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{Adam Goes to Seminary} July 2020 Update

I’ll be posting monthly seminary updates on this blog! If you’d like to support my studies through Gordon Conwell’s Partnership Program, you can do so here.
 
July 2020 Update
Out to dinner … first time in 5 months!

Greetings, friends! I hope this update finds you well. Here in Boston we are in the indefinite “phase 3” of reopening. This means that Shauna and I went out to dinner for the first time in like 5 months. Yes, we wore our masks – just not when we were eating or for this picture.

Coursework Update:
Yikes! Now only if I knew English grammar, this would be a lot easier…

I’m now a bit over a month into full-time seminary work, and I can say it is fun, fulfilling, and also very hard! When the summer started I was enrolled in Summer Greek, which is a summer intensive course that crams an entire year of study into just 9 weeks. After a few days I quickly realized that this was not possible to do while taking two other courses and working part time, so I swallowed my pride and dropped this course. It felt hard to “fail” right out of the gate. I felt badly at first, knowing that my friends and family are supporting my studies financially, to not be taking the most classes I could, but Shauna reminded me that you are supporting me so that I can learn and grow, not so that I can pass as many classes as possible in this year. So I heeded her (and others’) advice, and swapped Greek out with a course on History and Theology of Worship which begins next week. The short week I was in greek, however, was really cool. By the end of a week we were translating (the easier) sentences from the New Testament on our own. In the moments I was not completely stressed out, it was neat to begin to be able to read the Bible in the original language. . I’ll take Greek in the fall, at the regular pace and am excited for it now that I know what I’m getting myself into and the time it will require.

Other courses I’m taking this summer include Theology Survey, which is all done except for the final paper that needs to be written – my personal statement of faith. Finally, Shauna and I also both took a course through Regent College (Vancouver, Canada) on Contemplative Listening. This course showed me how important and how rare it is to truly listen to someone – not just wait for your turn to speak. Each day we had exercises where we took turns practicing listening, which sounds simple but was actually quite hard. We were not allowed to ask questions, offer advice/suggestions, or relate to the speaker with our own stories. We were simply to listen, and notice things the speaker said, reflecting and mirroring back to them what they said as an invitation to explore the thoughts and feelings deeper. After the initial awkwardness, I found the exercise indeed worked. Both myself and the people I listened to were able to go deeper into our own thoughts. By not immediately hearing advice or suggestions from our listener, we had the space, the silence, and the freedom to go deeper. I realized how much this is needed in ministry, and how bad I am at it! The church needs better listeners, and I was grateful to spend two weeks studying with others (through zoom, of course) how to better do that.
 
Fundraising Update
It has been so encouraging to see you all respond to my initial email with offers of support. There were several days when I was having a stressful or bad day, that I would be so encouraged by seeing a new email come in with an offer to join my team of supporters, whether financially or with prayer and simply wanting to hear more of my journey. As of last week, I am about 80% of  my goal, which is wonderful! This means I am fully accepted into the partnership program. If you haven’t officially given, you can still do so here.
 
Other Life Updates:
What else is there to do during Covid-19? We take lots of walks around Beverly, MA. Here’s one of them. Again, we wear masks … just not for this picture 😁
I am planning on moving to an on-campus apartment in September. This will be another hard transition, as I’ve really enjoyed living in Watertown with my roommates, but being on campus will help me focus on seminary work, cut down on the commute (GCTS is planning on having in-person classes this Fall), help me find community at the seminary, and give me a chance to have my own (very tiny) place at a pretty good price!
 
Prayer Requests:
– Adjusting to full-time seminary and part time ministry work. Prioritizing seminary is hard when there are always things to do at TCC!
– For me to find on-campus housing for the Fall.
– For the last 20% of fundraising to go well (what this means is one or two more supporters plus a church partnership through TCC or my home church PBC)
– For Shauna and I to find a bit rest/vacation time in August (even during Covid-19)

Virtual Choir: How We Did It

With churches around the world gathering virtually, and choir rehearsals suspended indefinitely, I took the past few weeks as an opportunity to “gather” our choir for a virtual choir anthem last Sunday.

Check it out!

