As 2020 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the year that turned our world upside down. To live through a pandemic is not exactly a privilege, but it does invite some opportunities for reflection and learning. Opportunities to reflect on our lives, and opportunities to learn about the world that we find ourselves in.
I think 2020 really revealed how fickle our world is. Stock markets plummet, and then they soar. People panic, and then they go to rage festivals. The media reports what will sell, not what is true. Spiritual leaders with nationalism on their mind trade the gospel for political power.
The economics and the information and the politics. Fickle. Untrustworthy. Unstable.
All exacerbated by a vacuum of statesmanship and leadership amongst world leaders.
We live in an increasingly unstable, anxious, polarised world.
And in a year of misinformation and constant, instant outrage, the middle ground has disappeared. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground anymore. Either you’re labeled liberal left or radical right. The middle ground of reason, of debate, of conversation, has been overun by the zealots.
Twitter wars abound.
Debate is in short supply.
We’re poorer for it, arent we? We’ve traded a meritocracy of ideas for the loudest, most aggressive voice. If you can tweet, you can make your own truth. And the world will believe you. Or at least many will.
And, coupled with the loss of the middle ground is the loss of critical thinking. The ability to think deeply about things. We live in a day and age when you can send (clearly ill-informed) information on, and it becomes truth to many people.
Because if I want it to be true, it is. It must be!
There’s a term for that. It’s called magical realism.
I find myself becoming increasingly intolerant of it.
As I reflect on this, I think I can see Christianity moving into two distinct camps. The one camp consists of those who view the secular as diabolically dangerous and wanting to dominate the sacred (i.e. Christianity). And so, this camp resist the liberal left at all costs, even if it means christian nationalism.
The other camp consists of those who view Jesus’ gospel as subversive to the culture. Always has been. Always will be. They maintain that Jesus’ way is a grass roots movement that changes society from the bottom up, not the top down. You change society through the heart, not the law. However, are those in that camp too passive and too resigned to the secular agenda?
Many of those in the former camp have also struggled to come to terms with a theology of suffering. That we may, as Christ followers, actually be affected by disease or illness or suffering. Their theology doesn’t have much room for the inexplicable. The inconvenient. The difficult. It must therefore be the work of evil secularists.
There have always been both camps. That’s not the problem.
It’s just that they’re not talking much anymore.
That’s the problem.
And in this climate, Covid provided the perfect conditions for “christian” nationalism to rear its ugly head, particularly in the United States. Christian nationalism seeks for the church to become an organ of the state. The state promises to further a “christian moral agenda” if guaranteed the political support of “christians”. In essence, the church becomes captured by the state. Its worth remembering that nationalism is what led to Nazi Germany (amongst other atrocities in our shared history). And Nazism happened in Germany with the approval of the mainstream church. Or the state owned church, should I say.
Closer to home, apartheid happened largely with the approval of the state owned church.
Nationalism doesn’t lead to good places. Even when its cloaked in Christianity.
It’s the reason why separation of church and state must be maintained. The church can only be a prophetic, independent witness to the state when it is separate from the state. How can a captured church possibly speak truth to power?
Meanwhile, the wealth gap continues to grow. The rich are richer than ever and the poor are poorer than ever. The economic effects of the pandemic have (and will continue to) erode the middle class. They say a middle class is the backbone of a healthy society.
Anxiety and depression and mental health are very real challenges for our culture. There’s so much for us to learn about this. How to be helpful and how to get help ourselves.
On that note, perhaps this is the moment to turn the corner and reflect personally.
As a husband and father, there were so many gifts this year. A sense of re-discovery of Caitlyn and Caleb’s unique personalities and gifts. And more time together as a family has been like oxygen to all of us.
To my regret, I don’t think Candice and I had enough time together, even in lockdown. I think the leadership challenges overtook that. We spent our wedding anniversary on the 15th March figuring out online church! That was symbolic of our year, really. Leadership challenges crowding out our space. I feel sad about that.
As a leader, this year has been challenging and stimulating and exhilarating and scary and exciting all at once. In the midst of challenge, there’s lots to do.
However, as a pastor, it’s been both brutal and beautiful.
It’s been brutal to watch what people have gone through this year, and to walk with them through it. I’ve found myself drowning in a sea of helplessness. Praying for people, listening, encouraging or simply sitting silently hasn’t felt enough at times. Not nearly enough.
It’s been brutal to see how some have fallen away. Lost faith, lost their faith? Got lazy. Not sure, to be honest. People who have been cared for, loved, supported. Just disappeared. No word and no communication. That’s brutally hard for pastors. One has to fight back the feelings of failure all the time.
It’s been brutal to not be able to gather fully. It’s been brutal to preach only to a camera. To be out of church for 8 months. To be homesick for church.
On the other hand, it’s been beautiful as I’ve been forced to trust God afresh. And to stand in awe of His continued faithfulness.
It’s been beautiful to watch people find their own living, breathing faith in God. To trust Him for themselves, and to find that He is utterly faithful!
It’s been beautiful to watch Jesus build His church. And it’s been brutally beautiful to be reminded that it is indeed He who builds it. Not us.
This year I really realised what a noisy world it is. Full of angst and anxiety and anger and noise. I find myself craving more silence and more solitude than ever before. It often feels like my only hope is to be able to hear the still, small Voice.
And when I do, it’s that Voice that reminds me I am deeply loved. I am enough. I can do all that He has called me to. And Covid, too, shall pass.
So here’s to a slightly less hectic 2021?
Grace and peace everyone.