July 1 is a big day for me! As with all United Methodist pastors, it is normally the first day of a new appointment year, and I am assuming that the bishop is reappointing me to St. Mark’s where I have just completed nine years of ministry. All clergy have at least a little apprehension every June, until we hear our name and appointment read during the Annual conference session. But this year is different, as there was no Annual conference. It has been delayed until September, when fixing appointments is on the agenda. It is also different for me because this will be my final year under appointment as an “active” pastor. The United Methodist Church requires all pastors to retire after hitting their 72nd birthday, which happens for me in August… just six weeks away. And so, as we continue a very unusual year of ministry of St. Mark’s, my goal is to help us all to adapt to a rapidly changing situation. My final year in “active” ministry is indeed going to be very active!
We have been talking about the need for change in the life of the church for decades. We realized a long time ago that young people are not automatically joining the church in large numbers as they used to do. Young parents are not seeing the need for spiritual formation for their children. Working people are working longer hours including most women, and families, for a variety of reasons, have less disposable income. This generation’s children have multiple demands on their time in addition to attending school and doing homework. Our social context has changed, and the church has been slow to adapt.
And then… the pandemic hit! COVID-19 has forced the church to adapt and to operate in ways that would have been impossible a generation ago. People are still the same and have the same needs, but they are experienced in different ways. The internet has brought dramatic changes to the ways in which people operate and the way the church operates. And the change has only just begun. Who knows what will be happening next?!
And then came Memorial Day. The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis caused a seismic shift in the social fabric of America. Whether or not you were out on the streets joining a protest, you are going to be impacted by the change that is taking place. Some people claim to be still confused by the slogan
Black Lives Matter. White America is slowly, and maybe reluctantly waking up to the fact that the prosperity of the nation has been achieved at the expense of keeping African Americans under oppression. Black Americans have been speaking loudly about this for generations, and, for some reason, these social realities are only now becoming clear because of some cell phone videos. There is nothing new in what happened to George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor or Michael Brown. For generations white Americans have closed our eyes and chosen not to see. But now, a lot of people are starting to see, and having seen what is going on are determined to bring change.
The demonstrations of the last few weeks have set in motion a process that will probably last for years. Those who have been unable to see the systems of oppression are not going to have a “Damascus Road” experience and suddenly see all the ways in which damage has been done to African Americans for generations. It is not going to be easy for people to change patterns and attitudes that have been in place for generations. We should maybe think in terms of a decade of healing transformation. But we have to start somewhere.
I was very proud of our church family when our Racism Task Force invited us, back in January, into a process of reflection on Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility. The book invites everyone to explore why it is so hard for Caucasian Americans to see and hear what is happening, mainly with African-Americans, but also with other people of color. Our reflection groups were interrupted by the pandemic, but I am hoping that the fresh eyes created by the book helped many of us to understand the George Floyd murder in its historical and social context. If you haven’t read the book, please get a copy and commit yourself to personal reflection and prayer on its contents.
The ministry of St. Mark’s will be heading in some new directions as we make plans for a different future. Pandemics of COVID-19, racism and white supremacy have nudged us into seeing Jesus Christ and the life of faithful discipleship in some new ways. These are exciting and scary times. God is with us on the journey. With a little faith and courage, you will be able to change and adapt and find new, deeper, wells of grace and love in your soul. Many people around you will not understand and resist your insistence on compassion and justice for all. God is at work. Look out! And prepare for your world to shift…
from Pastor Alan Jones
by Pam Taylor, R.N.
Faith Community Nurse
Looking at Masks and Respiratory Health
During the current experience with Covid-19, masks have been a controversial element. From mixed messages about the benefit of wearing a mask, to what types of masks to wear, to the making of masks by crafters, to the actual politics of using a mask, this has been a frequent topic of conversation and news. An article about masks and breathing was recently published by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times. Following are major portions of the article.
Starting with the first reports of breathing difficulties among people who contracted Covid-19 and extending now to those wearing masks to limit the risk of acquiring or unwittingly transmitting the virus, the ability to breathe normally has become a common concern.
Walking around with half one’s face under layers of cloth, neoprene or some other protective covering is neither attractive nor comfortable, even more so now with summer heat approaching. This is especially challenging for people who must wear masks throughout their workday, as well as those with pre-existing respiratory problems and people with poor hearing who now struggle to participate in mask-muffled conversations without the added assist of lip reading.
Alas, this is a fact of life we will most likely have to endure for many more months, perhaps even years, until an effective vaccine against this deadly virus can be developed and administered widely. There are ways, though, to maintain and even improve respiratory health while following the important guidelines for wearing masks issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to curb the spread of Covid-19.
But first, we could all benefit from a better understanding of a bodily function most of us have long taken for granted and learn how to maximize its efficiency and life-sustaining benefits. Even without a mask as an impediment, many people breathe in ways that compromise their well-being.
“Doctors who study breathing say that the vast majority of Americans do it inadequately,” James Nestor, author of a new book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. “How we breathe matters,” he said, “and our attention to it is long overdue.”
For example, Mr. Nestor noted, “nose breathing is better than mouth breathing” because it’s protective; the nose filters, heats and treats raw air. “Inhaling through the nose stimulates the release of hormones and nitric oxide, which helps to regulate vital functions like blood pressure and increase oxygenation throughout the body,” Mr. Nestor said in an email.
