Now that we’ve hit Pause, here are three ways to make the most of social distancing.
I decided to suspend my Further Up and Further In series for a week to address the pandemic. No one knows how long we’re going to be under lockdown due to the coronavirus. But there’s no reason to shutdown entirely. Here are three ways we can make the most of this time.
First, it seems the US government is going to be cutting every taxpayer a check. Frankly, about a quarter of the private workforce (34 million) needs this money more than the rest of us.
About half of this 34 million is employed in services jobs in the hospitality industry, where occupations earn less than the overall median pay for all US workers of $18.58. The median wage for a restaurant job is $11.09 an hour. The other half comes from retail, personal and maintenance service jobs—many of which start at the minimum wage, as low as $7.25 an hour.
In addition to this, almost 40 percent of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense (according to 2019 Federal Reserve survey). They are a pay-check away from financial stress. They need help more than the rest of us.
So here’s an idea: How about churches, neighborhoods, and networks of friends and colleagues pooling whatever the US Treasury gives us and giving it to the neediest in our communities?
My second idea: Biblical illiteracy plagues the US faith community. Difficult to overcome if we don’t read the Bible. Yet most of my friends complain they don’t have sufficient margins to read the Bible. We do now. I recommend reading the lectionary. Couple of reasons why.
The lectionary covers the entire Bible in three years. Second, we join over two-thirds of the worldwide communion of saints who read the same lectionary. This is helpful as independent churches often tend to do their own thing, or try to be original. Older Christian traditions aimed for univocity, how the church, as the Bride of Jesus, ought to “speak with one voice.”
Third, this lectionary features wonderful biographies of saints from the past. In March, we read about Thomas Ken, who died on March 19, 1711. He was an Anglican clergyman best known for his book of sermons, as well as the many hymns he wrote. Churches worldwide sing an excerpt from one: Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow / Praise Him, all creatures here below / Praise Him above, ye heavenly host / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
This leads to my third idea. Use this time to learn a little church history and theology. These lectionary biographies remind us of how the church operated in AD100, 500, 700, 1500, and so on. Most Westerners are ignorant of church history. Many assume we operate just like the church in the Book of Acts, so we draw a straight line from Acts 28—the last chapter—to today’s churches, calling them Acts 29.
There is no straight line. The early church blossomed like a three-leaf clover—Asia, Africa, and Europe. And even “though languages differ throughout the world,” wrote Irenaeus (177-202 AD) the bishop of Lyons, France, “the content of the Tradition is one and the same.” Few of my friends are familiar with the Tradition. So they don’t see where we diverge from Acts 28.
Eugene Peterson did. He was a prophetic pastor. Prophets critique the church because they love the church. Peterson’s critique was tough. He wrote that a great deal of what churches do today “hasn’t the remotest connection” with what churches did for most of twenty centuries. But we’d have to read the lectionary for three years, as well as learn a little church history, to understand why Peterson wrote this critique.
The Book of Acts has 28 chapters spanning 30 years (AD33-63). Pull out your trusty calculator and do the math. It works out to 1.07 chapters per year. We’re 1,957 years after AD63, so it’s fair to say we’re Acts 2094, not Acts 29. A whole lot of church chapters have been written, and too many in Western Christianity are unfamiliar with them.
Use this time of social distancing to become familiar with 2,000 years of church history.
Next week, we return to our little journey further up and further in.
Be check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/
 Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans, 1989), 1.