How We Made It

See my instructions to my choir here

The process of creating a virtual choir video is not for the faint of heart. It involves many hours of editing click tracks, instructing choir members, mixing audio, editing video, and syncing clips all together to create the final product that looks so simple. This was my first go at it, so it was a learning process for me. Along the way I figured out a few things that I would do differently next time. If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, get a bit frustrated, but really want to work hard to produce a virtual choir, keep reading!

What You Need:

  • Computer. A new-ish one. If you don’t have that then you can quit now.
  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This is the software that lets you record and edit audio on the computer.  I used Ableton Live as I am most comfortable and familiar with the interface, but you could use also use ProTools, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, or free software like Garage Band or Audacity. There are dozens of DAWs out there, so I won’t get into the pros and cons of each but there’s plenty of info online about how to use each one of these. If you’re just starting out with music production, learning how to use one of these (I’d recommend the professional software: Ableton, Logic Pro, or ProTools) will be the a great time investment that will benefit you for the long term. Learn it.
  • USB Digital Audio Interface. This is a piece of hardware that lets you plug microphones and other line inputs into your computer. It also lets you monitor sound through headphones and external monitors. I have this one from Scarlett but they are even cheaper today.
  • A decent microphone. For recording instruments it is well worth the investment to get a good quality microphone. Spend more than $100. Don’t spend over $500. I love the Rode NT5 because they sound great, come as a pair for recording in stereo, and can be used for so many different applications: single acoustic instruments like guitars or strings, stereo piano mics, and even choirs. This mic can do it all and won’t break the bank.
  • Option 1: Headphones. DO NOT try and do this with only your laptop speakers. You need a way to accurately hear the sound from all the different sources you’ll be mixing. A pair of studio monitor headphones will set you back about $100-200. Again, a worthwhile investment on your path toward music production glory. I like these from Beyerdynamic because they’re comfy. These from AKG are only $76 and are good for the price.
  • Option 2: Studio Monitors. Active speakers are better because you don’t have to wear headphones all the time and can sit back and listen more comfortably. I bought a pair from Event Electronics for $300 back in college and they have been with me ever since. They’re going on 15 years of use and still sound great. Spend $200-300 on something from here.

Note, you will notice I didn’t actually even include a video camera. I used this one because we have it at the church, but these days your cell phone takes great video under the right lighting conditions, so most people can get away with just that. When your final product is a little square in the middle of a huge grid of videos, you don’t need the best quality video.

Got it all? Let’s get to work.

Before We Proceed…

Just so you know what you’re getting into, this is what my final mix looked like. It doesn’t even fit on one screen:

Yowza…That’s 44 tracks.
The timeline view doesn’t even fit on one screen.

ONE: Create a click track

This was probably the hardest step for me to accept as a musician. As someone who trains the choir to be musical and allow the tempo to ebb and flow as we sing together, the idea of syncing everyone up to a click track and then conducting seems to go against everything I learned in conducting school, but these are strange times and this was the best way I could think of to get us all to sing together. But that doesn’t mean you have to start a song at 100BPM and stay there the entire time. Ableton allows you to manually automate tempo changes throughout an arrangement.

Tempo Automation in Ableton Live

As you can see there are about a dozen or so tempo shifts throughout the piece. The downward slopes are ritards. The steep downward and quick upward slopes are slight lifts for a breath together. It took me a while to get the tempo change to feel natural. I think there might be a way to record tempo automation by tapping live while recording in ableton, but I didn’t figure that out. I just drew it in.

TWO: Create the reference instrumental part.

For any piece for piano and choir it means recording the piano part, since singers will likely sing to the piano more than they’ll sing to the click. To do this I simply recorded the piano into Ableton (I didn’t bother recording video, but in hindsight I could have also recorded video at this point). You’ll sync up the video later. Confession: I didn’t want to learn the rather tricky piano part to this piece so I actually recorded the left hand and right hand parts separately. This actually allowed me to add more notes to fill out the harmonies and make it sound more orchestral, which is what I think the composer would want out of the piano part!

THREE: Record the virtual conducting video.

Ableton doesn’t handle recording or editing of video but it can actually import video, which is a nifty feature.

