What is this? This post was inspired by a recent Christian Century article. I want to acknowledge that I am “borrowing” and “revamping” it for my own pastoral purposes. As we are six months into pandemic, you hear two competing ideas. On one hand, people are anxious to get back to normal. This is about the economy, social life, and getting out of isolation. We want our lives back. On the other hand, people are declaring we will be forever changed by this crisis. There is almost a longing for our world to be transformed, much like the Greatest Generation was shaped by the Great Depression. Yet, when we experience seismic events like 9/11, school shootings, hurricanes, Iraq War, and the latest doomsday report on climate change, collectively we don’t seem to budge much on our lifestyle choices. The same could be said when you and I experience our own personal apocalypses like a heart attack, divorce, bout of depression, or financial collapse. In the aftermath, we will say, “things will be different after that”, but do we really make any meaningful changes? As for me, I am torn, I look forward to getting back to normal, to going to the Y, meeting friends, and worshiping without masks. But, part of me wonders if I am squandering this “opportunity”. Yes, maybe this is an opportunity to grow and change, or more biblically, repent and reorient. And what about our nation, will we seek to grow and change, to not just acknowledge racial injustice but take substantive action to change? Or will we revert to our default self-preoccupation and preserving comfort?
What does this mean? In one of his more obscure parables (Luke 11: 24-26), Jesus tells the story of a house that has been vacated by an evil spirit. In this parable, the house is symbolic for your life and what occupies your life. Evidently, the evil spirit was forced to evacuate against his will, presumably by God. But, the problem is once the house has been cleansed and restored, that there was nothing meaningful to occupy the house. So the demon that was originally ousted, comes back to the house and brings some demonic associates along and it is one wicked party! The final condition of the house is way worse than it was before the exorcism. The power of that story is that, tragically, it is so very applicable to earthly life. Consider a woman who is an alcoholic, is able to finally stop drinking, but cannot or will not fill her life with a life-giving alternative. In AA, they use the phrase “dry drunk” for a person who stops drinking but maintains the same behaviors. Getting sober is more complex that simply abstaining from alcohol. You don’t have to have an addiction to relate to the story. Sadly, in our sinfulness, this is the way things are, we don’t want to really change our attitudes, behaviors, and assumptions, even if it hurts others, even if it hurts us. We prefer to live in denial or distraction or deception rather than hear the hard truth, be compelled to repent, and make demanding changes. This isn’t limited to racial justice, although that is very much before us with the Black Lives Matter movement. What about your need to have a thankful heart or the way you take your spouse for granted? Isn’t God calling you to be less critical and more encouraging to your congregation? For me, the pandemic challenge for change has been around my need to be in control. Ever since life, in general, shutdown in March, I have been going through withdrawl from my controlism.
What is the takeaway? At first, I was apoplectic as I had to cancel a calendar full of adventures; Mexico Mission, Canadian fishing trip, and Mediterranean cruise. Perhaps, you had to abruptly change plans, as well. I am a slow learner, so it has taken me months to let go of my need to map out the future and see growth at the church. Through no fault or effort of my own, I have accepted my current lack of command of the world. Not unlike, Jonah in the belly of the whale, I don’t have much choice. But, when the pandemic finally spits me up on shore, when we are back to “normal”, how will I be different, will I be different? Will my controlling demons return to take up residence in my house? This is the crux of this time, a question of faith. I guess you could say there is a third competing idea in the mix, that this is a time of apocalypse. Apocalypse means “unveiling” and “disclosure”, and biblically speaking, it refers to revealing the spiritual truth of what is going on? What is God up to in this pandemic? I, for one, do not think God is punishing us for our sins or about to shred the sky so Jesus can come again in glory, although that would sure be a nice surprise. One thing is for sure, I certainly feel humbled by the pandemic, as I am confident you do, as well. Heavenly reminder, YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL. And if anything is being revealed, it is the inequalities, inadequacies, and injustices, that we are content to leave hidden from sight. It has also revealed amazing and awe-inspiring acts of kindness and mercy. Terrible and beautiful truths are being revealed to us in these apocalyptic days. Could the worse thing we do in response to the pandemic, after an effective vaccine is distributed, for us to go back, unchanged, to our normal lives?