Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Quarantine Chronicles, Part I

It's been almost a week, now, holed up at home, other than one trip to the church office to retrieve stuff for work, and a couple trips out to grocery shop. True confessions: Dara and I have not eaten so many meals at home in almost 30 years. Frankly, after entering the ministry, our family's schedule with two working parents and evening church programs and meetings, has NOT been one of wholesome family time around the table. That is unless you include the time around the table at Eat n' Park or Chuck E. Cheese, when the kids were little. And with "the kids" now 35 and 37, Dara and I eat one meal at home maybe every two weeks, or so. Again, with our schedules, and living 16 miles away from the church, prior to COVID-19, I would spend Tuesday through Thursday at St. Paul's all day, and would have my meals out. Does this sound familiar to any of you?

I am aware that a great number of our young families have similar situations, with two working parents and hectic "kid schedules" of myriad activities. So, what does it look like for you now, with the recommended quarantine? We have never seen anything like this total shutdown of preschools, childcare programs, kids' sports and classes, as well as family activities like concerts, movies, and family meals "out." We are experiencing "forced" family time and preparing meals at home. How is it going? Are these new things for you and your family? Or is the quarantine taking you back to an earlier time or practice in your personal "home history?" If you are not used to cooking and having meals at home, it's quite a shock, and especially if you have children (or constantly hungry teenagers) at home.

With us, it's just the two of us, but one of us doesn't like to cook, and the other of us never learned how. True confession #2: the latter of these two is your's truly. I have promised I would take cooking classes and learn to cook in retirement. COVID-19 has moved up the time table, at least for me learning what I can from Dara and following Internet-provided recipes. I made crab cakes with a Creole remoulade one night, and they were great. However, I was quickly informed by the resident dietitian that they were quite expensive, and nutritionally, they were, shall we say, a BUST (it was the mayonnaise in the crab cakes and the mayonnaise in the remoulade, I think...). They were really good, though, so like General Douglas MacArthur, they shall return.

On our grocery shopping trips, one of us is tempted by yummy-looking, pre-prepared or frozen foods. The other likes vegetables and soups. Since virtually every "vegetable" I like is no longer considered a vegetable by the dietitian (they are now called "starch"), I am learning to eat salads and soup. I do like a salad made of what my family always called "greens" (just iceberg lettuce), with a few shredded carrots on it, lathered in Thousand Island or Bleu Cheese dressing, but again, the dietitian says that's pretty much just an excuse for a salad. I don't like what salad-makers call "greens" today, as I think they are actually what I call "weeds." I know I've sprayed stuff to kill them in my yard, at least. We can agree on some of the soups. We both like bread, real butter, and coffee brewed from freshly ground beans.

After a recent medical "moment" (not related to COVID-19), my doctor suggested giving up bread, real butter, and coffee brewed from freshly ground beans. While I pledged merely to "cut down" on these, even keeping this commitment narrows down the point of intersection in our culinary likings to soup. I guess I'll become a soup nazi, then.

Seriously, what are you guys all doing during your quarantined times together? How hard are you finding it to work, play, and rest in the same environment, surrounded by people who are probably not used to seeing you juggle all of this together? Here's an important issue for us to look at!

Typically, when those of us who work outside the home come home, we're home. Our partner, even if they work, too, is used to encountering and dealing with the "home" us, as we are them. If you have children, they, too, are used to having their parent(s) home when they are home, not 24/7, with a large part of that time now devoted to sitting in front of a computer screen or with a cell phone glued to one ear. I'm guessing this new scenario is creating some cognitive dissonance? We are finding that if we don't "signal" each other when we're "working" and when we're just "home," we butt heads and snap at one another. Why, just the other morning, as we sat at the breakfast table sipping coffee--a time that would typically be for "before-work" chatting and sharing news stories from our phones with one another--I was writing a quite-involved email to a church colleague as part of my "work" day. Dara went to show me something she had just read, as she would normally do, and I barked at her, out of not wanting to lose my concentration on the email response. So, she snapped back, declaring it would be a cold day in Tucson before she tried to show me something humorous again. The Sheriff in Cool Hand Luke might have said, "What we have here is a failure to communicate!" What actually happened was a clash of "environments" brought about by the COVID-19 quarantine. I was in my "work" space and Dara was "home."

I have a funny feeling this event is not unique to us? Have you been working on an important project during the quarantine and one of your little ones brought a book up, wanting you to read them a story? Or in the middle of a tense work call when your teenagers--who are just going nuts with this stuff--started a loud argument? Friends, this is a time when we should heed something the Bible says in James 1:5--If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. We ALL need wisdom! How to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and well; how to manage being "cloistered" together in ways we never anticipated; how to separate our necessarily "sardined" environments; how to switch gears rapidly between being the professional and being the parent, the professor or the partner. None of us was prepared for this, and it isn't easy.

