Upper Room Dispatch: Letter 1
To the saints on the other side of the screen,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who knew what it meant to be alone and isolated, and whose generosity of heart extends into every present place and moment by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
This is the first of what might become many dispatches from my office at home. I'm surrounded by books and bibles, sticky notes and note pads, and a few pieces of bedroom furnature. My office, you see, is also our bedroom. It's located just above our garage on the second story of this 2003 quick-build house.
It's my own little upper room.
All creature of our God and King are having to adjust to the new reality of social distancing, self-isolation, and the every-present threat of a dry cough and a fever. My hope is that these dispatch letters might help keep track of those adjustments, big and small. Things are going to change so quickly. Have they not already? I'm afraid that if I don't keep a record of what's changed each week, I might forget how different life was before the pandemic.
So here are a few things of note that happened last week.
Everyone discovered Zoom. All at once.
Nearly everyone in my circles found Zoom this week, which is a good thing. Zoom opens up a lot of possibilities for worship, prayer, and dialogue. But the platform (all digital platforms, really) introduces a host of new challenges for everyone in the church–lay and clergy alike. We each have different levels of digital literacy. The shift from on-ground to online necessarily puts our literacy to the test as we embrace new technologies and navigate platforms.
On-ground gatherings use technologies like chairs, tables, and other physical items. We organize those things in physical space to help us mediate our conversations and interactions. For example, we know that setting up tables and chairs in rows creates a different dynamic than setting them up in a circle. We design the space with specific intentions in mind. The physical room is a container inside of which we make connections with one another.
The same goes for the digital. Online gatherings just require proprietary platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Slack to serve as the digital containers for our conversations and interactions. Some rooms are pre-designed by technologists. Or in other words, the chairs and tables are fixed before we log in. Each platform has its own etiquette, its own rules, its own challenges to navigate. And every participant in an online gathering has to make choices about their own physical space (like my upper room) and the shared digital space.
I anticipate many conversations in the coming weeks about how best to use these tools to connect with our people.
Everyone is losing things. All at once.
Our routines. Human contact. Whatever sense of security we felt only a few weeks back. Our plans.
Oh, our plans.
Some of us canceled vacations. Some of us got fired. Some of us are self-employed and are having all our clients cancel. Some of us are looking at April with no sense of how bills will get paid. Some of us are homeschool teachers for the very first time with no sense of how to teach and work.
None of us have a clear sense of what Holy Week will look like.
Some of us (me and my kid) are having our commencement ceremonies canceled. Some of us (me and the soon-t0-be deacons) are having our ordinations scaled down to the bare minimum. My family won't be here to see me become a priest, and I won't get to see my kid walk to get their diploma.
Every loss comes with its own experience of grief.
But some losses come with the threat of losing everything. And that's the thing I hope we don't lose site of. We're going to need to Acts 4:32 this situation if we're going to keep people housed and cared for.
Everyone is making mistakes in public. All at once.
Urgent need mixed with uncertainty of praxis is this perfectionist's nightmare.
But as Mother James said, quoting Saint Augustine, "Perfectionism is a sin of pride."
Boy... did that ever hit home.
Most everyone is doing their best, including me. This is a time to be extra-gentle with ourselves. We don't know what we're doing. We might as well admit that and try to be forgiving.
What is time now?
Time broke this week. It doesn't behave. It stretches out and shrinks, lingers and disappears. There is at once a lot of time, and also the sense that there is no time to waste. It's so disorienting.
Daily prayer helps. There are a lot of people streaming the Daily Office online. I'm praying compline every Monday-Friday at 8 PST with whoever shows up (link to the meeting). Anchoring my sense of time in prayer may save me in all of this. I encourage you to try it for yourself.
This little apocalypse we're in, this revealing of the truth about the fragility of our lives and of this world, is not something I was fully prepared for. But as I said during my sermon at St. David's on the last Sunday of Epiphany, one never knows how God is going to interrupt our plans.
Even our pious ones.
And God is in the midst of this. The Spirit is moving in and through all of it. Christians are still called to follow Jesus, and to ask God daily what that means in our own context.
I'll be trying to do that this week. I'll fail at it, I'm sure.
But as the song goes, the saints are just a sinners who fall down and get up.