May 28, 2020 5:14:41 PM

Spirituality During Hard Times: A Conversation with Reverend Dr. John Stephens

Brian Beckcom

Brian Beckcom

May 28, 2020 5:14:41 PM

In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with the Reverend Dr. John Stephens, Senior Pastor at Chapelwood Methodist Church.  Dr. Stephens and Brian talk about the importance of spirituality during the coronavirus pandemic. 

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They discuss: 

  • How families can cope with COVID-19’s added stressors
  • Chapelwood’s mobilization during hurricane Harvey and the “true” value of a home
  • How churches are adapting to COVID-19: from video conferencing Sunday’s service to Zoom funerals
  • Phased reopenings and the difference between businesses and churches
  • The power of compromise and how to rise above today’s hyper-partisan Facebook feuds
  • Fake outrage and news media tribalism 
  • The hidden power of gift-giving 
  • Active vs. passive waiting
  • And other topics

Reverend Dr. John Stephens is the senior pastor at Chapelwood United Methodist in Houston, Texas. Chapelwood UMC was founded in 1948 and today it serves a diverse congregation of 7,000 plus Houstonians. Reverend Dr. John Stephens is a renowned community leader and beacon of spiritual maturity for his followers. To connect with Reverend Dr. John Stephens, visit his bio on Chapelwood’s website

Read the show notes

[00:00:00] Brian Beckcom: Hey everybody. Brian Beckcom here, VB attorneys. I've got,  the Reverend Dr. John Stevens, and,  John and I were just talking right before the podcast and John's a friend of mine, and I've been thinking about four or five days,  whether I refer to John as pastor, Reverend, Dr. John, or some other title.

And John said it was okay if I referred to him as John. So, John, how you doing man? 

Dr. John Stephens: I'm doing great. How are you doing? Hi, I'm Daryl working at home. Are you working? You work at home or you work in an office?  

Brian Beckcom: I'm actually,  in, in a Creek by my son sitting in the background right there. If you can see, I'm up in Beaver now and I'm in my office,  than working from my home office for basically two months now.

 you,  as I discussed in the introduction, you're in charge of a big church. I looked, looked up the numbers. I think there's what, 7,000 members right now? 

[00:01:00] Dr. John Stephens: Yeah. I think we're a little over 7,000 members multi-site, multi-campus. Um. Church, multi racially diverse, you know, or upper room KFS in the Heights is a very diverse mercy street read on Saturday night recovery and addiction and just people who don't connect to traditional types of church.

And then we've merged with a campus on guest, a row that was an older, more traditional church. But that actually campus is exciting because they already had a, a food pantry that's been in place for. 40 50 years in spring branch. And,  when we merged, we never really thought about it, but it's become one of the premier,  outposts for food distributions with the Houston Houston food bank.

Through all of this, we've been serving on average 350 to 400 families a day. We're over 50,000 individuals now that have been served food from that food pantry there. So we've got a lot of volunteers from the church and the community that are working on that. It's, [00:02:00] um. It's pretty, it's pretty inspiring to see that work happening and the, and the massive amount of need because you've had people that hadn't been working.

Brian Beckcom: Yeah. John, and so you're, you're the senior pastor at chapel Methodist church in Houston, Texas for a lot of people in Houston know who you are and Houston and beyond. But for, for people who don't know.  who you are, John and I definitely want to talk about what you and the church body are doing and not just,  the Methodist church, but all the religious denominations that you're aware of, what they're doing,  during these very, very difficult times.

But before we get into that,  tell the listeners,  where you were born, where you came from, how you got to where you are today. 

Dr. John Stephens: So I was born in Georgia. So you've got Georgia and Texas is my two combo. We are the quickest [00:03:00] opening States in the known world. And,  I was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia with college and Georgia Southern graduate school, Emory.

 and then,  before I moved to Houston, I was in Saint Simons Island, Georgia. For about six years, which is people may know sea Island, they've heard of Seattle and Georgia, which is basically the same region, but in the news recently was also Brunswick, Georgia, which was where the Ahmad Arbery shooting happened.

And so that night, Oh yeah. So that neighborhood there still the shores, I've driven by that neighborhood a million times.

Oh yeah, yeah. Well, there's a lot of unity in the community. I'll just be all over the map. That's okay. I didn't take my add drugs today, but it's a lot of unity in the community actually there the, there's a lot of protests and things going on, but there's a lot of really positive unity between. The African [00:04:00] American community on the white community in Brunswick right now, which it should be.

They should be unified around there. But,  met my wife at Georgia Southern university and we got two daughters. One is 22 and is working as an intern at the church. Nepotism is always a great thing. And my night, my 19 year old is a freshmen at the Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma, which, you know, UT guys don't like, but she loves it there.

And of course she came home for spring break and never went back like a lot of kids this year did. 

Brian Beckcom: So you're married and you have two daughters, both of whom are out of high school. I was going to ask you how that, cause I've got two teenage boys and a girl who's 12 who we've all been together for. Two months.

I was just going to ask you how the family is going, how the girls doing. 

Dr. John Stephens: All I can say is I got it way better than parents with younger children. I'm blessed. I mean, I can not imagine doing [00:05:00] this with like young children. I can't, I mean you, you can't w w where do you go get away the, what do you do. 

Brian Beckcom: You can't escape them, you can't escape them.

And so, you know, I that, that's a great point. And you know, my law partner, oops, got kids younger than my kids. And so, you know, he, my kids are teenagers, so they stay up late and they sleep late. And so my schedule has kind of changed. To reflect their schedule. Luke's getting up every morning at seven and they have had school every day.

I think they're done with school now. But you're right, particularly with younger kids, you know, you know what else it does. I'll tell you, for me at least, it makes me appreciate what an incredibly difficult job teachers have and how much they do regular basis with these kids. Cause now you know, people think homeschool, Oh, I'm going to homeschool my kids or something.

That's a lot more work than maybe people realize. 

Dr. John Stephens: What's it a mom [00:06:00] said? She said, if you see me talking to myself, I'm just having a parent teacher conference and she's, she's like hoping to get fired for day drinking while teaching at schools. I don't know that that's going to happen, but I mean, there was a, there was a meme on of a car pulling up in front of the school and throw the children out and throw in the backpack out like first day back at school, you know, after Corona viruses over.

Well, 

Brian Beckcom: it's, it's just a, the times are so strange. So, so John, I was, I didn't realize this about your background, but when I first, I'm not from originally from Houston, but my wife grew up here and she's been a member at chapel order entire life. Her parents have been members. And so when I moved to Houston, of course I, I joined chapel and at the time Jim Jackson was the 

Dr. John Stephens: head pastor.

Brian Beckcom: And I didn't realize there's a really cool story in your bio about how you got called. Both to be a minister and how you ended up at chapel with Methodist church. So tell us about that if you don't [00:07:00] mind. 

Dr. John Stephens: Yeah, so being in the ministry, I remember a pastor told me, if you think you can be happy doing anything else, do that.

I always thought I was going to grow up and be a lawyer, and then God spared me from that. Calling me into the ministry is my running joke. But no, I mean, I grew up in, actually Jim Jackson, who was the pastor chapel wood was my. Pastor when I was a teenager in Columbus, Georgia at st Mark United Methodist church.

And so when I was called into the ministry, 18, I really felt like I'd been, I gotta been working on me calling me towards that path before then. And Jim was a real big mentor and encourage her. And so then when,  when the, when he was thinking about retiring, they did a nationwide search and he was the one that said, Hey.

