COVID Conversations Over Breakfast
A few field notes from a conversation with my wife over breakfast this morning…
“I think I might be able to get used to this social distancing thing,” my wife says. I think she might be kidding, but perhaps only slightly. One thing this virus has forced many of us to do is to fairly drastically alter the pace of our lives. We’re not running around to endless meetings and the gym and yoga class and chasing the kids’ sporting calendar and the social obligations that so easily clog up our calendars. We’re being forced to sit. At home. Often without anything pressing to do.
For some, this feels like torture. For others, it’s a welcome respite from lives that feel stretched pretty thin. I wouldn’t say that I generally have trouble with sitting still, but over these last few weeks I periodically find myself just wandering aimlessly around the house inspecting the cupboards, looking out the window, hovering over one of my kids on their phone. My wife will often tease me about how I don’t know how to be bored. “We have such a hard time just being,” she says. She’s probably right. She usually is.
Ah, but surely interpreting this enforced isolation as an opportunity to slow down is an option only for the relatively privileged, right? It’s one thing to deal with social distancing in a home with multiple floors and rooms where we can all get away from each other when necessary, and where we have board games, books, and, well, the Internet. It’s quite another to contemplate several months locked into a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Or a glorified closet in Beijing. Or a refugee camp. And what about those for whom home is the place they least like to be in life. What about the kid whose parents are absent or abusive or who struggle to put food on the table? Or the couple whose marriage is teetering on the precipice and for whom potential financial ruin will now be added to the mix? Yes, this whole idea of social-distancing-as-opportunity-to-slow-down thing is certainly only an option for some of us. We ponder these things as we pour a second cup of coffee.
Our thoughts turn to the economy. I read this morning that unemployment in Alberta could be in the 15-20% range by summer and that it could be higher than that with our nation’s largest trading partner south of the border. I shudder to think of the trickle-down effects this will have in our communities. Most of us already know someone who has lost their job and if we don’t yet, we soon will. Some of us wonder if that someone will be us.
“But one good thing is that as a family we’re spending less,” my wife says. “It makes you wonder about how much of what we spend money on is unnecessary. And about an economic system that depends on people overconsuming in order to keep the machine going.” It certainly does. So many of us live right up to the edge of our means and a crisis like this reveals how fragile our way of life really is. As a culture don’t save like we used to. We certainly don’t give as previous generations did. “Maybe this virus is kind of a wakeup call for the planet,” she says. “Business as usual isn’t working so well for us.” Maybe the goal shouldn’t necessarily be to get the economy up and running again as it was before. Maybe we should take this opportunity to rethink what we prioritize and why.
As breakfast begins to draw to a close, we talk a bit about “church” this past weekend. I talk about the various worship services that watched online (probably parts of six different services) and about how I felt about the one that our little church produced. A few friends who attend much larger and flashier churches asked for the link. I was embarrassed by how initially hesitant I was to pass it on. I don’t want people evaluating me by the same standard as other preachers and services out there! Not one of my finer moments or reactions, but there you go. Of course, I could should have been a bit less preoccupied with myself in all this and perhaps pondered the opportunities this cultural moment is affording. But my discomfort with the medium (see my previous post) and my own personal feelings of inadequacy in putting together a “digital package” so easily and naturally assert themselves.
I still feel conflicted about taking worship “online.” My discomfort could probably be reduced to a single word underneath the YouTube video that I found myself glancing at occasionally over the past few days. “Views.” This is, of course, the scourge of the digital age—our temptation to evaluate the merit of something by how much traffic it generates online. Value is crudely reduced to a number. But it also speaks to one of the main issues I have with doing worship online. In the end, it becomes something we “view” rather than something we participate in. Or, at least it’s far easier to do this. I confess that I found it pretty easy to drift away from the various services that I watched on Sunday morning. Some I watched right through, others I only dropped in for a few minutes. But I boosted a few stats, so I suppose that’s good.
At any rate, breakfast is over. Time to go to work. The remainder of the weighty moral conundrums related to this pandemic will have to wait at least until breakfast tomorrow morning to be solved. Stay tuned.