I then played back the music on Ableton and recorded myself conducting to a video camera. The result is this:

FOUR: Record rehearsal tracks for the singers. (Optional)

Because I work with amateur singers, many who don’t read music, I went in and recorded each vocal part. As much as I wish all my singers can read music, the fact is that their experience is so much better when they have someone singing in their ear, so I’m happy to oblige. I then exported them individually to create these:

Soprano 1 | Soprano 2 | Alto 1 | Alto 2

Tenor 1 | Tenor 2 | Bass 1 | Bass 2

FIVE: Export a final virtual choir demo. (Also optional)

This step might not be necessary for choirs with music readers and I would also discourage it for music educators or school choirs. If your goal is still to be teaching music reading and musicianship, this step might be seen as a crutch. But for church choirs, and amateur choirs, where the goal is community, having fun, and praising God, this step makes sense. Ableton (remarkably) can actually export a video, so I made a rough mix and exported video. Result is this:

For this one I turned OFF the click track, but in hindsight I might have kept it on for this one too.

SIX: Recruit your choir!

Now you have all the components the choir needs to record their tracks. I used our church website to host all this stuff so the choir can easily access the rehearsal tracks and recording. I also included a few tips, the most importantly being use headphones when you record your choir part! I also wrote all the tempo adjustments in there so they could write notes in their music before they sang. Whether or not they did is up to them.

SEVEN: Request Video Submissions

For uploading, I bit the bullet and got dropbox plus. I’m requesting large files for upload so after doing a bit of research it seemed like the best option and gives me 2TB of space. Google drive and box.com seem like good options too.

On dropbox, I used the “request files” feature to create simple perma-link that the choir members can upload. Uploading video is sometimes a hard slow process, so be ready for choir members to ask questions and need help. If people have apple devices, airdrop makes transferring the file from the phone to the computer very easy.

EIGHT: Mix the audio.

From each video submission I used adapter to easily extract the audio as a wav file from their .mp4 or .mov video submission. Then I brought this audio into Ableton and got to work mixing. A few tips about audio mixing for virtual choirs:

  • Some recordings sound good. Others sound bad. Depending on the quality of the cell phone microphone, some may have a muffled sound, some may have a high pitched hiss, some may have a lot of ‘noise’. You work with what you have. For the better ones, I used minimal compression and some simple EQ that looked like this:
Simple EQ and Compression for vocals

For others that had some background noise I had to cut a lot of high frequencies. You loose some of the vocal brightness, but with 44 tracks, you can’t really have any audible hiss or noise in them or it will really ruin the final product.

Ableton Channel Strip – EQ to remove hiss
  • As with a non-virtual choir, sometimes it’s hard to get all the singers to sing in tune and at the same time. Hard consonants are particularly tricky, as any minor variations come through as a muddled mess of t-t-t-t-t-t-t in the final product. In hindsight, I would be super clear about where I want those harder consonants like T/S/D/K placed. I did quite a bit of adjusting in Ableton after bringing the voices in. In the example below you can see the cuts and shifts I made to make some of the vocals line up with the rest of the choir. Yeah sopranos.
Ableton single track editing
  • Using Ableton’s automation feature, you can also automate the track volume throughout. I know the guy who mixes NPR’s tiny desk concerts uses volume automation very liberally to achieve a natural even result.
Volume automation. Sometimes singers don’t do the dynamics as written so a little bit of help can go a long way. (This one was actually me trying to sing the alto part so I needed all the help I could get as my falsetto is very much NOT even in volume throughout my vocal range and varies quite a bit depending on what vowel I’m singing. Voice lessons would help, but in a pinch we fix it in post).
  • Add some ‘verb. Jesus’ blood is the most effectual thing for covering sins. A sweetly tuned reverb is probably the next best thing. I used this as a return track, which means I can dial in the amount on a per-channel basis. I used about %60 on my vocal tracks and only a very little on the piano so the piano cut through and the vocals blended together. You could never get this result in a live acoustic performance.
Reverb settings. Note you can EQ the reverb after in the channel strip. I pulled out the highs to reduce that ‘fake’ reverb sound. Yes that is 6.53 seconds of reverb. 
  • Group tracks and apply glue compressor. This tool helps “glue” your tracks together to make them sound like one unified unit. I don’t really know how it works (but I’m sure someone else could tell you), but I know it works. Here are my settings for the “men’s voices” group.

