“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.” (Col.3:23)
When I was a kid, our family owned a complete set of The World Book Encyclopedia, which occupied several shelves of a bookcase in the phone room and which was in surprisingly frequent use. Does this sound familiar to you? In the middle of a conversation one of us would shout, “I’ll look it up!” and then we went running. Who could get to the bookshelf first? Who could thumb through those thin, crisp pages first to find the answer? Ah, the days of competition and the incredible revelations held so preciously between the covers of that information universe.
Today, very rarely do I hear those words, not because people aren’t looking things up—though I wish that would happen more often, but because no one needs to run anywhere—it’s all right here. The universe of information has been shrunk to a pinpoint. Or a mouse click. Here, in the palm of my hand rests the World Book and dozens of other encyclopedias, dictionaries, journals, research papers, and all manner of trash and fluff almost beyond imagining.
The importance of this ‘instant access’ is not lost on anyone, as witnessed by a national plan to blanket the country with “wireless fidelity” (Wi-fi) by 2030. In a world where changes are counted on a global scale in minutes instead of days, and where information can be corrupted in a most attractive and sophisticated fashion, access to facts is crucial. Additionally, social media—electronic socializing—is a standard that up until recently, many have avoided and parents have lamented. The outbreak of Covid-19 has changed all that. The “Wi-fi” standard” and the ubiquity of access has shown itself to be almost indispensable.
Many knew this day would come, just not all at once. We like to ease into change, especially change of this magnitude. But the virus has short circuited our leisure (at least in this area) and we are hard pressed chasing the wave. In the past two months I have spent hours on the internet searching for better ways to “do” internet—and all of the equipment and configurations necessary for a more secure and reliable connection--to the internet! Cameras, wire, frequency protocols, broadcast standards, nodes, modems, routers, portals, networks and access points have filled my days and plagued my dreams.
So many options, in the world of access, slowed my progress, but eventually one choice seems to be the right one. It was an easy choice once I made it. It seemed to talk to me, to show me it was the right choice for the job I needed doing. Oh, I certainly had “buyer’s remorse” the day after I hit that purchase key, but now that it’s here (most of it anyway), I am at peace with it. It was a journey to embrace, discover, educate, and engage all for the singular purpose of providing access to all. Sound familiar?
These next two weeks I will be continuing to grow on my journey, running wire through the Church and Parish Hall, setting up networks and tweaking protocols. It will be hard physical and cranial work, but it is necessary and, in the end, simply the right thing to do. I know that when I am finished “setting it all up” I will never actually be finished. It will need to be tended and things will go wrong occasionally that I will have to deal with, but that’s okay, it has to be—it’s part of the journey. As in life, and really as in our spiritual lives and relationship with God, our efforts and failure to “connect” are in no way a reflection on the internet, which is sure and constant. Sound familiar?
So, when you come back to church at church there will be a NEW Wi-fi network and access from everywhere. Our God is indeed “wireless” in ways we have shown and lived throughout the quarantine—accessible from anywhere, and Lord knows, He is faithful. Wireless Fidelity. This is us, God’s people. We will send the Gospel into all the world via the World Wide Web--and the reality of risen Lord will present through our love and song and presence. Though our efforts may be clunky and rough around the edges, our hearts will show the way as our hands are blessed by God.
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Prov. 90:17)
Yes, yes indeed! Sounds familiar.
What is the price of failure?
“The price of failure is devastation and utter ruin” is a line from a book I have long since forgotten, but the quote has stayed with me. What a horrible existence it would be if that line were the truth of it. How could anyone ever risk success if the chance of “utter ruin” lurked around every corner?
Failure is inevitable and unavoidable, not because we don’t try to succeed, but because we are not able to account for all the varied forces that swirl about us—and swirl they do! This past Sunday morning at 9:45 all was in its place-- tripod, notebook, electric line, wifi--everything was ready. And then…failure. Reboot the computer, check the wifi, open a new window, change the browser, quick quick, use the phone instead, in the end repeated corrective measures to solve the mystery problem proved useless and all attempts ended in…failure.