This, this kid, well, kid, at that time, I was, let's see, 44 years old when I came. I'm 50 now, but you know, he's like, Hey, you ought to put this guy in the queue and let's [00:08:00] take a look at this guy. So he's the one that got me. On the list. He always likes to say, I got you on the list, but you got the job. 

Brian Beckcom: You got the job, 

Dr. John Stephens: which is what, which is what a good mentor is supposed to always say.

Brian Beckcom: And Jim, you know, Jim, Jim,  big, big shoes to fill, like literally and,  practically. I mean, Jim, six, six, big dude, really tall. I remember when I was getting married and right before I walked out to give the vows, I'm six one. You know, Jim came over and put his hands on my shoulders and said, I, you know, I'm staring up looking at him and I know you're nervous.

Don't worry. Everything's going to be okay, but you, but you came in and there's a story you tell where I think it was when you were 17 or 18 and Jim was your pastor in Georgia where he wished you, you, you, you went up to the alter and he basically whispered something in 

Dr. John Stephens: your ear. He said, God, he said, God.

That's called you to be a prophet or calling me to be a [00:09:00] prophet. And in the sense of that, the way we believe it in our traditions, not a prophet like I will be able to tell you your future, but a prophet in scripture and the old new Testament is really not some, it's not so much like guessing the future, like master Damas, it's more one who declares the truth of God.

Yeah. So the people at the time that they need it. So that's what prophets did. They spoke the word of God, and they told the truth of God to the Kings and the, and the nations. And to help them to hear the message they needed to hear about inequity or justice or what a repentance or whatever it was at that particular time.

Brian Beckcom: And so was that comment, did that,  did that kind of sets you on your path? Or had you already been thinking about.

Dr. John Stephens: The path was already set. So, like I said, I had wrestled with it for a long time, but he, you know, like with any good, if you have a relationship with a mentor, someone [00:10:00] when they speak that word of affirmation, that's actually a really kind of a Rite of passage for you,  right, of,  you know, of acceptance and like, okay, what I'm hearing is not.

You know, often left field. It's not something, it's, it's real. It's affirmed by someone that you respect and that you look up to. I think that was just so when you look at the journey of any, any calling that you've been in or vocation, you know, there's always this path along the way where you hear and sense certain things, but then there's always people who speak into that, that you admire.

Help give you directions. Like I said to Pat, the pastor who told me, if you think you could do anything else, I'd be happy to do that instead of being a pastor. Ministry 

Brian Beckcom: proved 

Dr. John Stephens: to be true because since I've been here, we've had oil go from $110 to 23 and 2014 to 16 then we had Harvey, you know, our denomination has been arguing for.

40 years about [00:11:00] homosexuality. So we've been dealing with that. And then you've got now this thing, so my last six years here have been, it's not that roller coaster ride challenges to deal with. Yeah. 

Brian Beckcom: Well, and I definitely want to talk about all that stuff.  you know, one of the things that I, John didn't re, so I grew up on, my dad was in the military, so I grew up on military basis primarily, and on a military base.

There were essentially three services. There was Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant, and we were Protestant, but there was no, there was no differentiation between Methodist and Baptist and stuff like that. So I got an opportunity to go see.  Southern Baptist,  gospel choirs that I probably would've never got a chance to say.

I got a really neat chance to see a lot of different,  denominations. But one of the things, I guess I didn't realize until probably I'm 47 right now, probably until I was in my mid thirties, is,  how religious leaders like you. You know, when you're [00:12:00] younger, you just have this impression that there's, there's a, there's a man or a woman up there preaching the word of God and, and that's the leader.

A lot of people don't realize that you and your colleagues deal with very, very difficult situations pretty much on a daily basis. I mean, you're people that are sick, people that are dying, people that are having tragedies in their life. I mean, you're.  you know, pastors, like you are at the forefront, all that stuff.

And so we're, we're in some, you know, obviously some really trying times right now. This pandemic is, I mean, none of us that are alive, I think have ever been through anything like this. So the main reason I wanted to get you on the podcast today is to talk about spirituality and religion during difficult times.

And I'm glad you brought up the fact that, you know, in Houston. Over the last six or seven years. It's just been one thing after the other. I mean, the [00:13:00] Houston economy has taken a hit. Hurricane Harvey, I want to talk specifically about how Harvey affected Houston and what chapel would did in response to that.

And then of course, the pandemic too. So one of the things, John, when hurricane Harvey came through,  you mobilized. A huge group of volunteers at chapel would to try to respond to that. Can you, can you tell us a little bit about that experience and what that was 

Dr. John Stephens: like. You know, one of, one of the things I think is important for, for a lot of people to know, there's, when you're a pastor and you start out in a small church, you're like the only employee.

So you're going to see everyone in the hospital. You're going to see everyone in their house to visit people, to do all these things. When you get to the point where you start serving at a, at a much larger church, there's a, there's a different skillset that's involved. And so in some ways you stop doing.

Things that you did most of your ministry, but you start doing a whole new set of [00:14:00] things. Cause what most people don't realize is that, you know, running a large church is like running a business. I mean we have between, you know, the church and our schools and everything, you're talking about a $16 million annual budget.

So you have an executive staff and you have, you know, a pastoral care staff. You have.  people that are focusing in all of these areas. What was interesting about Harvey was like any church, you're organized to kind of operate the way you operate, right? So you know what you do, you, you do what you do and you know what you do.

And all of a sudden this thing comes. And it started with a phone call from,  actually, it started with a text message the night that it rained, Saturday night we had church, we canceled church on Sunday morning. And it started raining Saturday night, and then they called Sunday evening was stuffed, started being released.

You guys know all about all the reservoir releases and everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. I don't, I don't get into all that right, wrong or different, but I can [00:15:00] tell you that someone said they were stuck down on Gessner. They couldn't get out of their house and they had an elderly mother. And so it's like Sunday night,  I think it was Sunday night.

 it was still raining. And suicide. I just put out on Facebook cause he might have a boat, how it started. And next thing you know, I got like everybody calling me, you know? And so what happened immediately was just this just onslaught of, of guys who came with their duck boats and their bass boats and their whatever else has said, Hey, we need to go save people.

It wasn't an Oregon. I wish I could say, you know, when we look back and we think about all the hundreds of people that. You know, the first, first night we did it, we had like five guys and then the next night it was like 40 guys and the next night it was like, and we kept going as you couldn't get in the water again.

But,  it was just interesting. It was just a need. It was like, what would you do? I mean, you don't know what you do unless you're in the spot and you just knew that someone needed, you know, that an elderly mother [00:16:00] needed to get out of the house and they weren't sure if the water was coming in. And so what happened out of that is we just structured sort of a whole systematic.

The process, you know, sort of phases of phase one was just rescued. And then we had our staff back at the church as soon as they could get on with certain people organized around, okay, phase two's going to be getting in people's houses and mucking, you know, taking the sheet rock out and pulling out the insulation and all the kind of remediation kind of stuff to begin with.

And then the phase three was going to be the rebuilding and we knew then it was going to be a minimum three year process. Okay. And so what I was really proud about chapel wood and the leadership there and the people, is that, you know, we made a commitment even still today, out of, out of that whole process came something called the restoration team, which we're now in the process of spinning off as a separate five Oh one C three.

