Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When It’s All Stripped Away

Written on Sunday March 29, 2020

Three Sundays ago due to the Covid-19 pandemic, along with our neighboring church and many churches across the nation, we suspended all our church gatherings, including our Sunday services. By God’s blessing, our church had just gone through an audio/video system revamp, and the new system comes with the online video streaming capacity. It gives us the option of live streaming our Sunday service online. A few Sundays before California’s Shelter-in-place order, sensing that the Covid-19 situation could get worse, I started testing our system’s online video streaming functions. Little did I know that the shelter-in-place order would come so abruptly. I have not fully comprehended the live stream functions, let along training others to do it.

Running Sunday service live stream
What I learned from the live stream experiments are that first, it’s a lot of stress to run live stream. It’s kinda like running a live tv show – everything has to be on point. And if anything happens, you must be able to stay calm and think on your feet. Why is it so stressful? Because, second, live stream is a lot harder than it seems. It is a lot easier to do live stream through our smartphones or personal computers, but when it comes to live stream a whole Sunday service, which includes worship songs, PowerPoint slides and the camera, there’s a lot to consider. It involves the hardware, the software, the internet connectivity and the streaming platform (YouTube is the platform we chose in this case). The whole thing could easily go down if any one of these components go wrong.

Just like last Sunday, I almost got a heart attack when some settings on the video streaming software went wrong. I had to reboot the system just 5 minutes before the service. Thank God that the reboot did the trick, and the problem was solved. But what happened today completely paralyzed our ability to do a full Sunday service online – the internet connection went out on our main sanctuary building. Fortunately, it wasn’t a church wide internet issue, so we moved quickly to our education building, and did live stream the most basic way from there – with just my laptop and our guest speaker. No worship songs, no PowerPoint slides, no external mic. Nothing fancy, but a good, simple sermon. Thanks to our speaker Pastor Kuo for being flexible and calm through the whole situation.

When I looked back at the incident today, I was puzzled. Because when I had just arrived at our church, and right before I stepped down from my car to start setting up for the service, I prayed for the live stream. My prayer was very simple. I prayed for God to watch over our live stream, and that nothing would go wrong with it. And yet, not only did something went wrong, it went so wrong that it threw our Sunday service out the window. Did God just not hear my prayer? Or was my prayer not good enough? But then as I was thinking, a voice came to my mind, asking, “What if there is nothing wrong with doing a Sunday service this way in God’s eye?”

As we watched the Covid-19 situation getting worse by the day, we also witnessed how it’s stripping away the many things from both our personal lives and our church lives. At church, it first stripped away our attendance rate, then it stripped away our church gatherings altogether, and now it stripped away even our Sunday service live stream! And I know this is not just the experience of our church alone, it is the experience of many churches around world. But as these things are being stripped away, it also gets us thinking. It gives us an opportunity to review ourselves as Christians and as churches.

Who are we when the small group gatherings, the prayer meetings and the Sunday gatherings are stripped away? Do we cease to be Christians just because we stopped gathering at the church? Are our callings as Christians put on hold as we stay at home? But what does it mean to be Christians? What are our Christian callings? What happens when the Sunday service is stripped away? What are the purposes of Sunday services? Is our identity as Christians rest only on participation in Sunday services? Is our community any different without our presence? What are some things we took for granted? What is faith? Does faith mean we believe that nothing could go wrong?

After the pandemic started to hit hard in LA, my friend David’s church gathering was also suspended. But he led his church on a care package delivery run for the elderlies in his neighborhood. He noticed that many elderlies in his neighborhood weren’t able to stock up on the daily necessities. So David and his church came up with the idea of working with local grocery stores to make and deliver care packages with daily essentials like toilet paper and food to the elderlies. David and his church thought of their neighbors. They remained true to their Christian identity and callings even in a trying time like this (David and his volunteers were protected by face masks and gloves).

I’m not saying that we should all defy the shelter-in-place order, be out and about. Without proper protection, we may add to the problem more than we could help. Also, how one expresses one’s faith, and stay true to one’s Christian identity and callings may be different for each person and each church. But when everything’s stripped away, when we couldn’t hide behind all the church activities, and being distracted by all the customs, rituals and programs, we must face the naked truth of ourselves, our bare souls. This is a trying time, but also a time for us to review and test our own faith and heart with all the honesty. I hope you’ll stay healthy and stay strong. May God be with you through this physical, emotional and spiritual valley of shadow.

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