-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Usually, when we as a nation get to this time of year, we collectively sit back and give thanks for everything we have to be thankful for. Some of us might not have a lot, but most can recall something we can raise up in gratitude.
Then came this year.
I don't know about you, but being asked to find gratitude in 2020 is like a parent asking an ungrateful child to tell an adult "thank you" for something they didn't want in the first place.
"Thank you for filling the cavity in my mouth. I'm sooooo grateful."
You get what I mean.
Only, maybe we do need to step back a moment, and see things a little bit differently.
I'm not going to suggest this was best year ever. No one is going to recall how 2020 became the signature year people will be making beautiful Hallmark memories for years to come.
I do believe this will be the year we talk about systems breaking. To be clear, nothing's broken that wasn't going to break eventually. There were structural cracks. They weren't obvious to the untrained eye but they were there. It's why we can't just put it all back and go on like nothing has happened. Something will never be the same again.
So much could have happened this year, but never did. We could have reinvented how things are done: music, art, theater. Yet we are so invested on rebooting pretty much everything, we forget there are unborn stories waiting to be told. Reboots suck the life out of that potential and takes it's place. We are killing our future to relive our past.
But I am grateful. I'm not a fool. I can post this without fear some government is going to kill me for my words. I live in a home. I eat every day. Sometimes those simple blessings are enough. Is it always fair? Nope. Welcome to life. Thank God I can name that! God isn't going to smite me because I name something as unfair. Jesus spent countless words naming things that were unfair, and then calling on us to change those things. There's a whole book about renaming unfair things: Job. For that, I am grateful. It's so exhausting pretending unfair things are fair.
So what am I getting at? I'm thankful. I'm thankful for unfiltered truth. I'm thankful for getting through 2020 in relatively one piece. I'm thankful that I'm called to speak truth to rebooted world. The world's a mess, but God is good.
A few months back I got a messenger bag that I was told I had to carry around with me everywhere. It was a very professional looking black, canvas bag. When it was given to me, I didn't realize there was a problem with it.
The edges hadn't been sealed before the parts were stitched together. Anyone who has dealt with canvas understands how important it is to seal the edges. Canvas can fray pretty badly. Typically, I iron on a backing to the edge to give the canvas some support. There was nothing for this bag, so it had been in my possession for about a week and this tiny hole appeared at the top middle. I knew what was coming, but there was no way to stop it. A couple of months later, when I had to turn the bag back in, the entire top had come undone. It no longer looked professional. It looked like trash.
Your ministers didn't prepare for this
About a decade ago I sat in a church meeting where we were discussing the age ole' question: How do we reach people who are not normally reached by a "traditional" worship. (I'm using really big air quotes for the word "traditional." I tend to translate the word to be anything that uses the general skeleton of modern worship. They meant organ vs guitar.)
I don't usually refrain from saying what needs to be said. It's what makes me off-putting. It's also what people respect about me. I named the problem that day. We were 20 years behind the world. All churches were. We needed a hard change to meet the culture head on.
I vividly remember the answer to this statement. I remember the room I was in. I remember the lighting. I remember the faint smell of breakfast pastries and coffee. I remember the woman who said it. I remember the anxiety she had on her face as she spoke. "The world is changing so fast, we just want something that stays the same."
It was really thirty, but let's say ten years ago was the collective moment where the Church was called to prepare. Ten years ago we chose ease over need. Now we live in a world where our sanctuaries have become one of the easiest places to spread Covid-19. God gave us ample time to prep the Christian fabric for what was coming, but the world was changing so fast, the church just wanted something to stay the same. For many churches, going online didn't work. Why?
You can't be authentic on camera until you've had years talking to a camera.
You can't bring 60-90 year old people into digital spaces if they've never wanted to be there.
You can't be an online church if you never wanted online church.
I wish I had Brueggemann's "Prophetic Imagination" in front of me 10 years ago. Passion does not rise from complacency and sedation. Souls do not truly sing from comfort. It is from our lament that passion takes hold, and from our passion we build our hope. If we don't begin our process from lament, our hopes will eventually fray and fall to pieces.
Here's my warning for the future. Just like there were personalities that took hold when the television became a centerpiece in everyone's home, there were be the same with the internet. These personalities will solidify how we define online "church." Most Americans don't have the creative spirit to see anything beyond copy/pasting their worship online. These copy/paste internet worships are built on fear, not passion. They will fray and fall away, because nothing can grow without first being prepped with lament and hope.
If we don't get serious about letting the past go and finding our prophets for this next generation, wolves in sheep clothing will take our spot. We'll give our potential to those who are ready to fleece the poor, just like they did with television "ministry."
Simply put: Stop looking for comfort. God's not there. God's in the shadows with the lost. God's in the infirmaries with the broken. God's with those who lament. Maybe it's time we did too.
I woke this morning, not to see who had been elected president (an answer we still don't have at 6am), but to see how people were reacting to it all.
Y'all, we've lost. I'm not saying our candidate (whoever it was we chose) lost. I'm saying we as a nation have lost. We are officially at the stage where we're raging against ourselves. We've declared a villain. We've chosen who to hate. Then we pretend it's only the other side who are doing that.
Our actions are far more powerful than our vote.
Let me repeat that: OUR ACTIONS ARE FAR MORE POWERFUL THAN OUR VOTE!
We are called to love our enemy, and pray for our persecutors. Why? Because exchanging hate for hate only deepens the chasm. Christianity is so very scandalous because of it's unifying nature. God wants all at the table, and that's a hard job. It's a job so much harder than just choosing to vilify.
We are the losers, and the winners couldn't be happier. The winners are the ones who gain something from our division. The winners are deepening divides and tearing apart unions. We cannot sit back and allow the real evil to persist, but we can't until we love our neighbor and find some kind of common ground. That happens now- through our actions. Through our words. Through our hearts.