A while back, I received an email from an old friend who wrote, “Fifty days ago I had never heard of Zoom. Now I’m using it most days to see and speak with the collegiate staff around the state, which makes me look forward to in person meetings!”
Due to the quarantine, I think many of us find ourselves in the same position. In my case I recently experienced a Zoom Triathlon, a full day of Zoom meetings, and I will complete this Triathlon every two weeks for the near future.
The church my wife, Barbara, and I attend encourages us to go to not only our Sunday service but also to interact with other members during the week. So typically, I have breakfast every Thursday morning at a local diner with seven other guys to discuss a book. Normally, we rotate between an actual book of the Bible — like Daniel or Revelation — or a book somehow connected to Christianity. Currently, we are reading Chuck Colson’s book from 20 years ago — How Now Shall We Live? — a book about how to take our beliefs out into the community and the world.
When our diner closed in late March due to the virus, we simply skipped a week or two before one of our members suggested a Zoom gathering, and we’ve been Zooming every week since then.
During that first meeting, we all laughed at each other tucked away in our bedrooms or our home offices or our basements. We struggled, too, when we all talked at once because we couldn’t sense the conversational openings that are much more obvious when we sit around a table eating bagels or omelets. And I have to chuckle sometimes when I see one of our older members passionately explain a deep philosophical position as he sits in front of the computer screen in his kitchen eating a huge bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Gradually, though, we became accustomed to this new online format, and we definitely enjoy seeing one another and praying for one another again on a weekly basis.
By the time our men’s group began gathering on Zoom, I was already quite familiar with this new technology because the community college where I teach had already moved all of its on-campus classes to online instruction. Our school extended our spring break for a week, so all the faculty could receive a crash course in various modes, and now, we’re all teaching every day from home.
In my case, instead of helping students with their writing on the second floor of our campus library, I am now set up in my basement using both email and Zoom to answer their questions, to read their work, and to offer help. This transition was also odd at first as we peered into one another’s homes and noticed the decorations on the walls and heard family noises in the background. Again, however, we quickly moved beyond these temporary distractions and settled in to a different, yet familiar, routine.
I am not yet as busy as I might be on campus, but students are beginning to find me again, and I am adjusting to my new reality: four morning hours at the computer in the basement, an hour break for lunch with Barbara upstairs in the dining room followed by three more afternoon hours downstairs. This new routine is an odd combination of isolation and loneliness interrupted by bursts of life on the screen, young, eager faces who are not only excited to see me but also eager to discuss their essays and their research papers.
One would think I’d be worn out electronically after an early morning Zoom book study and seven hours of tutoring online. And quite honestly, two weeks ago, I was looking forward to a quiet dinner and a relaxing evening on the couch with a book when Barbara reminded me that we as a couple had our first regular Zoom engagement as well. We participate in what we call a “Life Group” at our church, a collection of six couples who gather every other Thursday to socialize, eat snacks, and discuss the Bible, and, again, one of our members organized this upcoming session.
“Tonight? Really?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” she answered gently and lovingly, “so eat your dinner quickly and then take a catnap on the couch, so you don’t fall asleep onscreen in front of our friends.” She knows me so well, that girl.
Naturally, I did as she suggested, and by the time 7:00 rolled around, I was revived and excited to see the friends we hadn’t seen in over a month. On that particular evening, all the couples squeezed together on their screens, and we discussed the parable of “The Rich Fool” (Luke 12: 16–21). And surprisingly, this story holds a lesson that is so appropriate to the quarantine we are currently experiencing.
The first three verses sound like a positive message about saving for a rainy day; the protagonist harvests a huge crop, more than his barns can handle, so he decides to demolish his old barns and replace them with new, bigger barns. So far, so good.
However, the narrative includes a quick twist when the farmer says to himself in verse 19, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” Unfortunately for the main character, God did not look favorably on this man’s self-centered life. The man died that very night, and the final verse says, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
I did not actually see the connection that night when we discussed the parable from our various living-room couches, but I do see a strong connection now. Our Zoom ability is like a bountiful crop, a wonderful technological advancement that allows us to be with our friends and neighbors without leaving our homes, a temporary alternative in unusual times.
If we are not careful, though, our future could include a similar negative twist if we allow this technology to replace the simultaneously wonderful and difficult experience of sharing our lives in close physical proximity. Like the farmer in the parable, we might be tempted to build a bigger barn in which to isolate ourselves and order in all the food and drink we need to be “merry” as we binge watch our favorite shows. If we ever need a personal connection, we can meet in our Zoom rooms, but if the interaction or conversation becomes too difficult, we can easily and quickly “Leave Meeting” or “End Meeting.”
Fortunately, my bi-weekly, Thursday Triathlons in Zoom have been positive experiences thus far, and I am amazed and grateful for the opportunity to stay connected. When this quarantine is over, however, I am going to zoom (lower case) out of my Zoom (upper case) meetings and eagerly interact in person with my family members, my friends, my students, and my neighbors. Yes, like Eliza sang in My Fair Lady, “I could have Zoomed all night,” but I don’t really want to.