And they do construction with,  people who don't have the resources. They're still working on Harvey things. It's hard to believe that there's still. Helping families [00:17:00] that have been impacted by Harvey, but so a lot of the red cross grant money and everything, we funneled into this restoration team. So it was just interesting how you look now at all the response that happened and all the things that came out of it.

You would never have thought it just started because, well, I mean, there's just a need. We got to do something. We happen to be a large enough organization that. Once you started putting all the pieces together, just a lot of really good stuff got done. So,  you know, I, I've been really proud of the church and the responsible mat, the people who couldn't get out and help donated financially.

But then he had a lot of people that were working, you know, every day for a while there, it was every day and it was every Saturday and Sunday or. You know?  but it was, it was really neat thing to see. And then that kind of set us up in some ways to be ready for this. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah, no, that, that, that's exactly right.

And for people that didn't live through the flood in Houston, I mean, this was a flood, not, not to, not to tell a pond or something, but truly a flood of biblical proportions. I mean, [00:18:00] when you talk about getting, I mean, you're literally having to take boats down residential streets. To people with six and seven feet of water in the house, just to get them out of that.

And this was going on all over the place and used. And then afterwards, of course,  you know, their houses are totally destroyed. So you got to muck them out and stuff. And, and John, talk a little bit about cause, cause I think sometimes we forget about the, the, the value of the home. Like when you're home, when you, when your home is destroyed and all the memories and.

All the stuff you got in there and in your home is kind of also, I think, gives you kind of a sense of security, a sense of place, a sense of grounding, and so that that flood event was, was a lot more traumatic than just the loss of a piece of property for a lot of people. So talk a little bit about kind of what you experienced that the, the troubles that people were going through after they had lost their homes and [00:19:00] kind of what chapel would.

Dr. John Stephens: Did 

Brian Beckcom: to try to fill that fill that need 

Dr. John Stephens: where you have to think in terms of,  you know, a person's home. Is, this is a sanctuary space. It's a Holy space. And the word Holy sin simply means that it's set apart for a sacred purpose. It's consecrated for a sacred purpose of a Holy cup or a Holy space. It's not Holy for any other reason that has been set apart for a sacred purpose.

And so a church is set apart for a sacred purpose to lead worship, but your home is. Set apart for the sacred purpose of rearing your family. Caring, providing a safe and nurturing environment for,  for. The parents and for the kids, you know, so when the kid has a bad day at school, they can come home and go in their room and you have these safe confines.

You also have all of these mementos like this cross that's hanging behind me, you know, is made out of an old barn in South [00:20:00] Georgia from, you know,  the, the place where I moved from. And so it's just all pieces. These are things that have meaning, that carry meaning. And you can't underestimate the importance.

For our own psychological makeup, mental wellbeing, then then these markers. So there's, there's these things, and sometimes it's like, you know, just look around in my office and there's pictures and there's all sorts of things that, you know, wouldn't mean a Hill of beans to you. You wouldn't. But, but if we were to lose that, you know, it's a very, you think about pictures and you and I are,   I'm 50.

So when I go back to wedding pictures, it's not all on digital. Probably should get it done that way. But you know, and so think about older,  families that went through this and lost, you know, they didn't transfer all that stuff digitally, home movies or, and just, just things you value. But it, it disrupts, it disrupts the psyche.

[00:21:00]  this is why you see a lot of,  post traumatic stress. Out of things like going through a flood. I remember they call it a, I can't remember the psychological term for it, but it, it, the way it looks in it manifest is like that night that the reservoirs, I think it was that next day, like Monday and Tuesday they were released in the reservoirs and you were hearing these rumors of, Oh my gosh, homes are being flooded now that have never been flooded before.

And my street floods, but my house has never flooded. And I remember that night, um. Every like 30 minutes or an hour, I'd wake up and like, look at the floor. Yeah. You know, I mean, not that my house is in danger of being flooded, but there's this psychological terror of that it's going to happen to you and you.

We had an entire city that was going through that. For multiple days and then people who actually had lost their homes or had to be taken out on a boat. We, we, we saw couples, you talk about the [00:22:00] stress. I mean, there were older couples that didn't want to leave their houses at six feet of water and they were upstairs and we were, you know, toss and water bottles to them.

And they didn't want to leave their house because they thought, Oh, it's going to get the flood of go away. It'll go away soon. It always goes away. Well, it always used to go away until the reservoir thing, cause I mean, they're just keeps pumping the water in so it's not like the flash flooding that can just go away.

So it was a very, that was a very traumatic, I think thing for a lot of people. Oh, that went through that 

Brian Beckcom: part of the, in part of the reason, you know, I, I remember,  you know, I got very, very fortunate. I live,  in art a Houston that was essentially ground zero. And we, we were very lucky because the water came all the way up to the driveway, but didn't quite get in the house.

But two blocks South of me. There were people that was six feet of water in their house. And so one of the reasons I remember this, you know, when you're sitting there and if you live in Houston, you're [00:23:00] familiar with flash floods and stuff like that, and one of the problems with it is so you have a feeling of kind of helplessness, like there's only so much, I mean, you can only put so many bags of sand up if, if the water is coming in, the water's coming in and there's really, there's, there's a lack of a feeling of control, which I think.

Maybe,  causes people to have more anxiety about these things than if they felt like they, they had some control over it. So that's kind of a good segue to what we're dealing with now, John, which, I mean, I don't know what you think about this situation, but I mean, it's the, it, to me at least, it's just so big that it's hard to, it's hard to get your head around all of the different.

You know, whether it's the science behind the disease and all the things we don't know about the disease, or whether it's the economy and balancing,  you know, being able to get [00:24:00] people to work. Because as we all know,  you know, not making any money or losing your job, that can be just as devastating psychologically is,  as anything else.

And so, tell us. How, how do you,  how do you think about these kinds of situations that we find ourselves in right now? These situations where there's just so much uncertainty, anxiety, there's unknown. We don't have control over a lot of this stuff. How do you think about these kinds of things, John? 

Dr. John Stephens: This thing is very different in that,  you know, when you had Harvey, you had a huge resource of people that were not flooded.

That could donate, that could come volunteer, that could come work. A lot of those guys that came on boats, you know, they, they were guys that might come to church, you know, once every six months or once a year. But man, there was the need and they wanted to respond and, and they, they, up to the, into, the problem with this is it impacts everyone.

It doesn't matter [00:25:00] where you live, close to a by you doesn't matter.  you know, everyone has to stay at home. Everyone has to be quarantined. I think the. The mental health issues that we're going to have coming out of this are going to be massive. I mean, you're seeing a lot of documentation on this. I mean, just the psychological.

Kind of stuff that goes on for like, I mean, it's a little thing. I always try to try to boil it down to synthesize it to something that simple that you can taste, touch, feel, and smell. But I was at the golf course like a week ago, and the guy comes up to me and see me a long time and he walks up and he puts his hand out and I shake his hand and I go, Oh crap.

I shouldn't have done that. But then at the same time, but at the same time, I'm thinking, that is the first  person's hand that I've shaken. In eight weeks. Yeah. And I had to stop for a minute and go, wow, that's a pretty significant thing that I never thought I'd have to think. But I mean to be, to be with [00:26:00] people.

We've had some folks to our house in the backyard to have dinner, but you know, you're trying to associate, you try to figure out what's the right balance, but you know, we're teleworking. Yeah. At the church, everybody's working from home. You know, we haven't had church services. You've never seen anything like that before?

