Tuesday, March 31, 2020

There's More than One John Danner--Who Knew?

Part of my personal spiritual discipline is to read a poem a day.  Some of the poems have been overtly religious (like Ann Weems collection Kneeling in Jerusalem) while others are clearly spiritual, like the various poems I've read by Mary Oliver, but not particularly religious.

I know for some folks that distinction is hard to make.  For some it is even a false distinction.  But there is a difference, and it is true, like so many young people, someone can be spiritual but not particularly religious.  Concerned about the greater, transcendent things in life, while not being connected to any formal religious expression.  Sociologists even have an acronym for it SBNR.

During this corona virus pandemic I decided to take my daily poem practice on line, and every day, at 9;30am I am going on Facebook LIVE and reading a poem and offering a prayer specifically
geared to our current needs as a society.  I call it, not very creatively, but descriptively, "A Poem and a Prayer."

Folks have shared with me that it is helpful--and for that I am grateful.  But I must admit there is also a selfish motivation.  For as a pastor I want to be able to minister to folks, and now, due to social distancing, some of my ability to do that has been cut off.  No hospital visits.  No in person meetings.  No classes to teach with students gathered around a table.  Not even people in the pews when I peach.  We have found some creative ways around much of that, while still maintaining our physical separation--and I am learning to enjoy the digital/virtual world a bit more these days.  But "A Poem and a Prayer" feels different.  The poem centers it, but the prayer, as I close my eyes and offer up words of praise, thanksgiving and intercession, that feels intimate.  Who would have guessed?

I'd love to have you check out "A Poem and a Prayer"--send me a Facebook friend request, and I'll be happy to oblige.  Just search John H Danner (don't forget the "H"--it turns out there are several John Danners in the world!  Who knew!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Living Online--Bane or Blessing?

This past Sunday we had our first livestreamed online worship service.  It was rather strange preaching to empty pews (though I have done it a couple of times before to make a video of a sermon).  There were eight of us in the room.  Appropriately distanced from one another.  Our two technicians, one driver, three musicians and my associate.  We managed to include some lovely songs, scriptures, prayers, a sermon and even a children's moment featuring my two puppets, Chompers the Crocodile and Wendell the Walrus.  (Chompers in particular is a real "fan" favorite!)  I think it went well, and we have received quite a bit of very positive feedback.  To date, some 296 folks have viewed the service, either live or as posted on our YouTube channel.  (You can check it our for yourself at Sanibel Livestream)

During the week I had one parishioner mention that her son in Germany had joined us on Sunday morning, and then later another parishioner said family members in Japan had been a part of the experience as well.  As one parishioner who I mentioned it to said, "Truly cool!"  And so it is.  It is also a very tangible reminder of just how interconnected our world is today.  Indeed, the spread of the virus itself is a reminder of that reality.  And closer to home, my wife, who is tending to her very ill sister-in-law in upstate New York, was able to see the service.

I've also been posting "A Poem and a Prayer" on Facebook LIVE each morning at 9:30am.  That too has proven a boon--to me personally, and to others.  I was very, very touched when my one of my daughters-in-law told me that her youngest, one of my granddaughters, said to her one day, "Has Pop Pop been on Facebook yet?  I want to see him!"

Here at the church we have been doing most of our meetings via conference calls or ZOOM.

Do I miss the personal, physical presence of others?  Absolutely!  But I am also grateful for the technology that makes all this connection possible.  Do we need to temper our use of it in normal times?  Once again, absolutely!  But we must remember, it is not the technology itself that causes us problems, rather it is how we use it.  Like so many things in life, it can be a bane or a blessing.  The difference rests in what we do with it.

Monday, March 16, 2020

St. Patrick and the Virus

Over and over again I hear people describing the current situation as "surreal".  I know what the word means, but I thought it worthwhile to look it up.  Here's what Webster has to say about it:  "surreal, adj, 1. marked by the intense irrationality of dreams; also:  UNBELIEVABLE, FANTASTIC."  There is more, but that's the gist of it.

