The mayor has lit the city Christmas tree. Black Friday and Christmas sales are beginning. All of this before some folks have gotten the Jack-O-Lanterns off the stoop and before I know what we’re cooking for Thanksgiving. It is forty-five days until Christmas Day, and I do understand the necessity of planning – we are already busy with preparing for Christmas Eve and beyond. Yet I can’t help wondering what we will miss as we zoom through the next seven weeks straining ahead to a day not yet here.
The Glasgow Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is off and running. There are speakers who are experts in climate change science with data on how we are doing as a world community in controlling climate change. National leaders are present as the goals and action plan continue to be addressed and decisions made. Youth of the world remind us of the urgency of halting climate change and even reversing it in situations where it is not too late
There are certain creatures (like sharks, for instance) that die if they don’t keep moving. I think that organizations, including congregations, are the same. A congregation that stops being propelled by its mission (Share God’s Love) toward embracing its vision (to be the open arms of Jesus Christ) soon settles into a death spiral, weighed down by traditions, anxiety, fear. To keep moving spiritually, an individual must constantly be open to reflection – being honest about who we are and what is keeping us from living the Divine image of God; repentance – turning away from the fear and brokenness of our lives back to God; renewal – making the changes necessary to grow more fully into our life.
Lately I find myself reflecting on the changes we have experienced over the past 18 months. As we move out of the heights of the pandemic, the future looks hopeful. I am seeing life the way I have not seen it for what seems like quite a while. Ferris Bueller’s famous words come to mind, “Life moves pretty fast. If you do not stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned that several pastors I know and love have either left a congregation or retired from ministry far earlier than planned because they have no more to give. The pandemic and all the other cultural forces that make our society uncivil and adversarial have left them, as one colleague put it, unable to keep turning the other cheek.
When people are asked, “Do you pray?” the majority say, “Of course.” Surprisingly, this holds true even among those who say they really don’t believe in any god. Prayer seems to be a rather ubiquitous part of human experience. On the other hand, what people mean by “prayer” is much harder to pin down.
In some small way, I think that the pandemic feels like a "diaspora" of a sort. We feel scattered, or at least disconnected, from the communal relationships that define us. Nowhere has this been more evident than in church.
One of the phrases heard frequently when traveling by train in Europe is “Mind the Gap.” It is a phrase that is repeated every time the train door is opened. “Mind the Gap,” in other words pay attention to what you are doing so that you do not fall or trip as you maneuver the steps to the landing outside the train. There is an open space, a gap, between the outside of the train and the sidewalk. “Mind the Gap.”
Maybe it is an illusion, perhaps a response to fatigue, but the number of questions that seem to demand answers is increasing geometrically. As the approach of fall brings a new school year, a new season of learning in the church, and a thousand other “new” things marinated in the odyssey known as the pandemic, every moment demands answers and spawns more questions. Speaking as one who is supposed to know stuff and provide answers, I am going to make a confession – and I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t know how to keep everyone safe, nor how to keep folks satisfied and connected to a congregation that is still mostly scattered. I don’t know when this will end, nor how the weeks and months ahead will unfold. I don’t know.
I have been thinking this week about the Lord’s Prayer. Besides praying it, I have been contemplating what it means to pray, “God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven." Many challenges are interrupting the peaceful loving world we all desire.