Monday, April 27, 2020

Remembering the Barbers, the Wait Staffs, the Lawn Guys and Custodians

My daily walk takes me through a strip mall parking lot.  Two of the storefronts are empty--a liquor stare that closed down about one year ago.  On one end there is a restaurant that featured li9ve jazz performances.  It is shut down due to the virus.  At the other is a laundromat, which has stopped allowing people to do their own laundry, but will take in laundry to wash, dry and fold.  When they originally closed their doors they posted a sign indicating the cost of their doing your laundry was $1.99 a pound.  I noticed this morning that they have dropped that to $1.65.  I can't help but wonder about the Hispanic lawn care guys who I have often seen in the past using the laundromat.  Can they afford $1.65, much less $1.99, a pound?

In between the jazz restaurant and the laundromat there are a few other businesses:  an old family run Italian restaurant, which is offering take out only, and pushing pizza slices for lunch; a slot machine casino, which is completely closed down at the moment; a pool supply store, which is open, but enforcing social distancing and not accepting cash payments and a barber shop--now closed, but which had been operating for a few weeks after the lockdown.

The barber shop had posted a sign, "Masks Provided"--but the other day when I went past it later in the morning the one customer in a chair was not wearing one.  The shop was not supposed to be open.  But they bucked the law, and as the old song goes, "but the law won."  Today, there was a new sign written with black magic marker on an uneven piece of newsprint in the window.  "Dear Customers," it read, despite providing masks to every customer and barber, someone called the Sherriff's Dept. and on 4-25  the Sherriff's Dept. shut us down.  Although there was some confusion we didn't confuse the 'arrested'" message or the 'do the right thing or else' message or how asking a simple question can be 'confrontational' . . . .  Whatever!  We'll open, hopefully, on May 1st."

I support the lockdown--and am working from home.  I believe we need to do whatever we can to stop the spread of the virus. I think states like Georgia are moving too fast.  But I hope once the virus is contained we don't forget those who have born the economic burden.  Yes, the small business owners, but also the lawn care guys, the wait staffs at family owned restaurants, and the custodian who I used to pass as she took a smoke break outside the slot machine casino. There will be much still to be done even after the virus has passed.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Same Storm, Different Ship

A friend of mine posted a long and powerful anonymous piece on Facebook today reflecting on the current corona virus crisis.  Titled "We Are Not in the Same Boat . . ." it begins, "I heard that we are in the same boat.  But it's not like that.  We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.  Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine might not be.  Or visa versa."

Such an apt metaphor.  For as we move through this crisis, it is really quite clear that we are experiencing it in varying degrees of challenge and discomfort.  I am one of the fortunate ones, at least at this point.  My ship is intact.  I am able to work from home, for the most part.  I have full access to digital technology, as this blog post demonstrates.  I am receiving my full salary.  To date, I have been able to avoid contracting the illness.  While I have friends who have parishioners and friends who have Covid19, to date, none of them have died.  And my family, while faced with a variety of challenges, is healthy.  My ship is afloat.

But not so with so many others.  I know folks whose boats have been roiled by the storms of illness and economic distress.  I have a son who works for a major grocery chain, and daily confronts the reality that he is at the mercy of customers being willing to follow the simple rules about masks and social distancing that his company has laid out.  I have a colleague who hundreds of miles away worries about her father in the hospital with Covid19, unable to visit him, knowing that she would not be allowed to see him even if she went north.  I have an 87-year-old mother, with underlying conditions, who is being held "under lock and key."  I have a sister-in-law with stage four lung cancer who is at great risk.  These are challenges, these are concerns, these are genuine worries--but for now, my ship sails on.

Others though, have no income, no job, no ability to work from home, who must go to food pantries for the first time in their lives.  There are so many healthcare workers who have not been given sufficient personal protective equipment and who risk life itself.  Women, men and children, who have been unable to say goodbye to family members lying on their death beds. And then there are the sick themselves, struggling for every breath, knowing there is no known cure for this disease.

No, we are not on the same boat.  But we are in the same storm.  And so we who have managed to remain afloat, by the grace of God, or good luck, or good genes, or whatever, have an obligation to do what we can for those who have been cast adrift.  Offer up our prayers on their behalf, yes, but also financially doing what we can to support the agencies and programs working on their behalf.  Maintaining social distancing efforts of our own. Washing our hands.  Wearing masks.  Writing supportive notes.  Offering help to the housebound.