I have heard how people tried to get on and stay on, doing in their living rooms and kitchens what I was doing in my back yard. I didn’t stop the service, though I knew few if any could be participating and I later heard how other people met their failure, not by screaming or ranting at the computer, but by following the service by themselves and praying for everyone else. As it turned out, the failure of our social media connection, though tragic in one sense, was not a failure after all, but an opportunity.
In his letter to the Philippians St Paul writes, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” 3:10. What a liberation Paul sees for you and me in Jesus’ hope for the fulfillment of our lives as we “become like him in his death!” No, not dead, but liberated as Jesus was in body and in Spirit! To struggle, to encounter obstacles, to to be cut down (I know I’m overstating the electronics bust, but think of other problems in your life) is to be like him in his death, which is to be set free from the threat of “utter destruction and the tyranny that failure holds over us as a measure of worth.
Last Sunday we were prevented, by unforeseen forces, to worship together in the way we wanted to. But we still were able to praise God and pray in the Holy Spirit. The failure to connect in social media is not a failure of love or compassion or joy, in fact it was an opportunity to know God in the moment in a different way.
As Jesus tells us, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him,” (John 4:23) as we gather together. In the midst of that worship, rather in the Church or in the kitchen, there are those divine moments (long moments, I pray!) when God is palpably known to us. Those moments cannot be derailed by failure anymore that the sun can be put out by a cloud.
Whether we are able to be together or not, if there are unforeseen forces scrambling our efforts and attempting to dash our hopes upon the rocks, there is still greater opportunity to ‘be still, and know that God is God.’ (Psalm 46:10)
"I've come to believe that all my past failure and frustrations
were actually laying the foundation for the understanding that
have created the new level of living I now enjoy." - Anthony Robbins
And ALL God’s children say, “AMEN!
Dear Creator Family,
I was discouraged when this past Sunday’s 10:30 online service didn’t record. Each week, our 8:00 and 10:30 am services have been “taped” and posted on our private YouTube channel for those without the technological abilities to participate by Zoom or, in the case of Easter services, to watch later in the week. I am genuinely blessed to have Mary’s genius and abilities maintaining our online connections during quarantine. For the record, it was my error. I was using a laptop instead of cell phone for the first time and must have pushed the wrong button. The Zoom platform has presented a steep learning curve to be sure, so I try to take all the setbacks and glitches in stride. That’s life. But I was disappointed to learn that our gathering was “lost.”
Or was it? It’s kept me mulling over the matter and our “new normal” of personal interaction by social media platform. I appreciated Elizabeth Lafoon’s comment that, while other parishes are taping their services in advance to be “viewed” on Sunday, our ‘live,’ interactive broadcast simply feels right.
It’s true, taped services fit into our schedules better. One can opt to go to church any time of day that suits. Our family watched the Easter service at the Washington National Cathedral on a laptop while Jenny fixed a holiday dinner and the kids sorted through their candy. During our quarantine, I’ve watched other snippets of services and preaching online to hear meaningful words, and I’m glad I can do that. I confess to an ulterior motive as well--mining for tips and tricks to improve our online experience at Creator (Oh, so that’s how they…)! I do enjoy these pre-recorded services, in the same way I would enjoy watching the Macy’s Day Parade, a regular custom of setting time apart to watch an event. I enjoy seeing the beautiful sanctuaries and hearing what music they have managed to incorporate. The more beautiful the performance, the more work I now know went into that production.
But in the blessing resides the problem—it seems more like a performance. And somehow, it falls short of worship for me.
There is something so immediate and natural about an online service that preserves the “in church” nature of our gathering together. For one, there is focus. Though we are not physically present with one another, we are all doing the same thing at the same time. I believe in the mystical power that comes from that focus, because I know that the Holy Spirit is present connecting us all at the same time. The same with our call to prayer at 8:15 each morning. If you are doing that, you are participating in something far beyond the walls of your home or the walls of our church—it’s corporate. “Corporate worship” is our fancy way of affirming Jesus’ call to gather when he said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” The corporate reality of our gathering includes Christ! The sum is greater than its parts. In fact, in that sum lies the sacrament.
