Archive for the 'Hope' Category

“SOMETHING BRAND NEW” That Won’t Make You Sick!




“This is what God says…
‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?’” Isaiah 43:16, 19 The Message

On March 2 I flew from Las Vegas to Phoenix. High winds had buffeted Las Vegas all weekend. They transformed that hour-long flight into a bone-jarring pothole marathon! Nearly all my off-road adventures have been far smoother! As we landed in Phoenix, I wondered: Was that rough ride a preview of the year we’d just begun?

I flew home on Friday, March 6. That day President Trump signed the bill authorizing $8.3 billion to address the growing coronavirus outbreak; the huge SXSW festival in Austin, TX was cancelled; and the Grand Princess cruise ship languished off the coast near San Francisco with its 21 COVID 19-positive passengers. In the next few days we learned how the virus had ravaged Italy. The World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic. The National Basketball Association suspended its season. Tom Hanks and his spouse Rita Wilson were among a growing number of celebrities who’d contracted the disease. Government officials banned public gatherings of any significant size, including schools, churches, and “non-essential” workplaces. Life as we knew it grew “curiouser and curiouser”.

Six weeks later COVID 19 has infected almost 2.5 million people on our planet. 167,000 of them have died. 777,000 people in the US have had the virus. More than 41,000 have died. The bottom has fallen out of the stock market. More than 22 million people have filed unemployment claims. Countless families do a daily balancing act between two parents working from home and multiple children learning through some blend of home-schooling and online interaction with their teacher and class. Business meetings, birthday parties, funerals, and Sunday worship now happen on small screens in our closed-in sanitized homes.

Intellectually we understand the need for continued diligence in order to stop “community transmission” and prevent a “second wave” virus outbreak. But in our heart of hearts, a voice says, “WE’RE DONE! We’re beyond ready to “get back to normal”. Millions of unemployed people and the businesses where they once worked need to restart. Heroic but severely overworked medical personnel need a break. Farmers who’ve plowed their crops under because they couldn’t get them to market need some good news. Ordinary folks just want to share the company of other people at work, in a restaurant, a park, wherever. Families have grown closer as they’ve “stayed home”, but they could use [desperately need!] some time off from each other. Churches have had to learn to “gather” their flocks online. Some are learning well. Some are struggling. Some may not make it “back to normal”.

Our minds urge us to move slowly and cautiously toward “re-opening”. But another inner voice screams: “Won’t somebody please hit the Reset button on Life—like Yesterday?!” When we get swept up in a change tsunami like COVID 19, we tighten our grip on life. We just want to “get back to normal.” But the longer the wave pounds us, the less chance we have of making that trip successfully. We can’t reach that “reset” button because our hands are full. We’re clinging desperately to all that we’re losing—people, traditions, places, customs, our status and role. Our hands can’t open to receive and embrace God’s newness while they’re clenched tightly to the old “normal” that’s slipping away.

A journey of revolutionary change begins with grieving. We acknowledge our pain. We name our losses. We celebrate how all we’ve lost has helped form us into Christ. We express our sadness. The Bible’s Book of Lamentations shows how our Hebrew spiritual ancestors did this. So do the many Psalms that contain individual or communal laments. Grieving is a process of relinquishing our claim to all that’s been taken from us. We offer up that special person, place, or tradition into God’s care. We give God “church-as-we’ve-always-done it”. We offer up that particular task, mission, or calling through which our God-given gifts flowed so freely–which may not be there when we get back to church. [NOTE: Grieving and opening ourselves anew is seldom a one-and-done movement. Acknowledging and releasing our grief and opening ourselves to God’s newness is more often a spiritual movement we’ll learn and repeat often on our journey through transforming change.]

Moving through grief prepares us to receive God’s future with open hands, hearts, and minds. Lately lots of people (church folk and otherwise) are talking about “danger signs” in US churches. These signs include declining membership and attendance, multiple divisive conflicts in historic denominations, critical financial issues resulting in increased church closures, and failure by leaders to recognize and respond adaptively to these and other challenges.

A church think tank called Praxis has shared a very helpful paper–“Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup”. The introductory summary states that “The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to ‘get through’ for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat COVID 19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a ‘little ice age’—a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”

The people at Praxis are humble folks. More than once in their 20-page paper they acknowledge they could be wrong. They’d even like to be wrong. But if they’re in the ballpark of being right—as they appear to be–their considered wisdom can help us live into this very different future. “From today onward,” the authors write, “most leaders must recognize that the business they were in no longer exists. This applies…to for-profit businesses…non-profits, and…in certain important respects to churches.” Not the words we wanted to hear—but words we need to hear alongside the prophet’s impossible promise: “I’m about to do something brand-new. Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Easter proclaims and celebrates God’s life-giving power set loose in the world. Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate. True greatness flows from self-emptying, not self-promotion. Abundant life flows from community and connection. Easter looks forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise that “…I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

“Leading Beyond the Blizzard” suggests that this pandemic may impose its “new normal” on our lives for at least 18 months. That’s about the time needed to develop, test, and widely deploy an effective COVID 19 vaccine. It’s also long enough for “temporary” to become “the way we’ve always done it” in many contexts. Children who don’t get regular schooling may miss significant developmental markers. Folks who’ve lost their jobs may become (not by choice) permanent “dropouts” from the workforce. Churches and other institutions that think they can serve tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s playbook may not survive even that 18 months.