    Glue compression and group EQ
  • When you’ve spent 9865873648245 hours mixing and are ready to make the final master audio track, head over the master channel for a rough go at audio mastering. I’m aware mixing and mastering are really two separate skills and art forms, so I acknowledge that I’m very much a beginner at this. Ableton has a nice audio effect rack that has mastering tools. Here’s what mine looked like. This should all be very gentle … no harsh adjustments here. Listen on multiple outputs (Nice headphones, cheap headphones, nice speakers, cheap speakers) to see what your track sounds like across multiple devices. It might sound amazing on your nice headphones, but what about when 90% of the people listen to it off their phones or laptops. You gotta make it sound as good as possible on as many devices as possible. A bit more compression is your friend here.
Master channel with some gentle EQ, more glue compression, and a final limiter to stop clipping.

Okay all done? Now export it! Make sure you turn off the click for your final export :-).

NINE: Video Editing

This is actually the step I know the least about. If you’ve gotten this far and were really hoping for help here, I’m really sorry! You’ll need video editing software: Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Premiere are the standard software for video editing. You will struggle if you try to use iMovie for this. I had a colleague that is much faster at video editing grab all the video submissions, sync them up, and generate the final product. It involves cropping, resizing, and arranging all the videos one by one. It takes a. long. time.  I started at it, and used Premier’s effect controls to adjust the position and scale and cropping of each clip. Syncing is tricky here. In hindsight, I would ask the singers to clap for the camera four times during the intro so we could sync the video easier using the audio spikes as they are visible in the video editing software. This is why movies use those clap-boards to start takes.

So that was my journey of doing a virtual choir. It was fun. It took probably 50 hours of work and another 10 from our video editor. I’m sure I’ll be faster if I do it again, but it does take a TON of work! People loved it though, and there’s a special joy you get when you see everyone’s faces singing “together.”

17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

– 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

Have Fun and Enjoy! Questions? Email Me.

Lent Log Day 22: Liturgy is an Anchor to the Soul

It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe that liturgy (which is to say any practices, actions, words, or habits that we do with regularity) has the power to shape our hearts. As our world is turned upside down, our thoughtful liturgical practices will help us remain connected to God and serve as an anchor in very turbulent waters.

We’re doing church virtually now – a “practice” that I’ve always resisted because I feel it shapes our hearts more as consumers or passive viewers than as active participants. But in God’s providence we’re all watching church on screens now, so what choice do we have but to make the most of it.

People have been overwhelmingly appreciative of our efforts to get things running smoothly online. Someone in my small group mentioned last night (via a zoom call, of course) how nice it has been to walk through the Church’s liturgy together. Even though it’s carried in a different vessel of the computer or tv screen, the content remains the same, and it’s to him very grounding and assuring. I couldn’t agree more. Through singing and reading scripture and praying together – especially repeated things – we see and read into them even deeper meaning than what we’ve seen before. I know this firsthand from allowing the liturgy to wash over me while walking through a divorce. The words became somehow more true, more meaningful, more real for me. This pandemic is in many ways similar – it’s easy to say “God is my refuge and strength” when all is well. Quite another proposition to say that during Coronavirus. It is my belief and my hope that by saying and praying such words from your heart when things are well, we can with God’s strength, say them the same way despite whatever is going on around us.

So in many ways, the church should continue doing what it always does – proclaiming Jesus as the way of life, health, peace, forgiveness, and the only true and lasting reality we’ll ever know. My job isn’t any harder. It’s just gotten a bit different.

 

 

Lent Log Day 17: The New Normal

My 100th post on this blog! Huzzah!

Who knew when I started this daily posting habit that I’d have such a curious and unknown world full of things to write about. But here we are in the middle of a global pandemic. We are not gathering in groups of more than 10, we’re tele-commuting, and basically everything is cancelled. (Favorite tweet so far: “Never thought I’d be giving up this much for lent!”)

At the church we’ve moved to a live-stream and video recorded services only. So now my weekly work is filled with website updates, communication updates, video recording projects, and tech setups. Churches around the country are trying to adapt as quickly as possible to this new normal. For many, including us, it’s live streaming and video recorded content. This is a great way to continue leading people in worship right in their homes. We did it last Sunday here:

Our friends at L’Abri are also offering live-streamed morning prayer every day on their facebook page:

 

But while all this live streaming is great for the time being, I’m also beginning to realize that whenever this all finally passes, we’ll be forever changed by the weeks or months spent not meeting on Sundays. It’s actually testing our hearts to see if we really understand the true purposes of worship. I’ve seen some people commenting on facebook, “I could get used to this!” I earnestly hope we don’t get used to this – that we long to be united in worship and fellowship in the flesh, not just virtually. I also wonder how much sustained engagement we’ll get after weeks or months of live-streaming only. It’s a lot easier to watch church and make breakfast, listen to the prayer and scroll through instagram when sitting on your couch.

