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


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. 

Nothing is Normal

What a difference three days can make.

Tuesday I wrote my random thoughts for the week and, based on some assurances from a medical professional, I said “I’m still going to Spring Training.” Wednesday night news dropped that the NBA was suspending their season, and at that moment I was resigned that my trip would be cancelled. Yesterday the NHL, MLS, and MLB all shut down operations. Now, even if it was “safe” for me to go, there was nothing to go to.

Beyond that, however, are my responsibilities as a pastor. If the present goal for our country needs to be mitigation then I need to do something to exemplify what that looks like. We need to do everything we can to keep critical cases of CoVid-19 below the number of people for which our medical system can care. Cancelling a trip seems like it’s the very least I can do to move the needle in that direction.

Our society is about to change, and this struck me as I took a trip to CVS to pick up some prescriptions. Less than an hour before I hopped in my car the NCAA had cancelled March Madness, but when I turned on the radio a commercial was playing a pre-recorded promo for a March Madness viewing party at a huge sports bar. Schools are closing, colleges and universities are finishing their semesters online, and my home county in PA is moving toward complete lock-down in an effort to aid mitigation efforts. Life is beginning to feel a bit surreal, and the toilet paper shortage is not helping.

Sunday Morning Central Baptist will gather together to worship, and I’m expecting a number of people to remain at home. This will make our gathering feel a bit odd, but for folks who are most at risk in this situation it is a reasonable and welcome precaution.

For those who do attend, they’ll be greeted with gloved ushers 1 and greeters who will welcome everyone with a squirt of hand sanitizer. People will be encouraged to sit at least 6 feet apart from one another, and nothing will be passed between members of the congregation. Last week we introduced a non-contact Passing the Peace, in which congregants were encouraged to use their own method to convey the peace of God toward, and connection with, their neighbors 2. After worship fellowship is also being suspended for the foreseeable future.

For those who feel they must remain at home, Central has invested in a Mevo streaming camera to improve our live stream. This was part of the plan already, but now it’s an important way to help people feel a bit more “present” as they watch from home 3.

I’m sure there are folks who are going to wonder why we’re worshipping at all, given the nature of this disease. It’s not a bad question, and there may come a time when the benefits of gathering our small community together don’t outweigh the risks of doing so. At present, however, our size works in our favor. Mitigation strategies are not diffiuclt to implement, and we have the space for people to spread out. 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. It’s important that we are deliberate about this now 4, because there may come a time when it becomes necessary to cancel public worship and we’ll need that hope to buoy us. And, maybe, we can be good examples for others 5.

Three days is all it took to make our society realize that “normal” wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Christians also believe three days is what it took to mark a brand new story of life for humanity–when Jesus rose from the grave. May all who live in love and hope be agents of that life.

  1. The gloves are mostly for the usher’s protection. 
  2. I did the Vulcan hand salute. In case you were wondering. 
  3. I’m not pleased with the audio at present, we’re going to take steps to improve it. 
  4. And, really, always. But in a time of crisis it’s good to be more deliberate in our preparations. 
  5. Which Christians have tended to not be in our culture for a good while. 

Random Thoughts #8

It’s Wednesday, time for some random thoughts.

  1. Yes. People should wash their hands even when we aren’t in a pandemic, but when soap is a virus’s kryptonite it’s not dumb to remind people to be diligent about it.
  2. I’m a nervous nail-biter. And I’m always nervous. The “don’t touch your face” warning is difficult for me to follow. But I’m trying.
  3. I’m still going to Spring Training.
  4. It’s fun that the Flyers are finally fun to watch.
  5. There is a segment of our population which seems to think pointing out the nature of our current health emergency is an attack on our country 1. I don’t understand this.
  6. Bump is about the cutest thing on the planet.
  7. I’m testing an application called “Vellum” to make ebooks and do simple book layouts. Where has this been all my life?
  8. While I have not delusions about a young ascendant team winning the Stanley Cup, it would be typically for Philly to win it all and then be told we weren’t allowed to have a parade because of COVID-19.
  9. I don’t do the happy birthday thing on Facebook.
  10. As far as Facebook is concerned, my children’s names are “The Girl,” “The Boy,” and “Bump.”

  1. I was told that, specifically. 

The Stairs

It was a lovely day yesterday in the Delaware Valley, so my wife and I decided to take Bump for a walk down by the river. It wasn’t the best time of the day for photographs, the light was harsh, but it was so beautiful I couldn’t consider leaving my camera behind. I attached my fisheye lens, as I’m fascinated by the different looks it affords me. The photo below is an example of why I enjoy walking with this lens.

I’ve attempted to photograph these steps on a number of occasions, but I’ve never had a lens wide enough to do justice to the scene. At 7.5 mm, however, the fisheye allows me to capture the whole set of stairs, as well as Delaware River and Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. The lens distortion at this angle adds to its charm. I developed the photo in color, and then added a black and white filter. I love how it turned out.

