March 26, 2020

Working From The "Cloffice"

Over the last two weeks, I have been working from home just like many of you who are fortunate enough to continue working while we practice social distancing. We're doing this, of course, in order to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. I converted a corner of my closet into a makeshift office so that my frequent calls and video conferences would not interrupt the rest of my family who are also at home.

The trouble with the "cloffice," which is what I have donned my now closet/office combo, is that there are no windows. I never realized, until now, how important natural light is to keeping track of time. I have found that with the lack of change of scenery day in and day out, I sometimes forget when I talked to someone about one thing or another. Was it today? Yesterday? 3 days ago? (This is where my teenagers would insert a joke about old age.)

Which brings me to something that I have been thinking about lately, how will we mark time during our quarantine experiences? I have not found that passing the day by binge-watching news updates does anything but increase my anxiety. How will we mark time during this experience?

During the Cold War, C.S. Lewis was asked to write an essay in response to the public fear of a nuclear attack. In his essay he wrote,

"If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."

What fear tends to do to us is convince us that we are powerless, that there is nothing we can do to respond to whatever impending doom we perceive. Lewis is saying that the best antidote for fear is contribution. Creating something, connecting with others. And I would add that the best way to contribute is by doing this routinely.

If you find yourself, like so many of us, cooped up at home and trying to figure out how to manage, find some routines; movements from one thing to another. Humans are not intended to be sedentary, we need changes. Change is how we mark the passing of time. The movement from one experience, one activity to another is how we know we have moved from moment to another.

It would be easy to despair in a time like this. The worldwide impact of this virus is frightening. The reaction by our government, both state and federal, is enraging. If I want to continue contributing as Lewis encourages,  I have found it critically important to tend to the rituals, rhythms and routines of my life. This has proven true throughout my life but certainly even more so now as, like so many of you, I will be occupying a solitary space for at least a few weeks.

I have found that is important for me to get up in the morning and go for a run. When I get home, I make coffee, pray, write and read. After that I would typically wake everyone up and start getting all of us ready for the day. Not these days. Now everyone else can sleep in and I take a shower, get dressed and start my day. It marks that a new day has started and, somehow, the more consistent I am with the routines I have makes room for others. Rituals, routines and rhythms make room for others.

But there is one routine in particular I want ritual mentioned above that I want to spend some time with. Prayer.

Lewis mentions prayer as a way to contribute. It is a way in which we can contribute too. Prayer may have a bad rep' these days. Anytime a tragedy occurs, you can anticipate someone will express social media outrage at the phrase, "thoughts and prayers." Yet, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (look him up) wrote, "Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer." That is to say, Christians have throughout centuries believed that prayer matters and it is our "work." Certainly, there are Scriptural references to humans changing the mind of God through conversation (I'd call that prayer) but Soren Kierkegaard wrote that prayer has likely more to do with changing us rather than changing God. It changes how we see the world.

The work of prayer has more to do with re-framing how we engage the world; not being bound by how the state or marketplace marks time but instead marking time with periods of prayer. It has less to do with how we feel compelled to say but about signaling to God and others that time, along with all of creation is in the hands of the Creator. In our tradition, prayer is not bound by my will or emotional state but by the shared commitment to prayer with countless Christians around the globe who at the same time stop and pray, often sharing the same words as mine.

When Lewis mentions prayer he is thinking of prayer in this way. He was Anglican, a member of the Church of England. He understood prayer as a routinized activity that was not bound to his own words but the shared utterances of people around the globe that paused in the morning, midday and in the evening to recognize that there are powers greater than those that had recently conducted a global war and threatened each other with nuclear devastation.

Once again, the powers of this world will play into our loneliness due to isolation, our anxiety over economic decline and grief over the ravages of a disease in order to meet their aspirations. Prayer is our work and weapon in these times when we stop and say time does not belong to you or me but to God. A time where we hope that we may see the world as God sees it and confess that we have not.

We will contribute in a variety of ways during this moment but I hope prayer is one of our continued contributions. If you're unfamiliar with the prayer book, what Episcopalians call the Book of Common Prayer, it can be found here. There is not a wrong or right way to use it but be reminded that if you do pray these prayers, you are joined with countless others in praying the same prayers. In other words, you are not alone in prayer.

Here's a visualized reading of Lewis's essay:

March 25, 2020

What Are We Online For?

In a matter of days, faith communities of different sizes and traditions went online to ensure that religious practices were carried out and the spiritual concerns of members were met. Many congregations did so for the first time. They might have never imagined that the methods used would need to be employed week after week as the entire world addresses a pandemic and people are staying home to diminish the spread.

As congregations quickly adjust to conducting weekly rituals and care for their participants it's worth asking ourselves, what are we online for?