No we are not in the same boat.  But we are in the same storm--and so we must be watching for and reacting to the distress signals in our sight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

We Didn't Have Lilies This Year--But We Had Beauty!

We didn't have lilies for Easter this year--at least not fresh ones.  But we did have a beautiful painting of lilies for our service.  They were painted during the crisis by one of our parishioners as she sat in isolation.  Her name is Suzanne and she lives in a nearby retirement community which is on lock down.  Yes, we missed the real lilies, but we loved her painting!

Florists, I guess, are considered non-essential.  And I suppose, in one way, that is true.  We don't need florists to survive.  But we sure need beauty--and what is more beautiful than a flower?  Fortunately here in Florida we are almost always surrounded by flowers.  Gorgeous flowers.  Brightly colored flowers.  Flowers on bushes and trees and in the water and sprouting from the ground.  And even up north, this is spring, and flowers are beginning to appear.  And so, despite florists being unable to ply their trade, we do have flowers.

And when we don't, as it was with lilies on Easter Sunday, we have artists.  Artists like Suzanne, who help us to remember things like flowers.  Artists who help us see the beauty around us, even when it is missing in action.  For beauty, and the artists that capture it, are always essential.

(Painting:  Suzanne Bennett)

Monday, April 6, 2020

One Hell of a Holy Week

Yesterday marked the beginning of Holy Week.  Normally, of course, we flock to our churches for the annual observance of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem which we've come to call Palm Sunday.  Normally, our pews are full, palm branches are passed out at the door, and, at my church, we even have a brass quintet!  Despite marking the beginning of a week marred by betrayal, desertion, arrest and crucifixion, Palm Sunday, at least here on Sanibel, is a rather festive occasion.  We even have hot cross buns at fellowship hour.

But not this year.  This year folks had to stay-at-home, and our live-streamed worship had to take the place of our usual celebration.  We weren't able to hand out palms, the pews were empty, and the brass quintet didn't come (we asked them to stay home, so that we wouldn't exceed ten in terms of folks in the sanctuary).  It could have been a rather somber occasion, but it was not.  We acknowledged the challenges of these difficult times.  We prayed for all those impacted medically and economically.  We thanked God for first responders and healthcare workers.  And we spoke of the fact that, as always, we can choose to approach things like Pilate or like Jesus, with selfishness and fear, or with courage and love.  But we were able to celebrate the Good News nonetheless, with some joyful music, including "All Glory, Laud and Honor, and a hornpipe that practically danced!

Later this week we will live-stream Maundy Thursday.  That's going to be very different.  We are encouraging folks to have a bit of bread, and a glass of juice or wine at the ready--and we'll consecrate the elements virtually.  A friend told me that his bishop sent out specific instructions:  no virtual consecration.  But we're part of the United Church of Christ.  We don't have bishops, and we are pretty "low church."  If water can be turned into wine, I suspect consecration can happen digitally!

Good Friday, we will be posting a prerecorded video at Noon, featuring a monologue written and presented by my associate.  We can't live-stream as our technicians aren't available that day.  And why should they be?  For both of them its a workday, and we're just grateful they still have their jobs. We'll manage.

And then comes Easter.  We'll live-stream that as well.  My sermon for the morning is titled "Where Did He Go?"  I planned and titled it three months ago, before the spread of the corona virus
.  I could, I suppose, retitle it, "Where Did They Go?" referencing the empty pews and the missing parishioners.  But the truth is, Jesus didn't go anywhere--in fact his spirit is everywhere--including in the lives of all those folks who normally fill the pews.

Yes, in some ways this is one hell of a Holy Week.  And for those who have experienced sickness or death because of the virus, it is truly tragic.  And I can't imagine the stress and strain being felt by healthcare workers and others who deal with the virus head-om  They are in my prayers daily.

But for the rest of us, challenging as it is to practice social distancing, this Holy Week is also a powerful reminder that the church is not about a building (as helpful as our buildings can be).  It's not about doing things the way we've always done them before (as important as tradition is).  Rather it is about the love of God which transcends time and place.  It is about the love that binds us together as a congregation, and beyond that, as people of God.  Even when we are apart.

Have a blessed Holy Week, and Easter!  And a blessed Passover to all those in our sister congregation Temple Bat Yam and in Jewish congregations around the world.

(Photo Credit:  Bruce Findley, Easter 2019)

(If you'd like to join our live-streamed services, just go to our website,, and follow the instructions there.)