Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

What if online church sucks?

This is objectively not the same

What if online church sucks? I don’t think there is any question that this sucks. I know, I probably shouldn’t say “sucks”, but if you just want to suck your teeth at the prospect of your next zoom cell meeting, or live stream Sunday meeting, trust me; you are not alone. I think a lot of my friends are feeling the suck, the sap, the drain of church in the Quarantimes.

Quarantimes Church Timeline

The past 50+ days have gone something like this for me:

  1. What, the church is going to meet on YouTube live?! Ew, gross! That goes against the whole point of being the church. How can we be face to face through a screen?
  2. Whoa, that wasn’t as bad as I thought. I actually felt something when we prayed/worshiped/chatted in the comments. I wasn’t expecting that.
    2b. But also whoa, what am I supposed to do with my kids when this thing is happening?
  3.  [Raising fist to the sky defiantly] I ain’t gonna let no virus separate me from my community. How many apps can I download? What is Marco Polo? Oh, this is cool. Hi friends!
  4. It’s Holy Week! Yes! We’re actually doing this thing. #sacredspot is really cool and I am actually doing this breath prayer thing. I feel connected.
  5. Resurrection! Missing out on Easter traditions is a major loss, but Jesus IS still alive, I’m holding on to that.
  6. Ok… now what? This isn’t over yet? Dang.
  7. “Zoom Fatigue,” “The Great Disruption,” “#Classof2020”
  8. I haven’t really “done church” for a while. And I don’t want to.  Lemme just hunker down.

I think there was a flurry of enthusiasm at the beginning (or was that just me and my pastor friends who were animated to meet the challenge?) And now the reality of another month of shelter in place, and maybe going through the end of the year without meeting in large gatherings — this is hitting hard. How can we make it through this?

Let’s just name it and trust God

You don’t really have to overcome your fears. Not everyone is David slaying a giant. You don’t have to become a hero and triumph over all these icky feelings. The way you feel is the way you feel. There is, however, a kind of subtle shift that can happen when we name those feelings and hold them with Jesus. Taking the pause to reflect and describe the feelings clearly makes space between our selves and the feelings themselves. That little gap is big enough for the Holy Spirit to get into. The feelings don’t go away, but the presence of Jesus gets in there, and then — the subtle shift. Then comes the ability to persevere, the extra well of gentleness and kindness for yourself and others, the joy despite your consideration of all the facts, the peace that surpasses all understanding. The Holy Spirit is like a dandelion, only needing that small crack to grow roots in and eventually spread on the wind to ever greener plot of grass on which you cast your eyes.

Because, again, this does suck

I’ve said for years that the pilgrimage we take to show up at our cell meetings, and Sunday meetings is so significant. “You made it!” is such a shout of victory sometimes. That embodied togetherness does so much for us, and those who are part of a church have come to rely on it. I give my one friend a hard time because she always answers my “How ya doing?” with “I’m here.” I always wanted more of an answer — more than just her presence. but now, in the Quarantimes, I am elevating her former “here-ness” for sheer lack of it. In our collective absence from one another, “I’m here” would be great — and not just for me and my need for connection, but for her and all the unconscious ways our togetherness buoys her and her faith.

We have to do everything on purpose now

Much of what happened before our separation could happen implicitly. A gentle shoulder squeeze as I passed by could communicate more than a million zoom calls. Being together on a screen, either at the Sunday meeting or in a cell meeting, now requires a lot of will. We are still creating a new habit, for one, but we are also relating in an environment that demands cognition almost exclusively. We are talking, and listening mostly — tasks which are harder in this context. All of our energy is getting sucked out by the mental processes of this foreign form of communication. Don’t they say that body language is more than half of communication? Well, we’re only half talking then. We’re only half together. Overcoming that limitation is really demanding. if you’re feeling it, I’m feeling it with you. Our bodies aren’t breathing together. Our spirits aren’t feeling each other. There is so much that happens when humans are in the same room.  And now we are not in the same room with anyone but our families. And for those of us who live alone, it’s no one, EVER.

We have to do our relating on purpose. We have to focus so much on just being present when we are relating on a screen. We can’t depend on our physical presence to communicate our love to others. We can’t enjoy the power of just showing up to communicate something about our faith to ourselves.

But it’s worth it. Do it with me, please

I want to have a church when this is over. I am almost positive we will, but the threat is real. Falling out of practice, is falling out of faith. Practice and faith — the two go hand in hand. The new habits required to be the church require a lot from all of us. In the grand scheme of things, though 50 days feels like forever, it is a relatively short period of time. We have not been able to adjust to this way of relating. For most of this thing, we have held out hope that it would soon be over.  For the past few weeks at least, I have been settling into the fact that it will not soon be over. Restrictions may ease, but I do not foresee Circle of Hope meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike for several more months if not through to the beginning of next year. With that immediate future stretching out before us (and praying for the shorter end of the prognosis), we must learn these new ways of being the body. Yes, they are not as good. No, I do not like them either.

Let’s name the problems and get practical about solving them. Let’s lament the loss and allow the Holy Spirit to get between us and our sorrow to make something new. Let’s tune into the joy of our community’s creativity and perseverance. Let’s do our purpose on purpose, because that’s how we have to do it now. There are so many ways we are being the church in spite of this separation. Tell me a story in the comments or email me. How are you seeing the church be the church in the Quarantimes?

 

2 Comments

  1. Joseph Rogers

    I not sure of the point of complaining about the situation it is what it is and if we want to be safe it will be for some. I guess if one vent fine but let’s move on and do the best with what we have, I think in many way we are blessed.

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