Second there is the obvious and tangible sign of the many and the disparate becoming one. Call it communion, for lack of a better term. Radical individuals coming together in the Name of Christ, even if we are just tiles in “gallery view” on a screen. Some are on a laptop, some on cell phone, some with video, some without. Some have no microphone, or no video, others trying out tech upgrades, all of us striving to be present. In the moment. I have to say that’s part of what it means to be at worship. We come to church on any Sunday from as many different places as there are people in the pews. Varying degrees of focus, enthusiasm, attention and will, all striving to be present in the moment.
Some use church as a reason to get dressed and ready for the day. At Easter it was fun to see fancy hats and “Sunday Best,” which, to me felt like a defense against the new shelter-in place orders and our dawning realization of what quarantine would mean. Have we not discovered since then, that you cannot lock-down the Holy Spirit? Somehow church is special, people at their best, and I like that this theology translates to Zoom as well. Others prefer PJ’s and a mug of coffee to come to the most special part of their week in their most natural form of being. The sacred is never meant to be stuffy or “presentable.” It is something much more essential than that. After all, Moses before the burning bush was asked to take off his shoes, not put on nicer ones. I’ve heard so many quarantine jokes of working in pajamas, yoga pants, or no pants at all, that I am happy to see online church does not bow to pretense. God takes us where we are, how we are and loves us for who we are. After all, he made us.
Mainly I like the online service for what it communicates about our priorities. Going to church is important. Always has been, always will be. Gathering as a people, His people, is important, and so the “live” aspect of our worship matters. Fellowship is real, and vital. It is the eternal Body of Christ, right here on earth. It is the fringe of His kingdom, breaking in. It is not entirely a human institution, and I believe as make-shift as they are, our Zoom meetings capture that. This is what stops the non-Christian or mystifies the believers in other faith traditions: Christ came at a particular time to a particular place. There is an immediacy to the Incarnation that can’t be captured on film. You need to BE there.
When Jesus went to the cross, they dropped the recording feed to that one, too. The answer to the haunting rhetorical question often sung by our choir on Maundy Thursday, Were you there when they crucified our Lord?, is “no.” Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? No. But we can be there when he raised up from the dead. Because that happens, live, every time his people come together in his Name. Online worship preserves the best of the Incarnation and feeds us spiritually and sacramentally during this time. I encourage us all to BE there.
In closing, let me reiterate what I’ve been saying several weeks. I was mostly disappointed about our botched recording for those folks who can’t be with us on Sundays but do have the capabilities for YouTube. Please reach out to parishioners not “on” on Sunday mornings. I can think of a half dozen folks unhappily separated from us by technological barriers, and in our small family that’s a percentage I’m not comfortable with, particularly in a strange and worrisome time. Please use the “old fashioned” methods of telephone calls and/or written notes to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ve spent a fair bit of effort on the parish directory, which is online, or you can contact Mary or myself to get the information you need to help us keep the family together—corporate and in communion.
God bless you all.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I came across a newspaper re-print that struck me as very relevant, particularly in light of Sunday’s Gospel reading and our current situation. It is a poem written by Minnie Louise Haskins in 1908, made famous when King George used it in a 1939 Christmas Day address to war-torn Britain, to calm her fears and orient her trust in the one true King.
The lines below are also an echo of the parable of the sheep we heard on Sunday. The poem was originally entitled “The Gate of the Year,” perhaps alluding to the gentle and comforting gate-keeper we have in our shepherd, Jesus. It speaks to us of trust and the peace we find when we, listening to His voice, place our hand in His and venture into the darkness unafraid.
There is much about this poem on the internet, and on how the English monarchy has treasured it and used it over the years (It’s inscribed on their tomb and was read in full at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002.) For now, let it speak to us in troubled times of God’s reigning mercy and provision.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and
put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills
and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will is best.
The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.
Father Bill Burk†