And then there is another whole "world" out there--those who are simply off work, or even worse, OUT of work! Theirs is a different journey entirely. Somehow, across the lines of quarantine, those of us who CAN work at home, are compelled by our compassion and our faith to find ways to help those who either cannot, or who have no job at all, thanks to this horrible pandemic.

How can the church be the church when we are so separated? What are creative ways we can put "feet to our prayers" for these other friends, our nation, and our world? True Confession #3: I'm really struggling as a people-centered, liberal Christian pastor with how to care for you! As an extrovert, I must say that the electronic "miracles" we have at our disposal are better than nothing, but not by much. I'm missing too many of the non-verbal cues I rely upon to diagnose, empathize, understand, and counsel. OK, I'll stop playing my own violin, but I hope this is illustrative of the myriad circumstances and challenges we all find ourselves in, personally and professionally.

Please know, dear ones, that you matter. You matter to God, to your family, and to me (and your pastor, if you are reading this as part of the wider audience). I do believe that we can learn and grow out of this crisis, but we should acknowledge it IS a crisis and not just a lesson or an opportunity. It is a serious issue of survival for us all, and one we will only emerge from by following the guidance of the health experts, and coming "together" as a community at a time when we can't actually come together. It's a time to pray for our world, one another, and wisdom. It's a time to find new ways to "feel," and in some cases get in touch with stuff deep inside of us that will now percolate to the surface. It's a time to use those electronic means to reach out to one another. Call someone; re-learn the "art" of meaningful conversation around the family table; hold a time of family meditation, worship, and prayer.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said, "The best of all is, God is with us!" Unfortunately, he said this on his death bed. May we all, through this horrific experience, learn this far, far before that time! Shalom, Yinz.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


How sad it is that some are making the COVID-19 epidemic a political issue, when it is a medical threat to the well-being of so many, particularly those at risk (currently defined as seniors and those with medical conditions that compromise their ability to fight this aggressive virus).

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is easily spread. Rigorous hand-washing, limiting "touch greetings" such as hugging and hand-shaking, and avoiding public crowds or other large gatherings of people are ways to help curb the spread of the virus and to avoid being infected, oneself.

As has been reported, wearing facial masks is only effective if YOU have the virus, and helps prevent you spreading it to others around you by coughing, sneezing, or even breathing in close proximity to others. Masks are generally not helpful in preventing infection for the wearer, as they don't adequately screen airborne droplets that may contain the virus. Don't go buy masks, as this has depleted the supply from those who legitimately need them, especially those in the medical field.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Allison Park will be following the advice from the Allegheny Health Department, and is seeking to comply with the recommendations emanating from the Center for Disease Control (the CDC). Here are the current precautions we are taking:

-curtailing hand-shaking and other "touch" greetings in our weekend greeting lines

-dispensing hand-sanitizer to all taking Holy Communion at our 8:30AM Communion Service

-cancelling Communion on Palm Sunday, April 5, at all services except the 8:30AM service

-encouraging any members and friends who may be in one of the "at risk" groups to refrain from attending public worship until the crisis has lifted

-encouraging any of our folk who are ill to stay home and attend to your health

As I mentioned earlier, if more stringent measures are recommended (or, heaven forbid, required) by the health officials, we will certainly cooperate. We are also taking measures to "live stream" one of our weekend worship services so those who are forced to stay home, or choose to, may "tune in" and participate remotely.

I believe these measures to be prudent, and in keeping with the love and concern for persons modeled by Jesus. We should not take this "Coronavirus" lightly, as it may be a life-threatening issue for some in our community. Besides, the precautions we take and the systems we create to limit the spread of it may also prepare us for the potential spread of other, more dangerous viruses that may come our way in this age of the "superbugs." Being careful is putting "feet to our prayers."

Our prayers continue to be with those who have lost loved ones to this virus, and for those both infected and exposed to it. It is a time for smart actions and wise counsel, and certainly a time to pay close attention to the experts in the medical and scientific communities. Please do not listen to some of the "Christian" charlatans who are using prayer as their only prophylactic or selling the latest incarnation of "snake oil" as a cure for it. And while a healthy diet may benefit you in many ways, and even "boost" your immune system, it will not shield you from viruses.

Keep your wits about you, beloved. Don't give in to inordinate fears over COVID-19, but don't listen to those who tell you not to be reasonable and prudent with your health! The more we work together, the quicker we will see this threat pass, and the more folk will be spared even the harm of exposure. Shalom, Dear Ones!

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...