Brian Beckcom: How are you, I was going to ask me, I was going to ask you about that because let's flag that real quick. John, you, you have a three services on Sunday. You have services on Saturday. I think you even have services on Sunday night there. There are thousands of people that come through chapel with every week that aren't coming through chapel at anymore.

And you know, we see these stories about. Pastors opening up churches and just ignoring orders and stuff. And I think there's a tendency sometimes to maybe be a little quick to judge, but for a lot of people, church is a central part of their week. It's a central part of their identity. And not just reading the Bible or listening to the sermons, but actually being there with [00:27:00] people,  that, that you love and respect and, and, and how do you.

Hi. How are you dealing over the last eight weeks with the fact that you can't actually bring people in to the physical building? How are you dealing 

Dr. John Stephens: with that? Yeah, well, like, like all churches, you miss a whole new world. So for us, we were already at a place with having online. Worship services. We've refined it now.

In some ways, our online services a lot better because we're learning how to create something because that's our only audience. Before your main audience is there, the present and people from home or just observing from a distance, right? They're observing the live service. Well, now we don't have anybody there, and the only audience are the people at home.

So you, in some ways, you are changing what you do to create. I hate to use a term like this, but you're, you're creating a product, not that it's transactional, but you want something that, that, [00:28:00] that works while you're sitting at home with your family, which is a traditional service with people moving and taking a break or this, you know, it doesn't flow the same way.

Does it work the same way? So, you know, there's many different ways to do it from small churches to large churches. But the,  the biggest. The biggest thing is with zoom. I'm really dumb. I'm done zoom. There's no of, no offense, we're on zoom right now, but I have, I have, I have digital screen fatigue, and we're finding that to be the cases people are ready to come back.

Here's what's interesting. I always try to tell people the balance, the difference between the churches and business. I'm a big fan of reopening safely. I'm a big fan of our economy, reopening. People go into back to work. I'm also a big fan of paying attention to science and doing it smart, right? We don't want this thing to surge again.

The worst thing. Would the forest all go back and it surges again. And with the shutdown, everything that for another eight weeks, that would, to me, that would be worse [00:29:00] than slowly coming back in. Churches are very different.  and they're different animals. And so when someone comes to me and says, wait, Walmart's open, why is the church not open?

And I want to say church, not Walmart.  you know, w we are. A place where we have a lot of what the way dr Mark boom, Houston Methodist refers to it. You have a crisscrossing, had a large venue, and what he means by that is you have a lot of people that are coming into a space and they're crossing between each other.

They're walking down aisles together, they're going through doorways together.  they're passing each other in the hallway, so you have a lot of, it's really hard to socially distance. Well, if you can't socially distance and you have to wear a mask, or at least you should, right? That's the courage, right?

The mask, the mask is when you can't get the six feet of social distancing, so you're going to have a lot of situations. Well, then when we tell people, okay, you're going to come to church. You're gonna have to wear a mask. Got to socially distance. You got to sit separated. You got to [00:30:00] skip every other row.

We're not going to be able to sing. 

Brian Beckcom: You're going to have to break probably. You're going to have to bring your own Bible. You're not going to be pulling the 

Dr. John Stephens: handle. No. Him with everything. Everything's on the screen. You know, we hold the door for you. You sanitize. You can come in and you sit. You leave. We have to have extra time between to fumigate the whatever, the cleaning stuff that you have to do.

So you start asking people, it's like, or like we cam nursery, camp childcare. You're not going to have children's Sunday school. You kids have to sit. I had a young guy asked me, he's got young kids and he said, well, when are we coming back to church? I can't wait to get back to church. So I'm like, alright, we're not going to have a nursery.

He's like, Oh, I'm going to wait.

And I'm like, I don't blame you. I mean, of course you're going to wait, but here's the other side of the spectrum is, okay, now, if you're a young family, you're not really going to want to come with your kids. You can't contain them. They're going to get into someone else's space. But churches are also made up of a larger number of people who are in these [00:31:00] vulnerable populations.

Yeah, so people who are over 60 or over 65 the people who are missing the connection, the most that we find are 75 and 80 and 85 year old widows and widowers who are living alone in their home. They're not able to connect with their families because of the distance and they want to be back at church.

They want to be back with their friends. They want to be in their Sunday school class. They want, well, the thing is, okay, even if we open up and you come back, you can't be together in that way. Yeah.  you know, we can't, we can't do that just out of safety and love for, for them. And you know, the first rule of method is a person.

General rule of Methodism is do no harm. And that's the same as, as, as medicine. So we have to prepare a situation to say, okay, we will come back when we can have a good worship service. We'll come back when we can make sure that we have all the protocols. For people to be as safe as possible. Cause there's Mark boom and David calender [00:32:00] who's the head of Memorial Hermann when the calls that I've been on with him, they said, look, when you open up, someone is going to come to church and have coded 19 yeah.

The percentages, you know if you have a thousand people coming through that weekend, somebody is going to have maybe more than one. So you have to make sure you have everything in place, the protocols to where you can prevent that spread. There was a church in North Georgia that opened up. The,  two weeks ago, massive social distance, a small church and three people got Corona virus.

Now they, they were separated and masked. But again, how do you police, how do you, I mean, if someone shows up at church and they're 85 and they, and I, I'm not going to say to them, I'm sorry, I can't let you come in. Right. We don't do that. Well, 

Brian Beckcom: and that, and you just brought up a really good point that I think bears talking about a little bit more.

So, you know, you're talking about people that are,  elderly people in their [00:33:00] sixties, seventies, eighties especially widowers. So my, my mother's sister died at Covance. 19 on May 11th,  which was 37 years to the day after my mother died. Yeah. And she had been unhealthy for a while, but, but her, so my grandmother, my mom's mom is in a nursing home in Philadelphia.

She's 97. She's still in good health, but telling, so my mom has another sister and another brother who is still alive and, and figuring out how to, you're not allowed to go into the nursing home, obviously for safety reasons.  they're not allowed to have a funeral.  obviously for safety reasons. And so watching how my family,  half my family's from the Philly area, watching how they've first of all, broke the news to my grandmother, which it's not a situation where you can, like you would normally do, you'd give him a hug and you cry on each other's shoulders and stuff.

You got to basically do it through a window and then setting up a [00:34:00] funeral. All digital. And I mean, it's, it's, and so what do you, what do you tell, what would be your advice to people about, especially with the more vulnerable parts of our population, the older people, the people, you know, I think of my dad who's 76 and he hadn't seen his grandkids and two months,  what, what are you, what do you tell?

How can we. As spiritual people, as leaders in the community, how can we help help the most vulnerable people in our community? 

Dr. John Stephens: Well, you have to, I mean, I, I think the, the maintaining the connection, you know, the good old session, pick up the phone and call people. Yeah. My grandmother used to, I remember my grandmother was on a.

A phone tree back in the day from her Sunday school class. And you know, the thing now is, you know, you and I are kind of this transition, but the generations that are younger than we are, you know, they text, they email. You know, [00:35:00] unless you're in some sort of a sales business, people don't pick the phone up and just have conversation with people.

And so what I've, what I, what we've learned is that when people go through a trauma of a loss, yeah, you may not be able to have a funeral service. That's one of the things we're trying to get back to turn on as quickly as possible before worship services is how do we do funerals? Because that isn't a real important need there for people to be able to gather and grieve and mourn.

 the loss of someone, but even if you have to put it off, what I, what we've learned, and now I tell people, is you still gotta have a gathering by zoom, by going in the backyard, the six foot distancing, whatever it is, where you tell the stories and you recount the narratives. This is what we typically do when someone dies.

