Undertow

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Yesterday Central held our normal worship service. A lot of people didn’t show up, and I felt an odd pastoral emotion about that.

Relief.

Central has a good many folks who fall into high risk demographics, and I have no desire to see any of them become infected with this virus just because they wanted to come to worship. We have been taking the CoVid-19 pandemic seriously, bringing mitigation strategies to our gathering which were well outside our normal practices. Even still, when people chose good wisdom and remained home, I was pleased.

Last Friday I imagined people questioning why we’d gather for worship at all, and wrote, “Gathering in worship gives people a place to pour out their love, fears, hopes, and troubles before our Savior-and to be reminded of our calling to live as a people of hope.” I believe this is true, worship is important. And the incarnational nature of Christianity does require physical presence. Jesus, for Christians, is God in flesh–and that needs to be reflected in how we disciples live. Exceptions to this “rule” are not-uncommon–people who are sick or are unable come together to gather are always part of our life together–but in those cases it’s the rest of the church’s responsibility to try to incarnate Jesus on behalf of those who are unable to attend. We’ve now come to a place where those who are unable to attend worship are now the rule rather than the exceptions. We’ve hit the tipping point between the benefits of keeping something “normal” are out-weighed by the risks in doing so.

The world is spinning 1.

I’m preaching a series on being a neighbor this Lent, based on the public witness of Mr. Rogers. In times of trouble he used to say how his mother told him to “look for the helpers.” And it’s terrific advice for a child to hear. Helpers are the ones who are working to set the world to right so life can happen once more.

At the same time, I think a lot of us who hear Mr. Rogers’ story about the helpers manage to miss the point. We’re adults, we don’t just look for the helpers, we need to live as them.

It’s not an easy thing to do right now.

I grew up going down the Jersey Shore 2, and am familiar with what we used to call “undertow” and now call rip-currents. If you get caught in a rip current beach-goers are told not resist it, and swim parallel to shore if you’re able. Human beings don’t have the strength to swim against such currents, and wasting energy which can be put to good use–either by putting yourself in a place where you can reach safety on your own or reserving energy to await for rescue–leads to drowning.

It’s not easy being a helper right now because our civilization is in a rip current and, like panicking swimmers, people are swimming against the current. Hoarding toilet paper, sharing memes which are direct contradictions of the advice being given by the CDC and WHO, and declaring it all “overblown” and carrying on with life as normal are all different forms of panic responses. If we keep doing this, we will drown in infections–which is what we’re seeing happening in Italy.

But difficult is not impossible. We can all still choose to be helpers.

If you know of an elderly neighbor who has no support network, be sure to contact them and find out if they have any unmet needs. If you know of friends who are panicking, try your best to re-direct people to accurate information which might help them center-down. If you know of families with young children who are going stir crazy, offer to go with them on a walk 3. Use what technology you have at your disposal to keep people connected. Be creative in ways you can promote a sense of camaraderie during this crisis, because we are all in this together. Work for peace, a space where life thrives.

Demonstrate for people how to survive a rip current, and know that by doing so you have saved lives. When Christians talk about “being blessed to be a blessing,” this is what it looks like.

In fact, I am grateful I’ve seen helpers emerge. Folks are offering to do shopping for elderly neighbors. Others are volunteering to watch kids for parents who have no choice but to work. Many are stepping up and encouraging people to have wisdom. I even have one friend who runs our local music school who is planning on doing a half-hour weekday webcast of music and stories for children. These are good. And, while the insanity of a toilet paper shortage can make us doubt the ability of humans to thrive in a crisis, these people are worth remembering. Be like them.


  1. Yes, it’s always spinning. It’s a metaphor. Stop being so literal, dang it. 
  2. No, there are no words missing from that sentence. In fact, I added one. 
  3. Keeping a respectful safe distance, of course.