This Will Take Time
I had a dream the other night in which I was a youngish minister (dream on!) pastoring a couple about my current age, i.e. early 70’s. Their adult son had died. Was it COVID or a car accident? Unclear.
I was at a “party” held at their home after the service. Lot’s of their son’s friends. Sort of an Irish wake atmosphere. Drinking, story-telling, brave (if unconvincing) assurances that the deceased would want us to have fun and not be sad.
As the party died down I was walking with Jim, the father of the deceased. He said that he had hoped that after the service and the wake, life could go on, get back to normal. He realized now that it wasn’t going to be that way, that such a thought was naive. This grief was going to take a long time. There would be no quick turning of the page.
Then he said to me, “I tried to play ‘A Balm in Gilead’ (on the piano), but I just couldn’t.” It was unclear whether he had forgotten the tune or the notes, or just couldn’t muster the will for it. There was a great poignancy to those words.
As I thought about this dream I wondered if what I was processing was our national situation?
We’ve had a bunch of milestones, markers, turning-of-the-page moments, in recents weeks. A year, 2020, ended. A new year, 2021, much heralded, began. The election happened. Biden has been inaugurated, and Trump has retreated to Florida. The new vaccines for COVID, celebrated as 2020 ended, have begun to be more widely available and administered.
Like Jim, in my dream, we might have thought — desperately wished — that everything would get back to normal now, that all that had troubled us would fade into past and memory.
That’s not happening is it?
No night and day difference that I’ve noticed between bad old 2020 and new and improved 2021.
The COVID vaccine distribution has hit bumps, which seems to me shouldn’t be a surprise. On top of that, there is a pretty significant number of people either declining the vaccine or taking a “wait and see” attitude, which makes herd immunity harder to attain. And there are new variants of the virus that raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccines.
Biden was inaugurated with calls to unity and for bi-partisan Congressional action. While the President has, in my view, set a calm and determined tone, it does not appear that people, whether in Congress, or across the nation are rushing to “come together.”
Sort of the opposite. And if we had hoped that Trump’s gravitational pull on the Republican Party might rapidly decline, it doesn’t seem to be happening. The world of fact-free, unreality, inhabited by many people, and enabled by some politicians, media and conspiracy theories, persists undiminished.
I’m not trying to be discouraging or disheartening. I’m certainly very glad Biden is in office. I am hugely thankful we now have some national leadership on the pandemic. I appreciate that we are no longer coping with the daily dis-information and chaos of the previous administration.
But this is going to take time. And work. And patience. And courage. And probably some plain good luck. It took time to get us into the place where a Donald Trump was possible, and it’s going to take time to get out of that place.
As it is, grief still weighs heavily on us, both for lives lost and life lost, and for a fractured nation.
In my consulting days I tried to help congregations identify their most important adaptive challenges. Here are a couple examples. “Moving from budget-driven stewardship to stewardship as a spiritual practice.” Or, “Moving from mission as one program or part of the church, to seeing the whole church as ‘missional,’ our entire life embodying a gospel alternative.” I know these are cryptic, but maybe they suggest the idea.
Anyhow, once we had a a couple such challenges accurately identified (which itself takes time and work) I would suggest we will need 1) a sense of urgency (“we have to get on this right now”) but also 2) a sense of patience, (“this is going to take time.”)
That seems to me about right for where we are as a nation. We need a sense of urgency about the pandemic, the economy, schools, racial justice, climate. And we need patience. This is going to take time.
It’s magical thinking to imagine that turning a calendar page, even discovering a vaccine or electing a new President, will transform everything overnight. Or that change comes without cost or effort.
So I think my dream was saying, hang in there, this is going to take time.
In the meantime, let me link you to another contemporary Christian song from the band, “We The Kingdom.” This piece is called, “God So Loved.” It reminds us that while we have work to do, it’s not all on us. There is good news. There is grace. God makes the first (and last) move.
Again, if you are averse to Christian rock, feel free to pass on this. For me, it’s an upper.