Typically it pastor will go to the house or they'll come to the office and we gather around the family, you know, in the room. And we just, we, we plan in the service. Yes. But there's the planning of the service. It's not [00:36:00] just tactical and logistical. There's an hour or hour and a half of sharing stories and people expressing their emotions.

It's a very healthy process. And the grieving. Stages is to be able to be in that place and sort of feel the weight of the next step. And when you take that away from people, that's not a natural thing that we do. Because when you lose someone, you have this, there's this natural, we don't just do funerals.

Or have remembrances or Memorial services just because someone liked the idea. One day there's a, there's a, there's a spiritual, mental and psychological reason why it happens and it helps the stages of grief as you sort of move toward this, this point where now we're gathered together, now we're telling the stories.

Now we're planning. Now the day the service comes, there's a some sense of finality and passing the threshold, not only for the person who passed away, but for those of us to [00:37:00] chill aspect. Yeah, yeah. There's a lot of closure and being in that room in a Holy space, wherever that space may be. Some people do it outside.

Some people do that at a funeral home, but still there's some sacred gathering. Where there are words, there are scriptures, there's remembrances, there's songs, you know, they sing dad's favorite song or whatever it is together. And then, you know, and then they used to, you know, have a reception or you go over to someone's house and all these people can come and greet you and hug you and share their remembrances.

And we are missing that. And I don't know when that aspect. Returns to be honest with you, like we'll be able to do a funeral, but I'm not necessarily clear at this moment. We'd be able to do a reception. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah. It's interesting. It's interesting, John,  how, how much of a priority you put on funerals? I hadn't really thought about it that way, but you're right.

And you know, one of the things, as I'm picturing in my [00:38:00] mind, a funeral where people are actually together, is there, there's going to be, just like you said, that the, when the. Your buddy shake shook your hand for the first time in eight weeks when you're at a funeral and you're with loved ones, there's a, there's an overwhelming desire, I think, to hug and touch and,  being close to each other and have that human connection.

And right now, at least you gotta be a little bit careful about that, I think.  so, so 

Dr. John Stephens: when you're talking about, yeah, yeah, 

Brian Beckcom: yeah. So, so how would you, so have you been. Because one of your jobs, and I'm sure you don't do it as much anymore, but is presiding over funerals, and so what, what are you seeing right now?

Are they having actual modified funeral services? 

Dr. John Stephens: We've just started doing some outside in the courtyard. We had one last week. A lot of families are waiting to schedule something, but again, you, you're, you're, you're, you're dislocating from [00:39:00] the time and the grief. So it's a really. It's, it's hard for people to process that.

I mean, you can imagine if you had a, your aunt that died on May 4th and you're not going to have a service until July up North, they might be somewhat familiar with that, but at least they would have a Memorial service before they have a burial if the ground would freeze. But,  for us, you know, one of the things we saw in Albany, Georgia, which has the biggest at one of the biggest outbreaks and the 85,000.

 people, and they had,  you know, hunt. I mean, they, they had more cases early on that Houston did because of a funeral. Yeah. Early on, the family insisted on gathering together at a funeral, wouldn't had a reception. It got passed by all of these people. And so,  you know, I would say for people, make sure you don't, don't drop the ball.

Don't dismiss. Some sort of [00:40:00] a, of a retelling, you know, I call it sort of a gathering if it's by virtual, if it's by zoom, but do it, get all the family on all the panels of the zoom and just share. Zoom is harder than a room filled with people because. What zoom doesn't allow you to do is have side conversation.

So if you and I are having a conversation on zoom, no one else can really have side conversations, right? Whereas when you're in a room with 50 people. There's all kinds of conversations and you weave back in and back and forth. Zoom doesn't allow you to do that. So it's a whole different,  you know, more antiseptic way.

But in that process where you can share, you know, people can go around and take turns. Let me tell you what I remember about uncle Jimmy. We tell, you know what he meant to me in my life. That's still a very important and necessary,  thing that's needed. Even if there's not going to be. A service. So that's what we're encouraging people.

And you know, it takes a [00:41:00] little extra follow up,  when someone's had a loss and now they're not running into people all the time. They're not seeing their friends at church talking to them. So it takes some extra phone calls. Friends need to call more than they normally would,  to follow up with people.

It's easy for us to get busy with work or whatever and lose sight of that, but it's just, you know. My, they call them every day for a couple of days and then skip a couple of days, but call them back and just to let them know you're thinking about them because they're missing out on those natural opportunities where they're going to be around so many people and they'd have the chance to share things that are on their heart.

They don't have that opportunity now. That's why getting back to doing funerals is a high priority. Because if you think about all the things that we do as a church, having church on Sunday morning is important, but as far as spiritual wholeness and wellbeing in a person's life, that passage that that.

[00:42:00] You know, from life to death to life again for us is huge. It's, there's a massive sense of healing that takes place in the spirit when you're able to usher people, usher people in to eternity in a healthy and positive and productive way that reminds people of the life that comes after this life. And so.

You know, that that's important for me,  for, for us. Now we, you know, our regathering, we call it a regathering taskforce, not reopening, cause we never really closed. Yeah. 

Brian Beckcom: I like that. That's good. 

Dr. John Stephens: Yeah. Well that's another thing that's different between a church and a Walmart. Walmart closed the church.

We've never closed. I mean, we. But you know, we've been,  Matt Russell, one of our executive pastors, you know, a week or two ago, was down at city council with a bunch of other agencies trying to petition to get more rent relief,  with,  the money that came from the [00:43:00] federal government. And he saw that he may have seen in the news some of the.

That money, you know, $15 million was gone and you know, 60 minutes or whatever, take a Ripley put out. So there's not enough, I mean, you need a hundred to $200 million to help with rent relief. And now the Supreme court has lifted the eviction moratorium. And so, you know, we are potentially in a place now in Houston where you could see massive evictions.

Of families that,  that don't have anywhere to go, that's going to, that could be a, that worries me, that food.  Houston food bank is great and we've been serving people all over, but now the housing could be a really big difficulty for us in Houston and in a lot of places. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah, I worry about that a lot.

To John and you know, so if you, if you bookend the funeral, the first part for most people that at least people 

Dr. John Stephens: that are of 

Brian Beckcom: the Christian faith is the [00:44:00] baptism. And I would assume that baptisms are kind of similar right now. You can't do them the way you used to do them, or if you can do them at all. 

Dr. John Stephens: Yeah, we could do small gatherings.

Right now we're,  we're not far away from being able to look at. Funerals, potentially weddings, you know, once we figured out the seating capacity that we can use in this w based on our, our seating, you know, but I mean, you know, we have a sanctuary that can seat, you know, 12 1300 people. But our maximum capacity early on, maybe like 244 250 people.

We had people that rescheduled weddings from March, you know, that a lie or September. And so now they're getting nervous and saying, Hey, in July, are we going to be able to meet? And I'm saying, yeah, we're gonna. To be able to meet, but I'm not gonna be able to have four or 500 people there. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah. And you know, I went out to eat John for the first time last week with my wife to a restaurant, [00:45:00] and it was, it was 25% they were complying with judge or governor Abbott's rules, and all the waiters had mask on.