When we began live-streaming, I resisted greatly because the medium itself teaches us that worship is about consuming content, not offering your heart. I never wanted our virtual worship to replace our in-person worship gathering. It’s a lot harder (but don’t hear me wrong – it’s not impossible!) to offer your heart while sitting in your pajamas on your couch.

But I do think this is a test for us. I think we need to figure out ways to lead and engage people’s hearts through the virtual format and it must look different than a normal Sunday service. Innovation will happen. It has to*. After all, the words “virtual” and “communion” don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. This is actually an opportunity to teach some heart-shaping habits. Liturgy can be an anchor for us in this time of uncertainty. More on that tomorrow.

 

*I’m grateful for leaders who write thoughtfully about the role of the church and how to pastor people during this pandemic – see this article.

 

Lent Log Day 14: Things are getting weird

Glad I’m still writing to give myself a bit of an outlet to process all the crazy things happening on God’s good earth right now. I cancelled choir rehearsal tonight, and am also house-sitting / dog-sitting for some friends out in Framingham, so I’m feeling pretty lonely out here.

I have noticed in all my interactions with people that everyone is simply trying to process this massive uncertainty and talking about it together is certainly a good way to help process. The fact is so many of us have no idea what is happening, but we all process this information differently. Some process by repeating (or sharing on social media) the news they are hearing, and interpreting it for their lives. Others are more quiet, trying to digest everything that’s coming in and making guesses as to what will happen next. Some are criticizing leaders for not making clear leadership decisions.

The point is everyone processes this uncertainty differently. I am talking to this cute dog and skyping with friends and family.

I’m noticing that we all crave community. I feel myself getting anxious not only of the spread of the virus but of the social isolation. I missed having choir tonight. I will miss meetings and things being cancelled. I’ll miss seeing people. I suppose we’ll rely on technology to help us feel connected. I’ll get better at reaching out to people on the phone just to say hi and chat.  “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18a)

So let’s stick together, however possible. Make sure you’re reaching out to friends. Talk about how this is hard. Talk about your anxieties and loneliness. I think we’re supposed to.

Lent Log Day 13: The Two Day Rule (or, perhaps, humanly imposed limits)

Turns out it’s a bit hard to keep up writing every weekday during lent. I skipped yesterday and was about to skip today but then remembered a video I saw on the “two day rule (note there are ads in the video).” It is born from the reality that habits are easy to start, but very hard to maintain consistently.

In my last post, divinely imposed limits, I talked about how sometimes in ministry we have to remember to stay in our lane, and not over extend or over invest with our time or energy or emotion.

But what about a humanly imposed limit?

A humanly imposed limit, (one could call this a “ritual” or “practice”) is something we hold ourselves to and live by, no matter how we feel at any particular moment. Rituals or practices are tools for building consistency and, as the video explains, are the antidote to procrastination, doubt, and fear (see this post on rock climbing, doubt, and fear)

Consistency is the antidote to the resistance of doubt.

The two day rule is simple: If you skip a day, it’s not a big deal, but once you skip two days, that’s no longer a habit but a one time job. For any habit you are trying to build, whether it’s working out, practicing the cello, reading the Bible, or (in my case), blogging every day in lent, not allow yourself to take off more than one day in a row.

Because we don’t want to be slaves to achievement and try to brute force our way into good habits. Going to the gym every day is hard if you’ve never gone before. The two day rule allows you to skip a day if you’re feeling tired. You can even skip multiple days in one week as long as you never skip two days in a row.

I think this is brilliant. Hope it helps us with our lenten (and life-long) disciplines.

