The New Shut In Problem

Not a new problem, but a problem with transitions, of transitioning from able-bodied to home-bound. Take Eleanor. Eleanor goes to Divine Service every single Sunday until she doesn’t anymore. First it was a mild health problem, then she was back in full. Then she fell, and her absence was longer, but was eventually back again. But soon she misses one or two, then four or five. The Pastor calls a few times, an elder or someone calls once, and Eleanor tells everyone that she will be there again soon. Maybe this coming Sunday.

But Sunday comes and she can’t get ready in time and it hurts too much to walk all the way to the car. And she probably shouldn’t be driving anyway. So Sunday never comes.

There’s a gap there. Sometimes its weeks, oftentimes it is months before the person and the pastor come to terms with the fact that church has to come to them now. It’s perfectly natural. When you’re fifty and you have the flu and miss church, then go on vacation you don’t want the pastor calling on you. You are capable of getting there. You just didn’t. And when you’re newly retired and one week you’re sick, and the next you’re tired and overslept, and the week after that the kids are visiting, you know you’re not interested in pastor coming by. You want to be in Church, you know you could be in Church, and you certainly don’t need the special treatment.

But the day often comes when you just can’t anymore, and the church needs to know that the tables have turned, that you do need special treatment now, because that’s the only treatment you are going to get.

So Eleanor calls, or her daughter calls and tells the pastor that mom is so lonely. So the pastor visits and brings communion, and promises to visit in a few weeks, but those weeks are long and mom stays lonely. Then daughter wonders why more people from church are not visiting. So the pastor spreads the word and someone visits once or twice. But still the bald-faced truth that Eleanor is a shut-in and she’s not able to go anywhere anymore takes some time to sink in.

It takes time. I’ve seen congregations where only the pastor and maybe Mildred or Betty will go by and visit all of them. I’ve seen congregations that have committees that take turns visiting, and others where anyone and everyone checks on others.

Grace is like that, and I love these saints. Just this week I heard of one lady who’s been calling on others pretty regularly, where another family has been checking on a nearby member, and a third is inundated with meals after an accident. This best kind of work is happening simply from the Gospel–motivated by the Gospel. No meetings required, no system or process of getting approved. Simply saints calling on other saints, loving others as Christ loved them.


The Importance of Saying Things Out Loud

I was talking with my daughter last night and told her that I’d started writing fiction again. I’ve pulled out an old idea, some of the background writing on it, scrubbed off some of the rust, and started a new “Chapter 1.” This one was already feeling different than my previous aborted novels and even the wretched ones I’d completed in the past. I knew how it would work, where it was going to go and where it would end. It was all in my head.

And then I told my daughter and it all came out a bit more jumbled and unfinished and cliched than how it appeared inside my brain. It was a little disappointing. I thought it was all figured out and organized and coherent. And it was up there in thinking-land. But not in expression-ville.

Brains are pretty good at filling in missing detail, making inferred connections, sticking images in where words don’t exist. That’s the job of brains, after all. They gather millions of individual stimuli and paint a coherent picture for your mind. Much of it is filtering out: the birds I hear tweeting in the courtyard? They were unimportant and filtered out until I went listening for them. The muffled conversations down the hall, the silky feel of this Lenovo keyboard, and millions of other thoughts and sensations get filtered out, tucked away, or sent to other offices in the noggin to be processed there, while my awareness plugs away at this.

Other times, brains fill in. An experiment: close your eyes and think about your elementary school. Now try to draw a map of it. I bet parts are missing, though they exist in your head. I’m trying to remember exactly where the library was right now. I know it was…over there, but….?

From the beginnings of Christianity, Scripture was read aloud. Many couldn’t read themselves, so they had to listen. But even readers would vocalize the words. The famous story of St. Augustine marveling at silent reading often stuns people today (read more here or here). Yet even 1,000 years later, Martin Luther emphasized reading Scripture and praying aloud.

Praying out loud forces your brain to remain attentive to your words, gives it less chance to fill in the gaps, and focuses you. Reading aloud does the same. It’s much harder for your brain to do what it does naturally, that is, fill in gaps, make associations, and take short-cuts, if you are forcing it to make your mouth move and words come out.

The effect of all this is to get out of your head. It’s a dangerous place sometimes, and the good stuff needs to be put somewhere safer and made coherent.

What a Pastor Tweets vs. What I Want to Tweet

Will Tweet: “Someone is having a worse day than you. Pray for them and build them up if you see them. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:26 ESV)”

Want to Tweet: “Someone is having a worse day than you. Find them and punch them. It makes you feel better, and how could it make their day worse?”

This may be a new feature.

I Don’t Think Twitter is the Greek Academy

I still don’t get Twitter. It feels like people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in an aircraft hanger all of them shouting in simple sentences. Every thirty seconds someone hears a pithy utterance from across the room, and shouts a response to them which is meaningless to anyone standing around, catching their breath. Pictures are tossed up, Coke cans bounce around and Wells Fargo brochures fly like paper airplanes over the heads of the people, and sometimes you catch them speaking robot, “”


Now that Blogging is Passe

I’d like to announce that I’ve become a Good Lutheran™ and am now acting in a completely culturally irrelevant way. Not that Lutherans started that way, mind you, but we’ve become that way by ironically chasing after the culture instead of living our vocations.

For instance, instead of pursuing excellence, we began uncritically adopting the zeitgeist and then freaking out about it, over-analyzing it, mercilessly critiquing and defaming it, and then, gradually adopting it while looking around with awkward smiles wondering where everybody is at and why they’re not interested anymore.

Anyway, I haven’t written much outside of parish concerns since I moved congregations several years ago, and now that changes. Or not. Maybe I’ll get distracted by something else and look back in 18 months at this embarrassing Kramer-esque re-entrance into this empty room and wince. Regardless, it’s been fun.