Church in the Time of COVID

The evangelical church fears that recognizing women’s leadership will mean bowing to cultural peer pressure. But what if the church is bowing to cultural peer pressure by denying women’s leadership?

Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

And in other words: what if we’ve gotten it wrong? Barr acknowledges that in her work as a historian and as a teacher, asking the question, “What if I’m wrong?” has enabled her to be a better listener and to keep her humble.

If only we all could ask that question.

And while this particular book is about how we got it wrong in terms of women submitting to men, I can’t help but relate it to so many things I grew up believing about what it means to be a Christian. It is humbling. It is enabling me to be a better listener to people of other faiths and to people who are, simply put, different than I. And while I am moving in this direction, I feel an undercurrent of hostility towards me from The Church. No, not anything direct. Not any particular person. But hostility nonetheless. I sometimes think that if The Church knew what I really believed, they wouldn’t think I was a true Christian.

But I am not renouncing my faith. I hold firm to identifying myself as a Christian, but man it’s been a rough year to be a Christian. I have been embarrassed and ashamed of so many things The Christians have been up to. And when I get embarrassed and ashamed of a group of people I somewhat associate myself with, I start asking them questions.

I’ve always had a problem with getting shut down when I question things, whether it be as a member of a Bible study or as a teacher in a meeting. Have you experienced this? It’s frustrating. I like to discuss, challenge, and disagree with popular opinion. But when my questions or comments are seen as undermining The Faith or threatening the powers that be, they don’t go over well.

I remember being stuck in yet another English department meeting, slogging through the meeting to-do list. One item was to go through these gosh-awful, beastly, 3-ring binders and talk about how what we’re doing in the classroom is meeting blah blah blah particular standards. Listen: Standards are good. They can keep people accountable. But when you teach at a small school where department and division heads actually do visit your classroom and students do fill out teacher evaluation forms and in general The People do know what you’re doing in the classroom, taking 15 minutes for each teacher in the meeting to turn pages in a binder and describe what, in my opinion, was a very contrived, rule-following-robots type of classroom was a colossal waste of time. The first teacher finished her Goldilocks just-right curriculum, then the second, and then I couldn’t take it any more. I spoke up.

And that has always been my problem.

But its being my problem is The Problem. Why can’t I politely make a comment that perhaps this isn’t the most productive use of our time? Why is questioning the meeting to-do list met with such hostility?

Because it was. My department chair was MAD.

During a Bible study at The Church on a Wednesday night a couple years ago, I challenged the pastor’s take on a passage in Hosea. After I asked some “why” questions, the pastor said that Max Lucado says that it’s OK to ask “what, God,” but it’s not OK to ask “why, God.” I tried to look this quote up, to no avail. So I’m not sure if it’s even accurate, but there it was, stated to me from the pulpit. I shouldn’t ask why. Another elder spoke up to say that I was just struggling with my faith right now.

Well, what? (I can ask that, right?)

So when it comes to our being in a pandemic and things getting political about *all the things* and The Church having to vote on a president based on a single issue (why?), I can’t help but ask if we’ve gotten it wrong about some things.

When Steve and I went to church on Sunday, hardly a soul wore a mask. In our neon green ones, we felt like swamp monsters. None of the kids or kids’ leaders (that we saw) wore masks. We (naively? stupidly?) assumed that the adults working closely with the kids had been vaccinated.

When we got a text on Tuesday that someone who had worked with our kids that Sunday was unvaccinated and had tested positive, our first thought was “Wow, that was reckless.” But we thought we’d be fine. We had gone a year and a half without getting COVID, and Steve and I were just a few weeks out from being fully vaccinated (we got our first shot literally the first day we got to the States, which happened to be the day before church).

SPOILER ALERT: We all got COVID.

And I’m writing this in my COVID fog because I want to capture how my brain is working right now. I hope my writing is bearable. I hope I’m getting my points across. But I’m hazy, I’ll tell ya.

I’m disappointed in The Church. I’m disappointed that we can’t ask why. That doing something to protect others is seen as a political statement that comes with its own judgments.

And I have my personal regrets as well. When we got to church and saw the dearth of masks, why didn’t we hightail it outta there? I don’t know. But that’s our fault. We take full ownership of that.

Coming full circle, I think it’s time for The Christians to start taking a little look inward, asking some “why” questions, and definitely asking if maybe they’ve gotten it wrong on some things. As I am a Christian, I will be doing this as well. To take it one step further, I think it’s what God would want us to do. On the podcast The Faith Angle, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt talk about how doubting things about God and the Bible and religion means that your faith is alive. What an interesting perspective.

So maybe you fear wearing a mask or getting a vaccine will communicate to people that you are a Biden-idolizing, abortion-loving liberal.* But what if wearing a mask or getting a vaccine is how you can show Jesus’ love — by communicating that even though you might not want to do this, you’re doing it on the off chance that it might help others.