And we were actually eating outside. And I'd forgotten, frankly, how much I enjoyed. Being around other people, you know, and, and cause I'm a little bit about 

Dr. John Stephens: the wine taste, get it at the restaurant versus if you buy it. Exactly. 

Brian Beckcom: Exactly. You know, so I was, you know, I was thinking about this and, and you have a masters in divinity and a doctor of ministry, so you've forgotten more about the ology than I'll ever know.

But there, there is a, it seems to me there is a kind of a tradition across most of the major religions of.  like when Jesus went away for 40 days, or when the Hammad went into the wilderness. There's this tradition of isolation and solitude, and we've all kind of had that forced upon us over the last two months.

And I'm curious what you would tell [00:46:00] people about spiritually, psychologically, emotionally. What recommendations you would have about dealing with this, this,  the solitude that we've, that's been forced upon us. Like what would you recommend people do to try to get through these types of,  really trying 

Dr. John Stephens: times?

Yeah. So see that. Here's, here's the fine line. So there's,  the ancient Christian monastics, the desert fathers and mothers went out into the desert to live life on their own. They did that by choice. 

Brian Beckcom: There you go. Yeah.  

Dr. John Stephens: the other side of that mandated isolation is what John McCain had to deal with it during the Vietnam war.

I mean, this is what we talk about, you know,  there would, there would be, I'm sure lawyers and lot of ethicists that would argue that solitary isolation, solitary and prison is cruel and unusual punishment and torture [00:47:00] because we are not, we're not. Created to live in isolation. So when you go back in both the Judeo Christian and even, you know, Islamic history, and look back at Genesis and the, and the creation side, what does God say?

It's not good for man to be alone. We need community and we're created for community. And so this whole quarantine isolation,  we can get through it a little bit better if we have a family at home. But imagine all the people who are at home by themselves. My mother has been one of those in Georgia, and so 

Brian Beckcom: he's essentially right.

I mean, she's basically, 

Dr. John Stephens: yeah, she. Yeah. She goes out to pick up her groceries or she goes out to pick up, or you know, the liquor store run all the key and essential ingredients. And she's, and she's just discovered, you know, zoom happy hour where their girlfriends, I mean, so now this has brought her this new joy.

 but. [00:48:00] I think that what I've tell people is you have w what we wanted to do in our society is we don't like silence. So we don't like to be alone because it forces us to confront some demons or some insufficiencies in ourself. So typically what our Western American society creates for us is as soon as I get to a place.

Of where I'm like, yeah, that's a nerve I don't want to touch. I don't want to go there. That's too painful. That's too whatever. Or that that's going to make me have to deal too much with my,  the monsters inside of me. So what do we do? We got so much stuff to turn our attention. We can go out to eat, we can go shopping, we can order off Amazon, we can go play golf, we can go out with our friends.

When you turn that off, and now people are starting to sit and deal with. Fears and insecurities and all these things, and they hit that spot. There's not a place to run to. There's not a place to project it onto anymore. So that's going to lead people in like really could a [00:49:00] couple of directions, but one of two.

It could be a very healthy place where you can deal with it in a healthy way. And Sarah, and let me learn something about this and God, what can you teach me? You know, as I sit in this and what resources can I pull from to now deal with this? Maybe this wound or this difficulty that. I've tried to sweep under the rug most of my life, the whole skeleton in the closet that I've ignored or the other.

The other alternative is you, you depression and desperation and fear or loathing or just mental health anguish because you've hit a spot now and instead of trying to deal with it in a healthy way and to find the help that you need to get to it, you're, you're now, you're backed into a corner like a wounded animal.

And that's going to put, you know, that that puts us in a really, really bad spot. So I think our culture,  you know, our consumeristic sort of glittery culture with everything going on. You know, there's a lot I love about it, but there's a lot that can [00:50:00] distract you from dealing with your own crap. Yeah.

That's a nice theological way of

dealing with our own crap, 

Brian Beckcom: I guess so. So maybe one way to put it would be that you can use this forced solitude to go in one of two directions, either in a direction that's going to lead you. Towards depression and tidy, and some maybe some things that you don't want, or you can use it to strengthen your faith, to strengthen your,  like the way you think about things.

And, and so, John, one of the things I've always admired about you that I'm very, very, very bad at. I'm trying as hard as I can to get better at it, but on social media. Social media. If you're on social media right now, you would think that,  half Americans hate the other half of Americans and the other half hate the other half and we're never going to get along.

And things are terrible. [00:51:00] And there's all this negativity. But you've always, you've always been so positive on,  social media, whether it be Facebook or the other. Websites. Can you talk a little bit about how, how was it with all the negativity and the anxiety and the yelling and the fuss, and how do you maintain kind of an optimistic, positive presence,  out there in the world and in particular on social media?

Dr. John Stephens: Well, I think, I mean, I always say it's like Facebook. Twitter is just where the devil lives.

You know, it's, if someone said something wise, and I don't even remember who it was, but what social media has done for us is it has created a society where everyone's opinion has to be shared. And it's like, I have a thought about something, I have to share it. And it's almost like we [00:52:00] live. In a society that feels like it has to disagree with each other.

I mean, you could put the most innocuous statement on Facebook. Like, man, I'm so proud of the state of Texas, you know, and you're going to get somebody to go, Oh yeah. Well, let me tell you what Texas did, 

Brian Beckcom: right? Governor is an idiot. 

Dr. John Stephens: I'm not even talking about a gun just talking about anything. It's just like, it doesn't matter you.

You could, you could say, look at this little beautiful baby that was just born. We celebrate, and somebody else said, Oh, you swaddled it wrong. You know, you guys supposed to go clockwork. It's the best example I can tell you is like, I don't know if you've watched this show with John presents ski on YouTube, but it's some good news.

Have you seen 

Brian Beckcom: that? Yeah. 

Dr. John Stephens: All right. Yeah. You got to get your kids to watch. It's great. And he's really positive, but at the beginning he spins the globe and everybody tweaked to get, you're spinning the globe the wrong way. Like I didn't, I didn't know it was the right way. For the globe to be spin. But apparently there was.

 but I think there's something, I think when [00:53:00] your anxiety is evidence of spiritual,  insecurity and spiritual imagery, immaturity,  and I think when you're creating anxiety in relationships.  you know, I usually am nicer to people when I say it to them. It's also a real lack of humility. And I think that,  spirituality should bring in, bring up in you that if you are moving in the right direction spiritually, you'll be growing in your humility.

And there is a sense in our culture that humility is counter-cultural right now. It's like. Everyone has to be so confident that their view is right. Yeah. Everyone has all this certainty. Even if it's unfounded and you can't win an argument on social media, you cannot win it. I just now 

Brian Beckcom: realize that John, I've been trying to win arguments, not five years.

I just now realize you possible. And again, guess what I 

Dr. John Stephens: realized? You should have asked me a long time ago. 

Brian Beckcom: If you get on 

[00:54:00] Dr. John Stephens: Facebook 

Brian Beckcom: and tell people they're idiots. You're not going to convince them of anything, and I just started to 

Dr. John Stephens: realize that, but not even, not even that. Let's say you pull the greatest scientific paper on Corona virus written by the.

Leading expert of the world, Dr. Anthony Fowchee, and you put it out there and guess how many people think Anthony Bouchie? You know, dr Fowchee is a fool now. They didn't think that a month ago, but now there's like, it's like, okay. And people who have no,  you know, lay people. But it's always amazing to me.