Lent Log Day 11: Divinely Imposed Limits

…We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged…

Where do you boast? Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, “what makes you proud?” Paul is speaking in this passage in defense of his ministry. I can certainly relate to having to ‘defend my ministry’ to those who have reasons to critique it. We’re all armchair quarterbacks, really. Anyone who is in ministry knows that critiques come quickly and sometimes without much thought. In the eyes of some people, we never seem to be doing enough, or maybe simply that we could be doing so much better if only we did this one more thing.

But I think the point being made here is that Paul’s ministry is by ‘staying in your lane’ (I wrote a bit on this on day 2), we can keep the focus on the ministry to the people that God has assigned to us. It’s certainly overwhelming for me to think of all the things I could be doing, and am not. I could be recording that next worship album. I could be composing or songwriting. I could be preparing more leaders for small groups or training more discipleship mentors. But divinely imposed limits seem to be healthy and important for our flourishing. Our last Men’s gathering included a talk by Matthew Wilson titled “Taking Ownership while Giving Glory to God” (listen here), and spoke right to this idea of limits. Drawing from Aristotle, Matthew views virtues as the fine line of balance between two extremes. Temperance is the balance between the extremes of gluttony and asceticism; of over indulgence and under indulgence.

In regards to ownership, we can become overly invested  (over-attachment) or under-invested in a particular project. For many of us, the dangers of over investment are easier to slip into than apathy or underinvestment. The results can be painful and catastrophic. Emotions run higher, and we (I) can forget about the people we are working with under a single-minded focus on a project. We can be jerks.

A healthy ownership of a project, ministry, or job, is found when a balance is maintained between over and under investment. For me this means doing the next right thing and not worrying any more. I would imagine that as we complete projects or launch and grow ministries, God gives us more responsibilities, but this does not mean chasing after new responsibilities in order to gain recognition on our own terms.

“‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 2 Cor 10:18

Lent Log Day 9: Rock Climbing progress – still afraid of falling.

I’ve been rock climbing for a bit over a year now, and am surprisingly still sticking with it. I’ve never been one to go to the gym, but for some reason this kind of gym keeps me coming back for more. I would never lift weights but I guess I will lift my own weight up a wall a few times for fun. It helps that they change up the routes every week.

The reason I like it so much is that it works your mind and body on multiple levels. Obviously there’s the physical strength component. Fingers are stronger, callouses form, arms, back, and shoulders all feel more sturdy. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that strength alone was not going to get me to the top. The second component to good climbing is balance and body positioning. After a few months I realized that using one leg as a counterbalance (a technique called ‘flagging’, rotating your hips into the wall,  and focusing on getting your feet in just the right place made it a good deal easier on your arms. That’s cool.

But the third and final component, and the one that will be the most difficult for me to improve, is my mind. Two things in particular that can cripple a bouldering attempt: doubt and fear. When I am halfway up the wall, fingers are weakening from fatigue, it’s usually just a little thought that gets into my head, “you’re not going to make it this time” and I quit. (And if you’re worried at this point…quitting just means dropping a few feet off the wall onto the pads.). What’s a worse feeling is the fear. Fear is a good and healthy instinct but there are several times when I’ve really felt it. It usually happens near the top of a route I have never done before, and it often makes me forget to do everything else, namely, breathe and keep going. There are times when I’ve felt the sensation of fear and even after coming down off the wall it lingers with me for several minutes after. It makes the next attempt really hard to start and sometimes breaks my concentration for the rest of the session.

A single minded focus helps. So do other people cheering you on. I personally really like going to the gym without knowing anyone there. I just do my thing and nobody bothers me. Sometimes people do strike up conversations and I happily engage with them, but then they start to cheer me on on the wall, and I feel annoyed from the bit of pressure that I now have to finish this route to impress them. But sometimes it actually helps me do a route that I would have doubted I could complete alone.

Difficult things can be so rewarding when you finally push through and make it happen. For many months I was stuck climbing V0 and V1 routes (routes are rated from V0 – V10). When I finally got to V2 I was pumped. V3s seemed like an impossibility but just a few months ago I finished a V3 and couldn’t believe it. Today V4s seem impossible, but there’s always next week!

 

Lent Log Day 8: Holy Water and Hand Sanitizer

I’ve always wanted to write a post about how some churches have a fount of holy water at the entrance and others have a bottle of hand sanitizer. Today seems like that day.