The problem is, as unbelievable, as fantastic, as it may seem, it is very real  And though it ought seem like a bad dream, even a nightmare, what's going on now is very real.  But some of us are having a hard time grasping that.  Last night in neighboring Fort Myers, there were all manner of revelers in the local bars and restaurants, getting an early start on St. Patrick's Day.  There was no social distancing, just the usual mayhem of that day devoted to green beer, corned beef and cabbage.

Don't get me wrong, I love corned beef and cabbage.  And while I could take or leave green beer, I am not opposed to raising a cold one on occasion.  But it is time to stop deluding ourselves.  It is time to acknowledge this is a reality with which we must cope.  That means being willing to act in responsible, thoughtful ways, that recognize the importance of protecting our neighbors.

Boy does this all sound rather preachy!  And I suppose it is.  Occupational hazard!  But until and unless we all work together to curb the spread of the virus, we are inviting the same sort of problems that are already being faced elsewhere.

St. Patrick is said to have written, "I pray to God that God grant me perseverance . . . ."  It is a good prayer for all of us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Is the World Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

DYSTOPIA (n.)  an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.

I have read too many dystopian novels, and seen too many dystopian movies.  George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, The Hunger Games. Brave New World, 12 Monkeys, The Day After, and on and on and on.  Many of these are set in a time following some catastrophic even:  nuclear war, an overwhelming ecological disaster, an economic meltdown or a pandemic.  Usually they feature a small group of folks trying to fight against the odds to carve out a meaningful life despite the problems they face.  Some end well--most do not.

At any rate, I've read, seen, too many of them.  And in these days of "the virus," as folks have started to refer to it (just like in the novels--always some shorthand way of talking about the central problem) I find it very easy to spin off into some imaginary future, where the virus runs rampant and . . . .

And what?  That of course is part of the problem--the uncertainty we face these days.  A somewhat cryptic disease spreading across the globe.  Economic markets taking a real hit.  Normal lifestyles being interrupted.  Left to our own devices, it is quite easy to get caught up in fear, quite easy to imagine the worst possible outcomes.   Indeed, if we focus on the what ifs we are bound to fall into a state of despair.  But we needn't do that.  

This past weekend a friend posted a very helpful summary of the situation written by Abdu Sharkawy, an epidemiologist from Toronto.  He ended it with these words:  Facts, not fear.  Clean hands.  Open hearts. If we are willing to understand and deal with the facts, if we are willing to take whatever actions are necessary, if we approach the situation with genuine love for others, we can and will manage our way through the current situation.  God has, indeed, given us what we need to deal with it, if we are only willing to focus on what is right before us. 

Facts, not fear.  Clean hands.  Open hearts.

That beats out dystopia any day of the week.

Monday, March 2, 2020

My Coronavirus Prayer

As I sit here at my desk I am pondering the coronavirus  and covid19, the infectious disease that results from exposure to the virus.  I am not a scientist, and I do not fully understand the workings of the virus, and so cannot offer any new information about it.  Nor am I an epidemiologist, one who deals with the distribution and possible control of the disease.  I am, like many people, a well-educated non-specialist.  There are other things I am better equipped to deal with, other questions I can answer that are in my field of study.  But one of those questions does have to do with the virus, indeed, with diseases in general.  And while I haven't heard it yet, I know I will.  It usually goes something like this:  "Did God cause this to happen?  Are we being punished?"

From where I sit theologically the answer to both questions is no.  Not even a qualified no.  Coronavirus was not caused by God, nor is God using it to punish us.  It just is.  It evolved, as such things do, and now we are faced with dealing with it.  In the past we human beings haven't dealt very well with the uncertainty that a new (or newly discovered) disease brings into our lives.  Think, for instance, of the reactions to HIV/AIDS. We are often too quick to blame the victim.

I hope as we move forward over the next few weeks, months, or whatever time it involves, we will have an effective yet  measured response.  I hope we will rely on the best science has to offer.  I hope government will take a leadership role and do so in such a way as to realistically provide approaches to containing and controlling the spread of it.  I hope the world of Wall Street will avoid panic and recognize the importance of adjusting expectations.  I hope each and every individual will be responsible and follow the recommendations of those in positions to suggest preventive measures.  I hope no one will blame those who are sick for being sick.  And I hope none of us will fall prey to the temptation to blame some divine force for the appearance of the virus. That, in a manner of speaking, is my prayer.  My fervent prayer.