Given that most of us take about 25,000 breaths a day and breathing properly is critical to how well our bodies function, we should try to get the most benefit we can from this life-sustaining activity, with or without a mask.
So, in addition to Mr. Nestor’s comprehensive treatise on breathing, I consulted an unusual expert, Paul DiTuro, a former professional athlete and special forces medic in the United States military who is now a performance breathing specialist for a company called PN Medical, which makes devices to help train respiratory muscles for people with conditions like emphysema as well as professional athletes.
Breathing done properly keeps the body in acid-base balance, which enables tissues to get the amount of oxygen they need to function optimally, Mr. DiTuro explained. This balance is achieved by maintaining an ideal level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood. Too little CO2, which can happen when breathing is rapid and shallow, impedes the release of oxygen to body tissues and can result in feelings of anxiety, irritability, fatigue and lack of focus, Mr. DiTuro said.
Rapid, shallow breathing keeps the body in a high state of alert and engages the sympathetic nervous system, an adaptation that is useful in times of danger but counterproductive to feeling calm and relaxed the rest of the time.
Even during normal times, many people breathe too fast and through their mouths, perhaps because of chronic stress or noses made stuffy by allergies or a deviated septum. I noticed that I tended to do the same when I was wearing a mask, and now consciously remind myself to breathe more slowly, inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth, especially when I’m out exercising. Without very much effort, you can retrain how you breathe —with or without a mask—so that it is physiologically beneficial when you’re not being chased by a tiger.
A rapid, shortened breathing cycle uses muscles in the neck and chest instead of the diaphragm, which is innervated by the vagus nerve responsible for calming the body. Mr. DiTuro noted, “Lack of diaphragmatic breathing makes it harder to mentally relax.”
Coincidentally, shortly before the pandemic struck, a physical therapist hoping to minimize back pain taught me diaphragmatic breathing, an ancient technique that quiets the body and mind by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s widely used by opera singers, actors and meditators, among others. I was told to inhale through my nose and exhale slowly through my mouth. But instead of my chest expanding as my lungs fill when I inhale, my diaphragm —the dome-shaped muscle under my lungs —should contract and drop down toward my stomach.
Respiratory therapists teach diaphragmatic breathing to people with lung problems, and you can strengthen this important though neglected muscle on your own.
Lie on your back, knees bent, and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose as your belly rises but your chest remains still. Then tighten your abdominal muscles and exhale through pursed lips.
Doing five minutes of respiratory muscle training every morning and every night can help you learn to breathe more effectively at all times without having to think about it. Having stronger respiratory muscles may also facilitate an effective battle against the coronavirus. At the very least, they can make living healthfully through the Covid-19 pandemic while breathing through a mask less challenging.
While more research on the possible effects of masks on breathing patterns is needed, Mr. DiTuro suggests that in addition to respiratory training, some simple steps may help make wearing a mask easier. Just before putting on your mask, take five “quality” breaths. With each breath, inhale through the nose for four seconds, exhale through the mouth for six seconds, then rest for two seconds. Repeat these five breaths as soon as you put on the mask, and again after you remove it.
Jane Brody – NY Times 6-15-2020
Thanks to the St. Mark’s wonderful staff for continuing to work full-time to help support St. Mark’s ministries.
Thanks to Juanah Koker, Richard Fox, John Grady, John McCormack, and Dick Shunk for tearing down the termite-infested shed behind the Administration building.
Thanks to Mary Kohatsu and Tony Haywood for all of the landscaping time you give.
Thanks to all of you who are involved in making the videos that everyone receives several times a week.
Thanks to everyone for continuing to contact and show support for each other.
United Methodist Women:
Summer Educational Opportunity
St. Mark’s United Methodist Women (UMW) allows a summer break in general meetings with no meetings scheduled for July and August. Continuing safe practices in the spread on the Corona virus, UMW groups have continued connections with one another by telephone, internet and postal means. UMW can share online educational experiences that lead to personal change in order to transform the world. Mission needs to be carried out with education, preparation, action and advocacy, and mutual learning and partnerships.
UMW is deeply committed to the ongoing work of racial justice. They seek to be in right relationship with one another. UMW works together for the transformation of church and world, following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. To learn more about the racial justice work, visit www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/racialjustice.
One of the resources available there is a Toolkit Tools for Leaders: Resources for Racial Justice. In this resource this quote from Carolyn Johnson, Former Women’s Division President, is found:
Another issue is if you have the willingness to act when action is needed, even if that action is something you have to do by yourself. Sometimes, the moment when you will have to speak is not a moment when the rest of your sisters will be with you. If you find yourself in a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” position, then you did not act at the moment. United Methodist Women still has to have moments when it acts corporately, but there are also times when we as individuals have to be courageous in the moment.
UMW also has to continue to say that they will try to continue to discover and understand the complexities and the dynamics of racism. They have to continue to engage with one another and with other people around the issue of racism. They have to continue to learn.
St. Mark’s UMC
Staff office hours:
Rev. Alan Jones
or for emergency after hours,
please call 916.806.1000 (cell).
Monday-Friday 9:00am-3:00pm (remote)
Monday-Friday 9:00am-3:00pm (in office)
916.483.7848 ext 131
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 8:00am-5:00pm
Cath Fenimore-Brown (remote) Tuesday-Friday, Sunday 9:00am-5:00pm,
days off Monday and Saturday.
Pam Taylor Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org