In Canada, we are closing in on the end of the Labour Day weekend. Most people make use of this weekend to ready themselves for the real New Year, the start of school and the relaunching of program etc. Of course, this year, everything is a mess and much muddling seems to be the order of this Labour Day.
My wife and I spent a good bit of the Labour Day weekend digging out the polymer cement between our flagstones on our patio. When this cement is in good shape, the individual stones are bonded together and a safe, welcoming space is created. As the cement breaks down, the flagstone shift and annoying (and dangerous) lips are create. So every now and then we need to repair the space by replacing the cement. It is not an especially enjoyable job, spent on our knees picking away at cracked and crumbling bits of adherent. My efforts this year were rewarded by a wasp bite that leave my left index finger swollen with resentment. But wasps, too, have a place in creation.
The new polymer will be applied when it looks like we will have at least 24 hours of dry weather, which is not necessarily going to be for a while. So after yesterday’s time on my knees, today was a typical Labour Day for me, getting ready for the start of school. Classes at Luther will all be remote this fall, as they were in the spring, so I am trying to learn from successes and failures as I get ready.
Tuesday will be orientation, and it too will be online, with some asynchronous activity. My colleagues have worked tirelessly to prepare what we hope to be a welcoming and revitalizing start to the new year. One of my colleagues, Sherry Coman, as invited us to use the word “mediated” rather than virtual to describe our gathering online. I like this very much. Virtual implies that this coming together is not a real coming together. Mediated helps us to imagine that it is different, but no less real.
I also like that the word mediated shares the etymology of the noun “means” with both pointing to what is in the middle, between this and that and enabling a relationship. This use is informed by the Lutheran notion of the means of Grace – Word and Sacrament. Here concrete earthly elements become the meeting ground between believers and between believers and the Divine, who makes space for our gracious reception into Love.
Hopefully this mediated space will in some way approximate such a welcome. From my experiences with Zoom, and Teams, and other technology, they can be likened to the polymer that links stone to stone. Sometimes there are cracks, and crumbling, and the odd wasp that bites. But in the end, with some loving care, it can do what needs to be done to bridge the distance between people who are eager to learn, and ready to grow. I have seen it happen in ways that are different from face to face meeting, but significant all the same. This New Year will be unlike any other, but then again, so is every New Year.