Disruption: Cookies and Toilet Paper

by | Mar 24, 2020

Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Mark 1:13

With all the overload of ever-changing data about the Coronavirus, I sometimes forget that we are still in Lent, which if you think about it is the perfect season for this time.

As you probably know, Lent has been styled after the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before he began his ministry. Now Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of this time in the wilderness involved fasting and multiple tests presented by Satan. But Mark simply gives this short reference, with the intriguing comment that “the angels waited on him.”

Personally I have often thought of Lent as a time of holy disruption—we change our habits (usually by fasting from something familiar or dear to us) which wakes us up to the things we take for granted. When our comfort zone is disturbed, we often become more aware of our need for God—and God’s ever-present care for us, even when we are out in our own wilderness.

This time of physical separation has truly been a time of disruption. I would call it holy, except I don’t want to forget the suffering of the thousands who have contracted the virus, those who have died, and those who do not understand why their families are no longer visiting them. But my colleague in San José Presbytery reminded me of the ethos in Silicon Valley, which sees value in disruption. “Disruption” is the flip side of “breakthrough”—and we all know how breakthroughs in technology have impacted our lives in so many ways. Another lesson from my days in Silicon Valley is the value of failure, the flip side of learning and creativity. In pursuit of breakthroughs, mistakes get made, and clumsy early examples of new technology are celebrated, because they help us to learn, and adjust, and refine rough ideas into something many of us can use.

I have to confess that this time at home is not really a disruption for me. Since my natural tendency is that of a hermit, this has been a time of peace and rest for me. But I know that as with grief, there are multiple ways people are reacting to this disruption. Some folks—pastors included—have gone into overdrive, especially as our churches find ways to stay connected, care for those who are struggling, and find ways to worship, by any means necessary.

What I found on Sunday morning is an explosion of creativity. Even with shifting rules—the churches who did a great job livestreaming on Facebook last week now had to figure out how to lead worship from their respective homes—several of our churches have shown anew what it means to be church.

This disruption strips us down to the question: what constitutes worship? Several churches offered truly beautiful, meaningful on-line worship experiences. La Verne Heights takes advantage of the fact you can pause (and repeat) at points during the service. Churches like Claremont and Knox are holding prayer times throughout the week. Iglesia de la Comunidad committed to continue their food pantry, serving over 150 neighbors last week—and Pasadena is also continuing their ministry with the homeless. Deacons at West Covina and Westminster Temple City are calling church members weekly or daily. Sessions are meeting weekly to keep up with the needs of the church. Church members are posting prayer concerns on Facebook. At one church, who was trying a Zoom-based worship service for the first time (which means it didn’t go exactly smoothly), it was shared that one member posted on Facebook that she couldn’t find toilet paper, so another member dropped off a package of toilet paper—and cookies.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones responding to this crisis with creativity, compassion, and hope. You probably heard about the Choir Festival of the Chino Valley Unified School District getting cancelled, leading the kids to become world-famous through their on-line alone-together performance. And as I mentioned, not every attempt was totally smooth, which made it all the more real and engaging for me. I can’t tell you how inspired, uplifted, and yes sinfully proud I was in worshiping with many of you. And, by the way, this is opening your ministries up to those who might not make it into your sanctuary; I have heard that MEC, Westminster Temple City, and Claremont are now reaching folks they do not see in person on Sunday mornings.

I was planning to write this Monday about using this time to rest in the care of our Lord—and I would still suggest that whether you are slowing down or revving up during this disruption, please be gentle with yourselves and each other, and know that God will be there no matter how you worship and pray. But now I just want to say thank you for revealing your hearts full of worship, and for letting the Holy Spirit work through you in all sorts of ways!

In Christ we live and love,