Because my understanding of Christianity is that it’s about others.

*To those people who choose not to get vaccinated and live a stay-relatively-at-home-or-around-a-few-designated-people kind of life, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the people who are living life in a pandemic as “life as normal,” or treating life in a pandemic as some political thing, or treating life in a pandemic as a way the secular world is trying to undermine God.

And another note: if anyone from this particular church reads this, please contact me directly and let’s chat. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I felt I should be candid in relaying my experience.

Yet Another Storm — in Quito, Ecuador

The sky is blue, or the rain
falls with its spills of pearl.

“Spring,” from Owls and Other Fantasies, Mary Oliver

Well it’s been spilling pearls here in Quito lately.

So

many

pearls,

drops

upon pearly

drops.

We are officially in rainy season. I see it outside; I feel it in my heart. Sometimes it feels like each Zoomy-Gloomy class is a fat drop of rain. This relentless rain pelts us, and instead of giving us life and growth and blooms, we’re just cold, soaked, and exhausted.

And while most everything here in the city is open for the masked human, school campuses remain closed. While restaurants are packed with unmasked humans eating food, school campuses remain closed. While grocery stores and malls and markets and buses are crammed with people, school campuses remain closed. Ecuador, I do not understand.

But while I sit here complaining about what a drag Zoomy Gloomies are, I have to remember what a privilege it is that my kids have devices, internet, and a connection — albeit through a screen — to classmates and teachers.

So many kids aren’t having any school whatsoever right now. So I think about all that rain and realize that it’s better than scorched and burning earth.

I am trying to see those raindrops as beautiful pearls and be grateful. But I’m human. And I’m cold, soaked, and exhausted. As I write this, yet another storm is rolling in. The thunder just cracked so loudly that a couple of car alarms went off. Pearls — they’re comin’.

All this talk of pearls — I should mention that in my household, “Pearl” has a very different meaning from the beautiful gem used for earrings and necklaces and rings. A long, long time ago, when kids were not even a thought, Steve and I used to entertain ourselves during church services by making little drawings of animal combinations on the bulletins. For example: a “feagle” was a fox with an eagle head and wings, a “duake,” a snake with a duck head, etc. One of our all-time favorites, both in name and illustration, was our beloved “Pearl.” Steve drew the most hilarious depiction of a pig and squirrel that I remember physically covering my mouth with my hands, stifling the laughs, feeling like my insides were going to explode from the pressure. All this during church.

So of course I start thinking about that poem excerpt, picturing our Pearls spilling from the sky. And though the sky is DARK right now, the thought of hundreds of pig-squirrels dropping from the sky brightens my day.

This. This is why I married Steve. We laugh SO HARD together, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. But isn’t that part of the fun? Tell me you haven’t gotten the case of the giggles during church, or during class, or during a meeting. You feel that tightening of your stomach and lungs; your face contorts; perhaps there are tears; and this volcanic laughter-air does everything in its power to escape out of your mouth and nose.

It’s the best.

Maybe it’s a reason I loved teaching so much. Those crazy students would make me laugh so hard. And laughing is energizing! And fun!

One time during Wellness Club, a club I sponsored, I decided to talk about this very concept of laughter being energizing (if you haven’t ever worked with teenagers, I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of sleepiness happening at school). I thought to my 30-something self: I know! I’ll search around the internet and find some super hilarious videos to show them. We’ll all laugh together, AND IT WILL BE AWESOME!

I had such good motives. And such confidence!

So they all filed into my room, collapsed into desks, and I started what was sure to be a total laugh-fest. I started with the hilarious Steve Carell blooper reel from Anchorman. I started playing it, giggling in anticipation. But soon enough, I side-eyed my students to see them practically melting off their desks in boredom. (Think of those Salvador Dali melting clocks — those were my students drooping and dripping off their desks and onto the multi-colored classroom carpet.)

It was so bad that I casually grape-vined over to my computer with a squinty smile and pressed pause. Heads turned expectantly toward me. It was awkward, so I — as I do — filled the silence by talking. Soon enough, we were all laughing at how NOT funny the video was to everyone except me and how clearly out of touch I was with teenage humor.

Even when the rain is pouring, we can choose to view the raindrops as pearls.

Or Pearls.

So maybe this post is a pep-talk to myself during this Zoomy-Gloomy cloudy rainy time. I’ll take it. But I’ll say this to the nine of you reading this: find the humor in this life. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Start there. And maybe your own artist’s rendering of Pearl might help.

And if you happen to be one of my former students reading this, thank you for the laughs.

In all her glory.
More church shenanigans. You know those “connect cards” that churches always have? Yeah.
“I give Journey Church permission to print My Story.”