It is easy to forget that the Internet and the various mechanisms we use to navigate it are nothing more than tools. Specifically, they are communication tools. Both opportunities and limits come with these tools. They are not themselves the work. They are the devices we use to get the work done. With the invention of Gutenberg's printing press in 1440, European Christians did not establish a Church of Gutenberg or a Church of the Printing Press. Rather, they capitalized on the new technology to do the work they were already committed to doing.

(It's worth noting that the invention of the printing press did have ramifications on what the work of the Church was/is--the Protestant Reformation was massively impacted by this tool. But more on that later, possibly.)

So, recognizing that what faith leaders and communities are increasingly using is a communication tool, how ought it be used? To address this question, it might be helpful to think about two particular platforms that thousands of congregations have begun using in the last few weeks: Zoom and Facebook Live. (Instruction on how to use either of these is easily searchable online, so I will keep my comments brief. Google it if you want to learn more.)

Zoom is a video conferencing platform. I've used it for several years now. Many of you have as well. A video conference platform such as Zoom is not conveniently searchable on the Internet. You need a specific link in order to participate in the conference. But participation is a key quality of video conferencing like Zoom. A host must curate the video conference as participants own audio and video is automatically shared in the group (everyone is heard and seen). Participants can share their screen; showing other participants other programs or windows they have open on their device. Participants can additionally use a chat feature to communicate with each other through typed word.

I used the word curation above on purpose. Zoom can be used for presentation. To do so, a host has to closely curate the engagement of others in order to ensure that the information being presented is communicated clearly to participants. In other words, the platform was built intended to ensure that a community, whether a non-profit board, church small group or classroom can effectively communicate with each other. It is for a community, not a presentation from a sole community member.

Facebook Live functions differently. You knew that. Facebook Live is limited to two presenters to be on video. Participants cannot share their video or audio with the group. Participants are limited to "likes" and typed comments. While there are significant limits to the contribution of participants to what is being presented, their contribution to spreading what is presented is exponential.

The reason why presentation on a platform like Facebook has the potential of exponential spread is that it is built on connections, social networks. Social media platforms make the sharing of information presented easy. Each individual that engages with a piece of content can expose, intentionally or not (sorry, no other way to put it), that content with everyone in their contacts on that platform with ease. With no more than an Internet connection, a smart mobile device and a YouTube or Facebook account a church with an average weekly attendance of 24 last year has the potential of reaching thousands with what they present. It's already happening.

I'm not interested in advocating the use of either of these platforms. I use them here only as examples to make a point: it is important to be clear on what you are using a platform for. Just as Instagram stories tend to feel more personal due to their vertical presentation and YouTube videos tend to feel more formal due to their horizontal presentation, some platforms lend themselves to conversation while others proclamation. It might be helpful to think about whether you are nurturing the spiritual formation of a small group of people already committed to your community (discipleship) or using public worship to announce God's good news to an increasingly frightened and isolated world (evangelism). In most cases, faith communities will need to use both for the foreseeable future. Yet, clarity on what we use these platforms for in each scenario is worthy of your consideration.

And it's worth adding that this will all change. It's safe to assume that someone is already working on new adaptations to these platforms that will change how they are used and new platforms which are intended to meet different needs are already in development. This will all be outdated in short order but that shouldn't stop of us from capitalizing on these tools during the current moment.

By the way, the BBC did a podcast mini-series on faith in a digital age. It's worth checking out.

February 25, 2020

TSOANTTC: Thomas Irby


This month, Adam, Dan and Jason talk with Thomas Irby, a Methodist pastor and punk rock kid. We talk about church for the differently abled, weirdest shows we've ever been to and Thomas's hatred of legendary Seattle bands.

Check out the playlist of bands discussed on this episode on Spotify. Make sure to Like our Facebook page and tell us what you're listening to and what new faith communities might be inspiring you.

Thanks to Liberty and Justice, Workin' Man Noise Unit and Save the Ship for the use of their music this month.

As always, thanks to Matt Traxler and Steadfast Records for the use of Brandtson's music.


February 22, 2020

Church Plant Webinar Highlights

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Bishops and Diocesan leaders from across the Episcopal Church about church planting. Here are the highlights from that webinar:

February 12, 2020

Who?

When it comes to church planting we are frequently enamored with the "where," "when," "what" and "how" of this work. We are easily intrigued with novelty. We are forever interested in technique. Yet, at it's core the work of starting new faith communities is an evangelistic effort--inviting others into God's good news that otherwise would have nothing to do with it. If this is true, starting with the where, when, what and how is the wrong place to start. "Who" is where we ought to start. Who is not attending the established churches around you? "Who" is way more interesting, humane and deeply contextual. You will end of up with a community truly unique rather than a carbon copy of a model repeated a thousand times over in other places. "Satellite campuses," "dinner church," "laundry love," these are techniques. If they work it is only because leadership prioritized answering, "who is this for". "Who" tips the notion of novelty on its head and leads us towards true innovation.  The "where," "when," "what" and "how" of church planting is quickly answered when following "who" and has a higher likelihood of success when we get clear on who we are building Christian community for and with.