We who follow Jesus, we who are Easter people—we have a choice. Let us choose life as our spiritual ancestors have done over and over. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. It won’t be “the good old days”. It will be God’s New Day. Download “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” today. Stop where you are and go back to that link. Read the paper—multiple times. Share it with leaders in your church, your neighborhood, even your business; whoever you know or think might be ready to help build God’s “new thing”. Let’s do our part in re-inventing church for our neighborhood in this new world; the new world in which God has placed us; the world “God loves so much that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). And one great day, by the grace of God, we will find ourselves saying with awe and wonder, “Come and see what God has done.”


Words from the Past about Our Future

One convention down, one to go. Right now that feels like two too many! These extravaganzas whip the faithful into a frenzy, do their best to sell their party’s “product”  to voters, and widen the partisan fault lines separating the 330 million+ of us who reside in “…one nation…indivisible…”

RecentlyJFK assume responsibility for the future in the space of a few days a number of Facebook friends posted this JFK quote. They are a diverse group politically, spiritually, and ideologically. They don’t all know each other. But President Kennedy’s words touched them. They heard hope and possibility. They heard the Good News of a way forward. They heard the promise of healing our national brokenness. They wanted more of us to hear what they’d heard: “…not…the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer…the right answer…not …blame for the past…accept… responsibility for the future.”

What a healthy, adult approach! Fixing blame is a good way to gain political advantage, but a terrible way to solve problems. Blame binds us to the past we cannot change. Future-oriented responsibility empowers us to shape our collective future. Blaming, especially in politics, is toxic, divisive, and self-centered. By contrast, claiming and facing our future together offers new energy, new hope, and renewed purpose. It’s our future, our country, our environment, our children and grandchildren, our traditions and values to be passed on to future generations.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”  I can hear the protests: “The R’s will say they have the right right answer, the D’s will say they do, the verbal food fight will begin, somebody will throw a fit and walk out, and we’re back where we’ve been for years—going nowhere.” How do we move together toward a “right answer” that bridges our deep and real partisan differences?

More recently some other Facebook friends shared these words from John Kennedy’s brother Robert. I don’t know thRFK when you teache original context of these words. But, except for the male-oriented language, they sound as fresh as today’s Twitter feed. Teaching and preaching fear based on human differences is an old human game. During RFK’s career as senator and later Attorney General, that fear focused largely on Communism and racial differences. Fifty years later political and religious leaders—and just plain folks– teach hate and fear of the Other with regard to a bewildering range of fears and prejudices. We’ve demonized so many sorts of folk as “Them” that we’re struggling desperately to find an Us with room enough for all our uniquenesses.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” taught us correctly that “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”  That specific “hate and fear” was the island community’s view of love between a US soldier stationed on a South Pacific island and a native woman. Both the native culture and the US military base culture forbade that relationship. In the theater, love conquers all and the couple lives happily ever after. But our real-life experience too often validates RFK’s wisdom: “When you teach a [person] to hate and fear [the neighbor]…you… learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies.”

As I stand on this small island of sanity between the two parties’ conventions, I hunger for leaders who affirm the Kennedys’ wisdom. Who will lead our nation toward the right answer for all of us, not just for their special interests? Who will renounce the blame game and lead us—all of us—to take responsibility for our common future? Who will reject hate and fear as motivations for political and social action? Who will take the lead in refusing to demonize the Other? Who will lead us beyond a culture of toxic fear, hate, and prejudice toward a culture of mutual respect and even love for one another? Who will lead us to see others with whom we differ not as enemies but as neighbors?

Elections can obscure our view of life’s Big Picture. In case you’re struggling with that, the prophet Isaiah offers a very clear view of it. God’s dream for God’s world is that Really Big Picture:

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!”  Isaiah 25:6-9 MSG

messianic banquet 7-16

This “messianic banquet” sounds too good to be true—“all the people of the world” sharing an incredibly lavish feast together, the end of death and “every sign of disgrace”. Followers of Jesus believe we act out God’s dream for God’s world every time we share the Lord’s Supper.  All are welcome at the table. We feast on the very life of God. Christ’s body and blood transform us into new people. We come away forgiven, renewed, reconciled to God and one another.

This vision puts day-to-day politics in perspective. It reminds us that God’s dream for our neighbors on the other side of political, religious, and social issues is for them to sit with us at God’s ultimate feast. It helps us see each person as God’s precious child. That identity supercedes all the other labels we stick on one another. God’s dream leads us to choose God’s limitless Love that prepares, invites, and works ceaselessly to gather God’s children at God’s table. It empowers us to reject “carefully-taught” hate and fear that poisons every aspect of our life together. Claiming and living out this vision is the best way I know for us to take responsibility for the future we leave as our legacy–NO MATTER WHO WINS THIS ELECTION.