Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday in a Sad Time

I've been thinking about how it's a season without festivals. Religious festivals remain on the calendar but we strain to make them festive. Arts festivals are canceled outright. Conferences and symposia are not always festive, but some can take on the air of celebration---but not this year.

I'm writing on Good Friday. It's nearly impossible to feel it. There is already so much grief and fear, reliving the Passion of Christ seems redundant at best or sadness porn at worst. Golgotha seems too far away or else too near and might even be seen as a mockery of what we're experiencing. We know what happens on the first day of the week, a recovery that we Christians hope for but know won't come so soon.

Some politicians, like my senior senator, want to emphasize the numbers of recovery, the percentage who do not die, which is a nice attempt at keeping positive. He's not exactly wrong, this virus isn't a death sentence, but for those who die, being in that minority isn't much of a comfort. But politicians don't often seem to be in the business of comfort these days.

Last weekend, I walked to the neighborhood CVS. On the way, I saw a woman looking up and down the street then looking at her phone. She saw me coming and stepped off the sidewalk to let me pass and I smiled and nodded as I made an arc around her. I few steps past her, I saw a car in a driveway with a woman waving from it. I looked back to the woman I'd passed and we immediately switched roles. I stepped off the sidewalk and she made an arc around me. I followed several steps behind until she stopped and talked/yelled to the car. "Let me go get my mask and gloves and I'll be right back!" The other woman said/yelled, "Okay, I'll be right here!" I decided to cross the street there (no traffic at that moment). Uber or Lyft, I decided was the story. I pondered my lack of mask or gloves.

At the CVS, I gathered up a few things and went to the cash register. The cashier was a friendly guy, jovial even. He made small talk easily, and even when chatting about the pandemic, it sounded like casual small talk. He ended each transaction, including mine, with "Stay sane and safe."

Mask and gloves. Sane and safe. It was the last day I left my apartment without a mask, makeshift as it is. I don't have any gloves, though. Those are harder to do makeshift. I need to make a run tomorrow, maybe I'll look for something then.

I feel ridiculous in my mask. Or absurdly dangerous. I look like a bandit from the old west. They say I'm protecting others, more than I'm protecting myself. Fair enough. How would one know if one is asymptomatic or not? I don't have symptoms, but it seems "asymptomatic" only really fits if you should have symptoms.

I end up playing word games. Is it surreal or absurd? Either/or/both/neither.

Jesus was crucified "today." Out of the hundreds (thousands?) of people crucified by the Romans, The overwhelming majority stayed dead (so far). By my conservative estimate (I could find little data on numbers crucified, though one site says "thousands upon thousands," seems like internet hyperbole), somewhere between .1 to .02 percent of people crucified by the Romans resurrected.

Other causes of death have an even lower percentage.

The odds, it seems, are against us. But what is hope without impossible odds?

So far, my association with confirmed cases of covid-19 is no closer than 2 degrees of separation. That's confirmed cases. There is also the supposed case that is recovered, but never got bad enough to warrant testing--that one would be one degree. What are the odds that I'll get through this (first wave) without a confirmed case of someone I know personally? They have a 90-something percent chance of survival. If 100 people I know become confirmed cases, how will the 2, 3, 4 (depending on the news story) get chosen for not surviving? The odd thing about odds is that for or against you, if you die, you die. That the odds were for you doesn't really help at that point.

These are odd Good Friday thoughts. I'm sure there's no inspiration or edification in them. There was a time that I spend hours in a church on Friday afternoon. I wish I could have done that today.

I live in hope to be able to do it another year. I live in hope that there will be festivals again.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Life Apart

"When things get back to normal . . . "

I admire the optimism of people who foresee a return to what was before Covid-19. I don't share it. It's not that I lack optimism so much as I lack the certainty that one day we'll all return to work in our offices and it'll be like before. My optimism is in what the new thing might be. I don't have any particular vision for that, but I have hopes for it. Where my optimism fails is in the fear for any troubles between now and that new normal.

But meanwhile . . .

I'm surprised by some things. Numbly amused by others. Quite possibly oblivious to much. I'm surprised by the ways I miss moving freely in the world. I've less surprisingly slipped into this solitude with some ease---I've known for decades I have the potential for hermit status---but I'm surprised by how casually I once took going to a grocery store, how securely and confidently I picked up different items, reading labels until I found something I wanted to buy. How casually I brushed by someone in an aisle. How easily I waited in line, not bothered by the person in front or behind bumping into me, not worrying about the cashier and all their interactions.

I'm amused, occasionally annoyed, by people who complain of being bored. I don's have this problem. I experience boredom when I have tasks that don't engage me and yet have to get done, but I'm not one to feel like there's nothing to do. If anything, I'm more likely to be paralyzed by too many choices for what to do next. And perhaps this its own kind of pathology.

I've wondered that, this far into the age of mass media, that I don't, that we the church doesn't, have a stronger theology of broadcast worship. I don't belong to a tradition that enthusiastically embraced "TV ministries." There have been exceptions, the radio program here and there, the morality plays in stop-motion animation of Davey and Goliath, but not a great deal of energy for worship over the airwaves. How does one worship electronically?

Now that we've been forced into a situation where that is the required means, I find I have feelings about it.

No conclusions but definitely feelings.

And those feelings might be unpacked at some point. What I'm reminded of, these days, is of the slim book, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Written while he was teaching at an underground seminary in Nazi Germany, he opens with the premise that gathering as a body of believers, as a congregation, in the physical presence of other Christians, is never a given and better understood as a privilege. He notes the Christian in prison, or separated by illness (relatable), or by work in a foreign land where there are no other Christians. In those situations, and others imaginable, the Christian must find comfort, strength, and life in Scripture, prayer, and in faith itself.

In our hyper-connected and yet hyper-separated contemporary world, I'm not sure we're equipped for this. I feel I am not. Hence my surprise at not having a better theology of broadcast worship.

The first two weeks of Facebook live worship, my church tried doing the Eucharist  over the internet. Not meaning to limit how God may choose to work, I found issues with the notion. It felt too much like the TV preacher holding his hands out to the camera, "healing" those in his TV audience.

Bonhoeffer also notes that we are given physical bodies, flesh for gathering. The body is where we experience everything. It is the site of our pains and pleasures and while our physical eyes see the physical TV screen, there is a qualitative difference in the presence. Some would argue that the "magic" of the Eucharist is in the words spoken over the elements---even if the elements are in front of my computer screen, not in front of the physical presider of the sacrament. And it is fair to ask, if the Holy Spirit cannot work in that way, does the Holy Spirit work at all?

But I begin to feel the "magic" of the Eucharist is in warm flesh and blood, in the same room, breathing together the same air (a dangerous thing, we've learned, but we've always known breathing together--"con spirare"--conspiracy--had danger in it). Whether in a group of thousands---a privilege indeed---or in a private sharing of bread and wine with the homebound--a different type of privilege, no less sacred--we become one body by bodies' presence.

Which is not to say that connections maintained over the world via electronic means are irrelevant. Absolutely not. It is a privilege to live in this modern age and have these means. And as definitions of "community" have shifted with the advent of social media, so may our definitions of "epiclesis." As I say, I don't wish to limit how God may choose to work. And this is why I've not entered into the arguments online about this. I have stated my misgivings and left it at that, but I have no strong, solid, final conviction about it.

Only that when "things get back to normal," whatever the new normal will be, there will be changed things, a lot of things. Or so I predict.

I expect the church, communities, my own self, to be among them.