Stairs in the seawall on the Delaware

Panasonic G7 with 7.5 mm fisheye lens, ƒ/4, ISO 200, 1/500 sec

Ski Mount Stupid

In Random Thoughts #7 I mentioned how I wanted to create a tee-shirt which read, “Ski Mount Stupid.” A lot of people probably don’t know what that is and, to be honest, I only remember about it when it pops up in an article somewhere.”Ski Mount Stupid” is about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The effect looks like the image below.

The y-axis in the graph is the level of confidence a person as in their knowledge of a topic. The x-axis is the amount of competence a person develops on a topic over time. Confidence begins at zero, but quickly rises to lofty heights in short order. At this point a person will feel that they know everything about a topic and will consider themselves an expert on the subject. This high point is known as “Mount Stupid.”

As more time passes, people who are planted on Mount Stupid begin to realize how little they actually know. As this happens people’s confidence in their knowledge plummets into the “Valley of Despair.” This is an awful place to be, but this is where the journey toward actual competence begins.

I ski Mount Stupid all the time 1, let me share one my more recent examples.

I’ve always loved astronomy, and ever since I took up photography as a hobby I’ve wanted to get out and do some astrophotography. To prepare myself I began watching youtube tutorials on how to set exposure, the maximum shutter speed you can use to avoid star trails, how to prepare RAW files for stacking, and the best applications to do the stacking process. After getting a lens which was ideal for this type of photography I thought I was ready to head out and get some fantastic photographs of the night sky.

It was a disaster.

I knew what the tutorials told me to do, but I had no idea why they were telling me to do what they were telling me to do. It was depressing, I fell into the valley of despair and stepped away for months from trying to do any sort of astrophotography. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to head out to Long Beach Island for a retreat this past January that I dared to try my hand at some astrophotography again. Before I headed out to the beach, I rewatched some of the better tutorials on YouTube and began to ask “Why do they tell me to set it that way?” as I watched. I was confident I’d do a better job.

I didn’t come away in a state of depression after developing these photos. That was an improvement, but the results still didn’t look as good as I hoped.

So I headed out to Long Beach Island again, with an even better understanding of what the tutorials were telling me what to do. I took forty exposures and developed them the way the tutorials told me to do. I was confident I was beginning to understand what was happening and I’d have my decent photos of the night sky at long last. The results were “meh,” and I was ready to just give up. Once again I got stuck in the Valley of Despair.

And then my brain kicked in and I began to look away from “the tutorials say to do this” and instead turn to what little I know about photography. As the light bulb in my head began glow I realized that my photos were over-exposed. And when that clicked for me I began to look at my settings, and adjust them to levels my photo stacker 2 would be able to use. After that, my results were much improved. They still weren’t where I want them to be, because I the photos were way over exposed out of the camera, but I’m at the point where I’m beginning to understand why 3. The upward slope out of the Valley of Despair has been reached 4.

Skiing down Mount Stupid was awful. I’d really been looking forward to using the sky stacker software I purchased, and when things didn’t work out it was not enjoyable. In fact, I would describe the ride down Mount Stupid as, “Frustrating, disillusioning, and often bitter.” It is also, however, necessary. When we come to grips with how little we understand about a topic, we can begin the journey toward wisdom and humble understanding. That’s an amazing ride.

So go ahead, dare to ski Mount Stupid. You’ll probably hate it, but in the end you’ll be glad you did.

Ski Mount Stupid

  1. I’m doing it right now, to be honest. 
  2. I use Starry Sky Landscape Stacker, in case you were wondering. This application takes multiple images and aligns the sky, while keeping the foreground aligned separately (it doesn’t move, after all). The result is a composite image which takes the light from every exposure and combines them. This brings out more detail. 
  3. From what I’m learning, you want them to be a little over exposed. The problem is, the settings all my tutorials were telling me to use were hitting up against East Coast light pollution and blowing my images out. 
  4. At least, I hope. We’ll see. 

Random Thoughts #7

It’s Wednesday. That means random thoughts with no explanation!

  1. In the language which is the root for the names of my two sons, they actually have the same name.
  2. When I’m asked if I want room for cream I tend to say, “Why would I do such a terrible thing to innocent coffee?”
  3. No one laughs at number 2. I thought number 1 was clever, but now I can’t remember which son is named what.
  4. Dark and Stormies are delicious.
  5. The fact that people with high blood pressure are more likely to have complications from covid-19 gives me some pause.
  6. I’m 17 years beyond the point where I was supposed to not trust myself. The problem is, me 17 years ago was even more of an idiot than I am now.
  7. If you giggled when you read number 3, you might be spending too much time with middle schoolers.
  8. I spent a couple of hours today learning how to do something new in a piece of software. The result wasn’t accepted as the final design, but that wasn’t the point.
  9. Have you ever tried mixing candied ginger and dark chocolate? It’s freaking amazing.
  10. I think I want to design a tee shirt which reads, “Ski Mount Stupid.”