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Over-proofing the dough

Kim Hurley Andrews

This morning, I was talking to one of my older brothers on the phone. He retired in the last ten years, and took a job volunteering for the Red Cross out of Wichita. In his first life, he was a restaurant manager—first for Pizza Huts, then Village Inns.

I told him about an upcoming meeting with colleagues on Zoom, and how this coronavirus was changing how we’re connecting. He told me a group of his high school buddies that get together for lunch every week were trying to figure out how they could connect online, now. Their first attempt didn’t go so well, but they haven’t lost hope.

Mind you, these guys graduated in 1968 and have lost a classmate or two from the group. Still, I admire then for trying something new. It’s been a steep uphill climb for most of us to learn new ways to connect, personally and professionally.

This week, I heard about families sharing Easter lunch together via online. My son and his fiancé were getting together online with friends and playing board games, of all things! As we talked, my brother told me how he used to hate manager meetings.

Back in probably the 1980s, he and his management buddies were coming up with new procedures in Wichita that would end up in the Pizza Hut management playbook. Then they’d have to sit through the meetings and listen to what they’d just been developing, and passing along to corporate.

Now, I have to tell you that my brother isn’t one to brag on himself. Some of the things he was telling me, I’d never heard before. I remember him saying years ago that, when they transferred him to a new store, it wasn’t usually a stellar performer. It would need serious help. He became known as someone who could troubleshoot and bring the store to profitability.

What he told me that I’d never heard, was that his store was the first in the country to combine a delivery with a dine-in restaurant. The delivery side was in the back of the store. And every day, they’d rewrite the book, so to speak, on how they did everything, simply because it hadn’t been done, before.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because, as my brother sits at home this month and is no longer driving all over the state for the Red Cross, he’s been enlisted to come up with some training for their new volunteers. All along, he’s been a trainer.

Once, he even trained the head of Pizza Hut in Europe, in a format devised to take someone through a series of new roles each day—from dishwasher, all the way up to manager.

Among the things he taught this guy was, once the pizza dough has been over-proofed, or rises too much for too long, you might as well start all over, again.

Get distracted by talking too much, and it’s back to square one. There’s nothing you can do to make that dough work, at that point! Which translates into lost revenue.

My brother might not be pushing it hard every day like he was, a decade ago, taking joy in solving messes, but he’s still contributing. And now, in a new way. In fact, the training program he’s putting together for the Red Cross may soon be used across the region.

Which leads me to ask you: what knowledge or special skills do you have that might be turned into something helpful, or even necessary, in these unparalleled times? I’m sure Bob never thought he’d be using his restaurant management skills to help people who can no longer ride along with someone in a car to learn the ropes as they pick up and deliver blood platelets, and such. But that’s just what he’s doing.

I certainly never imagined I’d be sitting in my dining room on Sunday mornings in my jeans, strumming my guitar, talking into an iPad screen, singing solos to help my three congregations—and anyone else out there, in Facebookland—worship, and come into the presence of God. But, here we are! As a bonus, I get to spend time virtually with friends and family around the world. All three of my siblings have jumped onto Facebook and watched my sermons/worship times live, or after the fact. We’ve also spoken more on the phone since this crisis began, than we have in years.

Is this how I would prefer to lead my congregations in worship? No. Did I have any idea what I was doing when I started, a month ago? Certainly not! I had to watch another friend do it first, put on my own ounce of courage, and just give it a shot. Never in a decade of ministry have I conducted Holy Week services remotely, with no one else physically present. It felt extremely awkward at the time, but we did it. Praise God, we can still be connected!

Will this change how I bring worship to folks, in the future? I can’t even imagine what life will look like in a month, or two. Perhaps we’ll continue live-streaming, and include the people who are at a distance.

When we go back into the sanctuary, we’ll maintain great distance. Communion will be served differently. However, it will be glorious to be together again! First and foremost, we’ll attend to each other’s health. I believe fully in the power of God to heal and transform. I don’t believe there’s anything God can’t do. But there’s no way I’m going to put the Lord my God to the test. Even those who minister using their gifts of healing aren’t messing with this new, highly contagious, sometimes deadly, flu. The people who get hit with the most complex hospital cases around the world say they have never seen the likes of this.

This is nothing to mess around with, folks. In my opinion, it’s not worth becoming a headache to our local law enforcement by gathering in large groups and voicing our disdain. It’s certainly not worth endangering more healthcare workers’ lives. I understand why some people are protesting, but when I hear what it’s about—because they want everything in their lives just like it was before, including the things that are wants, and not needs—I just shake my head. Things simply won’t go back to normal, for some time. We are in unprecedented times. It’s not in someone’s imagination. It’s not some conspiracy. Really, as if all these busy, important people had to do was sit around and invent ways of taking away our personal liberties….

Probably because we haven’t been through extremely tough times together, we don’t know how to act, together. It’s exactly what we need to learn. Some of us remember getting marks on our kindergarten grade cards if we worked and played well, together.

In the case of some of our relationships with each other, we might say the pizza dough has over-proofed, or raised too much, for too long. We haven’t watched it, closely enough. We’ve gotten distracted. We need to go back and start over, from square one. Already, it’s cost us plenty.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, or how life has become more inconvenient, why don’t we focus on what we can contribute to enhance each other’s lives? It will take some ingenuity and creativity. It will require you to look back and remember what you’re good out, where your strengths are. I guarantee, someone needs what you have to offer, in this time. We all need each other, to navigate these uncharted waters.

Avoiding strife brings a man honor, but every fool is quarrelsome. —Proverbs 20:3

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. — Proverbs 13:9-10

Stay away from lusts which tempt young people. Pursue what has God’s approval.

Pursue faith, love, and peace together with those who worship the Lord with a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. —2 Timothy 2:22-23

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Kim Hurley Andrews is the pastor of Stafford, St. John and Antrim United Methodist Churches in Stafford County, Kansas.