People have such strong opinions on things that they don't really know anything about. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah. 

Dr. John Stephens:  so I remember that, you know, in James it says you're supposed to be quick to listen, slow to speak. I mean, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. And the problem is we don't listen enough in our society, and we don't have enough humility in our society to [00:55:00] think we could be wrong.

So when I look at this,  this issue of what's going on now with this, we have lost the ability to.  think of the world in terms of both. And we only view the world in terms of either or. And that, again, I think is a spiritually immature way to view the world. I think it's just not spiritually and psychologically.

It's not healthy for you, right? Because look at this, look at this right now. So some people say. No, I'm not wearing a mask. You can't make me wear a mask. Okay. And other people said you have to wear a mask. Some people say we should open tomorrow. The church that will say to us don't open. Well, both these views are founded on things that are not so far off.

The resume, you know, the spectrum of reality. That's right. There's some people that look at the stats and say, look, Corona viruses, it's flattened. It's not as bad as we [00:56:00] thought or whatever. And there's, there's some value in that. There's some truth in that. But then on the other side, it's dangerous. It's contagious.

And you know, one of the things about. Religion, whether it's in the Jewish faith or the Christian faith, even though some Islamic faith, the three major ones is, we all have this principle that that no life is, you know, that no life is worth sacrificing over some principle of worship or, or whatever. Every life is valuable.

So if, if the society says, well.  we believe there's going to be, yeah, we've gone from 80,000, 134,000, but that's a price we're willing to pay to get the economy rolling again. All right, well, I don't, I don't like the way it's framed, but at the same time, it's also right that if you don't get the economy rolling again, just like we said, you've got people that are not getting healthcare.

The biggest thing that we're finding at Texas medical center of the secondary aspects is that [00:57:00] people are not going to the doctor. People who have. Health issues, heart attacks, diabetes, whatever, or they're having issues that normally they would go to the doctor to get checked out. Now they're not going to the doctor because they're just 

Brian Beckcom: afraid they're going to get, yeah, they're afraid they're going to get infected in the hospital.

Dr. John Stephens: So my argument is why does it have to be only one or the other side? There's truth across the spectrum and yet. The, where you get into trouble is when someone is on one side and their side is the only way it can be seen. There are ways, the only right way, you know, I mean, I, I, it's just common decency. If someone wants to wear a mask into the grocery store because they want to protect someone else, you know, why would you haze that person?

 and if you don't want to wear a mask in a store that says they want you to wear a mask, don't go shot there. Yeah, coat somewhere else. You don't have to like,  you know, but that's just me. It's more [00:58:00] common sense in kindness I think. You know, in the Christian faith, kindness and gentleness and self control, again, lead to humility are the things that are counter cultural and what we need more.

We need a little bit more nuance. We are in an on nuanced age and,  you know, we're, it's hyper partisan. And I, I'm convinced as well, that the media is, every media channel is hyper, has got some catechism that they want you to follow. I try to watch them all a little bit. Yeah. And I land on some more than some more than others.

But you know, if you're listening to Fox all the time, I can tell when I meet someone. This person listens to Fox news, and I can tell when someone else I could go to this person listens to MSNBC, and I can tell just by talking to them about these issues, you kinda know what their immediate tribe is, right?

Yeah, exactly. 

Brian Beckcom: Although I'll give you one exception to that. I [00:59:00] was talking to my dad last night and I said. Because I told my dad, I said, the first thing I do when I check the news, I check the Drudge report and I check Huffington post, and I figured something in the middle is probably about right. I said, where do you get your news dad?

He goes, well, he kind of grumbled, well, you know, I got this. A Yahoo deal, and it just gives me MSNBC every morning and it just gets my blood pressure going. So actually reads the,  the, the, the other side because he can't figure out how to reprogram his browser to show him Fox news. But, you know, one of the, one of the, one of the.

Things that, that I, I strongly believe, I of course could be wrong about this, but you know, as a lawyer sometimes we can't do this now, but we used to have groups of people into the office and do focus groups and we try to get the most diverse group of people we could possibly get. Old, young, black, white, Hispanic, conservative, liberal, you name it.

And I'll tell you what, John, everybody gets along. And [01:00:00] you know, we watch these people deliberate about very important issues in person and almost everybody that they're not arguing about politics, they're not fighting with each other. People generally get along. And so what I believe is a lot of this, what you're talking about with the news and a lot of the social media, it's fake outrage.

Like people really aren't that mad at each other. When you get down to it, it kind of creates a. A layer of outrage. It's not really there. Like when you're in person with people, you're not going to be saying the kinds of things, not you, John, but me and other people. You don't say the same things in person that you would say on social media.

It's almost like you have a license to be a jerk on social media sometimes, and I'm as guilty of that. Is anybody? Like I said, I was, I've been working on that a lot and frankly I like watching. What you post because it, when I see what you post, I'm like that. That's how you do it. That's how you [01:01:00] post that.

That's how you act like a leader. That's how you become a positive influence in the community. And in other words, I don't see up there bickering with other Methodist preachers about homosexuality in the Methodist church. I'm not seeing any of that on social media. I'm guessing most of those tough issues you're probably dealing with in person.

Dr. John Stephens: Oh yeah. I think you should always deal with difficult issues in person or on the phone. I don't think you'd deal with it. Email or text messages. Whenever someone's mad at me and they send me an email, my first offer is let's get together. Of course it used to do was let's set up a time and have a cup of coffee.

The coffee. Yeah, a little bit. We're going to, let's have a cup of coffee face to face because people are much more, they tend to be more sensible in their listing that you can't. Is the worst to try to deal with the difficult issues. And I've counseled my staff all the time. Do not deal with difficult issues by staff or by email or, or a social media.

[01:02:00] And I don't know why. You know, that's the worst way to deal with it. And yet, that's the way most people want to argue is on social media. Right. And. You know God. But you know what I've learned though that some people just enjoy it. They did fun for them. Yeah. To piss people off. I mean it's like I've learned, I guess in 30 years of being in ministry, some people are just not happy unless they're unhappy 

Brian Beckcom: complaining about just 

Dr. John Stephens: the way they are.

Brian Beckcom: John, let me let me 

Dr. John Stephens: that. I'm not, I'm not going to be a part of it. I just like, no thank you. Yeah. 

Brian Beckcom: Let me ask it. Cause cause I had what I think was something of a realization a number of years ago. And that was, I finally realized that it wasn't all about me. Like life wasn't about what I could get, what I could do for myself.

I started thinking, you know, life is really more about what you do for other people. And so one of the things that I've found is when I do something nice for people, and I'm not even in your, your, your, your [01:03:00] ballpark, I'm not even the same universe as you, but. I find that when I, when I do things nice for people, it makes me feel a lot better.

And so, you know, would you recommend, especially during these kinds of times, one of the ways I think to be spiritually and psychologically,  healthy is to try to find ways to help people.  w what are your thoughts on that, John? 

Dr. John Stephens: Yeah. I think helping people, I think,  you know, if you're in a, if you're in a position where you financially can be helpful to some of these families or some of these situations or some of these organizations, I think that's a significant thing.

I think, you know, they teach you in.  you know, in lint,  you know, we fast, we give things up, but we also engage in what's called almsgiving. So you're supposed to give more to the poor during those seasons of when it's difficult. And so, you know, some people are really struggling, some people are doing okay, they're working from home, and you know, we're blessed not to [01:04:00] have the same hit.

