The Work of (This) Summer

After a good trip back home to Tennessee to see family and friends, I’m back in Honolulu adjusting to mostly-free days and evenings.  For many years, summer vacation was difficult for me (and summer school almost a necessity) because of my need for structure and flow.  And while that concern still remains, I’d like to think that I’ve matured some in this respect.  Covid has made it difficult, of course, because I like to work at coffee shops (most of which aren’t available for early hours).  But there’s been some loosening of that practice, which has been good for me.

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This summer is a particularly interesting one because we are, it seems, on the other side of Covid.  As such, we have the opportunity to ask all of the questions that we could have asked during early Covid but didn’t have the energy for (because we were busy adjusting and surviving).  Most people, I think, just want to get back to normal as quickly and easily as possible, which is a sentiment I understand completely.  At the same time, seize the moment people, ask the hard questions that God might be calling us to in this quickly-closing window.

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I suppose it’s primarily because of this article by Ephraim Radner from March 2020 that I keep coming back to thinking through “things learned.”  The article itself is a time capsule that feels like a hundred years ago to some.  It’s a reminder of the good and necessary scramble that church leaders were going through as things shut down.  He wrote of things that he saw church leaders saying and doing: an “insistent call to comfort and be comforting,” the “infantilization” of church members because of the “maternalization” of the church in such a time, and “the siliconization” of the church.  It was this last item that ultimately spilled over into (or was it from?) education, and the one that I felt the affects of most.  It was the question of whether or not to live-stream worship that crystallized Radner’s thoughts:

Should we live stream worship at this time? Maybe not. At least we should think about why, to what end, and with what consequences. We cannot, nor should we, seek to give the impression that life “goes on as normal.” It never did, after all. Our lives are fragile, vulnerable, and ultimately subject to the power and grace of God who has made us and will finally take us. Their maturity is marked by obediently living into the death of Jesus, with a hope of sharing in his resurrection (Rom. 6:5; 8:17; Phil. 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:11). That is the goal of anything that the church seeks to do as a formative and worshipping body. It is also the case that maternalizing, infantilizing, and siliconizing the church probably doesn’t add much to this goal.

Near the end of the article, Radner wrote:

When it comes to worship, we might learn to pray alone. We might learn to use the prayer book with our families, aloud, regularly — using an actual book, turning pages, touching paper. We might learn to sing hymns together, rather than listening to them broadcast through the computer. We might learn to become lonely (or finally to admit that we already are) and to cry out. We might learn to hunger and thirst even for the Bread of Life, for the Body of Christ, as many have done over the centuries in this or that place of desolation or confinement. We might learn to read the Scriptures audibly, for ourselves and with others in our homes. We might let clergy and others make home visits, one on one. We might — I might! — stop telling everybody what to do, and let them grow up.

We might. But we might not.

This sentiment was articulated in the present day wonderfully in yesterday SBC presidential address by J. D. Greear.  In his speech, which made good mention of the difficulties of the last year, Greear spoke of what his initial hopes had been for himself and for his church at the advent of Covidtide . . . and of how many of those hopes didn’t quite happen.  (I really hope a post-able version of the sermon becomes available soon.)

But now we’re at the place where we find ourselves wondering “what now?”  Some things will go back to normally quickly.  Other things won’t change back at all.  What do we do about online learning?  What do we do about Sunday schools where people from all over the country gathered with old friends in their virtual Sunday school classes?  How do we (or even do we) re-learn how to gather together?  These are just a sample of the questions we should be asking ourselves as we make our way out of the cave or the tunnel of Covid. 

That, for me, is the “work” of this summer: to think and pray and question things along these lines.  I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that many don’t have the time or bandwidth to ask such questions.  But I know I need to.  It’s a good work, I think, and I’m looking forward to it.

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