The former says the world is God’s – God made the material world for us to experience and enjoy and the raw material of water reminds us of his goodness to us (the dab of water on our forehead reminds us of our baptism). For more on this I commend Schmemann’s “Of Water and the Spirit” chapter from his book “For the Life of the World.” The fact that water is placed at the entrance to churches is in part to remind us of the ecclesiological (or, communal) significance of our baptism. It is an entrance into community – the body of Christ, and not solely an individual act.

The latter says the world is dirty –  that we need to protect ourselves and get rid of the germs of the outside world. It is practical, pragmatic, and on the surface theologically neutral – how is using hand sanitizer related to how I enter worship?

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. It matters. Everything we do shapes what we believe. The phrase speaks to the fact that all our actions shape our beliefs, and it’s a two way street. If we kneel in worship, our hearts kneel. If we check our bank account balance every morning, our hearts worry about money. If our hearts worry about money, we’ll check our bank account balance every morning.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against hand sanitizer and use it frequently when traveling. Obviously things are a bit different these days and I’m using it more often. But I’m actually really struggling with what the church’s response should be toward Coronavirus fears. During flu season, it’s often suggested that we refrain from handshakes during church, and with Coronavirus fears (and actual cases in the US) rising, we’re considering how to modify our communion practices to be more sanitary. Fortunately, for us Evangelicals, we are already well on our way to individual sanitary practices. We have those tiny plastic cups which are better than all drinking out of the same cup (though I learned that using a fortified wine such as port for its germ killing properties served in a single chalice is actually more sanitary and less of a risk than contamination from hands reaching into the same plate or loaf of bread. The mouth is cleaner than the hands.)

While I am concerned with how to best guide the church’s practices safely, responsibly, and taking advice from medical professionals, I’m also thinking about long-term affects on our practices and therefore our theology. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. I read of one church who changed from handshakes to waves and nods during the H1N1 outbreak in the 2000s, and the practice has by popular choice remained.

Shouldn’t we as Christians be the first ones to remain ‘in the world’ because we know that we are ultimately not of it, but belong to God? This is not to say we don’t exercise caution and common sense, listening to the recommendations from doctors and modifying our practices to be more hygienic, but if the world is living in a state of fear (and it seems like it is), perhaps we should open our doors to welcome the weary, not close them. We’ll also live-stream our worship service too :-).

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…

Psalm 46:1-2

One of our own missionaries remained in Liberia to care for people during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago. Many non-Christians would see this as irresponsible – the recommendation surely would have been to get out of the dangerous area, but he was celebrated here. In the early years of the church, during one such plague outbreak in AD252 Christians were known to be the ones that stuck around to care for the dying. While others fled, Pope Dionysus of Alexandria commended those Christians who remained, writing,

“The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.” (Source)

So I’m not sure what direction this current pandemic is going to go. Certainly let’s pray. Pray that doctors find a cure or vaccine quickly. Pray that Christians would know how to respond to this as disciples of Jesus. Pray that we would not fear. I will use hand sanitizer. I will also remember my baptism.

Lent Log Day 7: Dust and Mud

Everyone knows that Jesus performed miracles of healing in the Gospels. A closer reading of these miracles reveals that not every healing is the same. Sometimes, Jesus simply says a word and someone is healed. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus resurrects him to life after being dead for four days by simply praying, and then saying “Lazarus, come out.” In John 5, the invalid of 38 years is healed by the words “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Jesus needs nothing more than to speak, and healings happen.

John 9 shows us one example where Jesus does something more.

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:6-7)

Certainly we don’t conclude that Jesus “needed” the raw material of the earth to perform this healing. Just as we don’t think Jesus’ first healing of the blind man Jesus must have done this for a reason. Perhaps he was giving us a sign.

We know that Jesus often does things so that people watching can hear and believe in him (Cf. John 11:42), so perhaps his action of taking mud was to teach the people watching something about his nature.

Consider Gen 2:7:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen 2:7, KJV)

God is creator, and created man from the “dust of the ground.” As he spits in the earth and makes mud, he’s reminding those watching and us of his ‘creator-ness’, and has come into the world as re-creator. Remember, Jesus IS God. He’s not only God’s Son, he’s God in the flesh. He was there creating at the foundation of the universe and is now present with this man restoring his sight. But healing is not only restoration of this man’s sight, it is a signifier of the new creation that is happening through Christ.