So that's when you go K. I'm in a place where I can do something. So I think giving financially is important. I think,  also going in cert, you know, we have like ways you can sign up and just come, we train you to put on the mask and hand out food to the people that are driving through the food pantry.

You can do that with us. And there are untold numbers of other,  Memorial,  you know,  area ministries assistance ministries here and a man. Up on bingo. You know, they have volunteer spaces now because they used to have a lot of volunteers that were older adults and they can't volunteer now. So I think when you get out of your space, take your kids, takes, take your kids to the food pantry and give out food with them or to the, you know, the, the thrift store.

Do some volunteer with your family and let them see that the kids see you doing it. You do it. It really does.  it's a powerful, um. Weapon that goes against the negativity and, and some of the ways that we can get [01:05:00] into the depression of this thing. And journaling is also a good activity. And I think I've heard someone say, write letters, you know, write letters to people that you haven't seen in a long time and pick up the phone and call people that you haven't talked to in years and years and years from your past.

It was a good opportunity to just to catch up. And those are joyful reunion type moments where you can, you know, I've, I've got some,  haven't done it yet, but I've got a on model list to call, like some people from high school that I haven't talked to, you know, since 1988 or something like that. But I mean, it just be a neat, and it gets you out of your own.

 you know, what's the term they use for it? You know, we have this, there needs to be. Sacrifice that comes, it's a countercultural thing.  because what happens is our self idolatry gets really exposed. Everything's about us, everything's about mine and me. But the church model something more where you put [01:06:00] other people's interests above yourself.

And when you do that, that's the paradox that gets you thinking less about yourself and what you've lost and what you need and what you're not getting. And you start became, you become a much more empathetic. Which is not a bad thing. 

Brian Beckcom: You know? It's remarkable. I mean, it's absolutely remarkable how helping other people helps you and how, if all you're thinking about revolves around you, you, you, you, you, you, you tend to get more anxious, more depressed.

When we're upset, where when you're thinking about what you can do for other people, it tends to have the opposite effect. I, it's just, to me, it's, it's almost a miracle that it works that way. So you mentioned,  signing up for the food bank, where, where would people go if they wanted to sign up for that?

Dr. John Stephens: Well, our site, pretty much our entire website@chapelwood.org is a pulling that up now. I mean, there's the barrier, [01:07:00] the whole thing. There's a button that says stay connected. So if you go to chapel wood.org you can check out about what's going on. But the very first button there is. Stay connected. And when you go to that site, there's all sorts of the things that we're doing that are online, whether watching the videos, but the center buttons are, you know, do you need help?

Would you like to help others? Like you have a donation or deliver hot? You can also donate hot meals. They're cooking hot meals at the church that we take to families. But if you go on to help others tab, there are actually ways that you can sign up to,  to volunteer at the Fairhaven food pantry. And it gives you instructions on the social distancing guidelines.

But I encourage, we, we've been doing more, I'm hoping that, you know, I'm hoping to see that traffic flow slow down because that means people are going back to work and it's not so neat needed so much, but it's still going. And if you click, I mean, it pulls up what's called a service. You sign up sheet and, yeah, I mean, there's slots, [01:08:00]  start, well today.

No, there were swaps today. And so every day of the week you can go and it'll tell you if all the slots are filled. But like, you know, Tuesday, there's slots where you can sort and pro sort box produce and food. So, you know, I think a lot of families have been doing this together with their kids. It's been really neat the times that I've gone and seen teenage kids, you know, your kids could go and,  you know, you could go with them and afternoon or in the morning and.

You know, do two hours and get them to see it. It gives you something to talk about and think about together. 

Brian Beckcom: Yeah, for sure. And you know, the other thing, John, is, and I, again, I could be wrong about this too, but I think sometimes the news focuses on a lot of the negative and that there's a lot, a lot of positivity going on.

There are a lot of people helping a lot of other people right now. We were coming together as a country. Privately, in many ways, big and small that maybe don't [01:09:00] get quite the,  publicity that they need. But anyway, John, we've been gone longer than I anticipated and I know you're super busy guy, so I, I really, really, really appreciate your time.

Before I let you go though, I got a guy with a,  three different degrees and,  divinity ministry and various things. So leave us, if you don't mind. Leave us with a couple spiritual or other thoughts for people that are kind of looking for something to hold onto during these difficult times. Leave us with either a Bible verse or a way of thinking about this that might help people as we go through 

Dr. John Stephens: this.

All right, well, you know,  I'll give you two real quick, so I'm just pulling up here, working for the match sermon this week, which is going to be on Hannah. Who for people that may not know, and it was Samuel's mother, but she starts out, she's barren, but her husband [01:10:00] Elkanah loves her. But his other wife can't stand her.

And,  the Bible has all this kind of drama. It's better than like a general hospital. So, but anyway, she's in the, in the temple area praying. And of course, Eli, the priest thinks she's drunk and she's just, she's in pain. She's alone, she's alone, and she's in pain. She even says, you know. My heart is deeply troubled and pouring out my soul.

I feel like a worthless woman. I'm filled with anxiety and vexation all the time, and I think, wow, that's, I kind of speaks to where a lot of people feel themselves to be is empty. You know, Hannah was empty. She was barren. She felt worthless. And I'm thinking, wow. And this time now, a lot of us are in this waiting.

You know, we're not able to do the things we typically think. And so it digs us down into deeper stuff. And we're really wondering, and the thing, two things that stand out to me just real quick is waiting is actually a very [01:11:00] key spiritual practice, but you've got to do it actively. And sometimes I think we wait passively in the stay at home stuff.

I think a lot of us have been. I think I'm guilty of it too. A little too passive, just kind of waiting for it to be done. And we're missing out on some real good opportunities to grow in ways that we might not have if we weren't careful. But when you read the Psalms and everything else, there's a lot about waiting for the Lord and it's done very much from an active,  component.

So like some of the things we talked about before, just engaging in some spiritual practices. I think will help make the waiting worthwhile. And the other thing, last thing is I think,  you know, spirituality and Christianity and Judaism in Islam, there is a, there is a teaching, but deeply rooted in Christianity is that the only way that you're gonna get to a place of fullness is when you begin with emptiness.

You've got to empty [01:12:00] yourself in order to become full. You've got to give away in order to receive. You talked about the serving and the giving. This is a paradox of spirituality that a lot of people really in our society, we never understand because we're so centered, you know, we, we basically are the center of our universe and everything orbits around us.

We'll discipleship from a Christian perspective is trying to get allowed to move. God, allow God to be the center. Around which everything or, yeah. And so we have to give a lot of things up, but emptiness is,  emptiness is required. It's necessary if you want to be full at some point. So I think,  those are the two things I would encourage for people is, you know, be active in your waiting and just recognize that you might feel like you're being emptied or you're empty in this season.

That's not a bad thing because sometimes you got to push some of that stuff out of, out of the way so you can make [01:13:00] room for something that's positive in life. Giving 

Brian Beckcom: John, that is a, that is awesome.  I think that is the perfect way to end this interview. And again, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it.

You've been a good friend of mine. You've helped me throughout the years. That meant in many ways that you probably didn't even know about, and so I know this podcast and your words is going to help a lot of people and keep doing what you're doing. Man, I, as I said, I really, really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you soon, man.

Maybe on the golf course. 

Dr. John Stephens: That would be great. I'd love it. You take care. 

Brian Beckcom: Thanks, John.