like when my congregation will gather after this plague of biblical proportion. But a hug would be nice.
Right now, I’m more occupied with government documents that allow me to keep paying my staff, who hope and pray they keep receiving a paycheck for the work that is demanded behind the scenes these days as we do our work electronically and telephonically.
In the meantime, I demand a mask to cover up all of this minutia.
These days, I’m cooking more, have learned to make bread, and when the day is done, I get to sit on back patio with my wife with a glass of wine as we play some card game that we yell “UNO” to each other. In the meantime, we pray neither one of us gets ill, and for those who can’t sit at a table and drink a glass of wine and play some card game where they get to yell “UNO” to each other.
My life, these days, is about reaching out to my congregation through telephone (that aged-old device) and this new thing called ZOOM where we gather on our computer screens and see a headshot of other as we engage in business, care, and worship.
I know we’ll get through this thing, but it’ll take a while.
In the meantime, I’ll ask my wife to make me a mask so that I can go out in public to get some food, hope I find some toilet paper, and to bring home a bottle of wine.
I’ve been awake way too early these days, but I’ve at least had a moment to reflect, and to know, that I’m not alone.
Thanks for being present.
I miss you.