This has been a really strange week. The strangest of all the weeks since this thing we have come to know as ‘lock-down’ began. It’s been a serious week. Lots of things to think about and digest. Allow me to share some of that thinking with you. This piece is a bit longer than usual, but stick with me – please. Because it’s about hope. Hope in the sense that it represents a shute fresh cause for optimism.
Walking down empty streets, crossing roads with no traffic, looking at empty shops with big pink ‘For Lease’ stickers on their windows, and passing people of every age wearing masks, I felt like I had stumbled onto a movie set. It’s like someone was filming a dystopian story set in the immediate future: a time just a few months from now when the world’s first conflict involving germ warfare was underway. Except, it wasn’t the future and it wasn’t all-together imaginary. And of course, we are not in the midst of some international conflict of the germ-warfare kind.
But clearly, we are involved in some kind of serious conflict against something we cannot see. A virus that has no other agenda than to survive, mutate and multiply. And, along the way is taking the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our midst, and around the world, and destroying jobs and industries in the process. If that’s not unsettling then I’m not sure what is. Who could have imagined such a scenario 6 months ago? It all seems a bit hopeless.
I suspect its been a very, very, long time since the majority of the general public around the world have experienced such vulnerability and disruption; that’s usually the domain of the few. For the majority of us living in first-world conditions, we tend to be rather insulated from things like epidemics and pandemics; those things happen in other places and to other people. But today, it is happening to us. All of us, and our lives have been tuned upside down and outside in. There is a vulnerability in all that. But being vulnerable is not a weakness. It is a strength because if we learn to embrace it rather than rejecting it, we can discover and reveal our true selves. The real self is always stronger than the artificial self because it has depth to it.
2nd round of lock-down
This 2nd round of lock-downs also feels very different from the first. There is no novelty factor and there is less sunshine; and in the first round there was a sense that we were getting on top of this thing, winning this war. Hope was surfacing in little ways, but this week it took a bit of a dive.
That hope was somewhat immediate wasn’t it – catching up with families, having coffee inside a café. But notwithstanding the loss of those little hints of hope, I think there is a more significant hope just waiting to be born. I think it will come in the shape of significant societal change. The way we organise and experience our lives and workplaces and communities. There are some really difficult things unfolding in our midst but I feel in my gut that some real good will come out of this experience. As Joan Baez once sang : ‘the times they are a-changing’. The antiracism protests being just one example. It also feels as if the Future Shock about which futurist Alvin Toffler wrote 50 years ago, is upon us in a big way. Future Shock was about what happens when lots of changes take place in a short space of time. Two of the consequences are information overload and an emerging fear about what the future might hold. Sound familiar?
Some massive re-adjustments to how societies function and operate are underway, and our little faith community is not exempt. In truth, there are no exemptions anywhere. But through some twist of irony, while each of us now has to go about wearing a mask, many aspects of our society have been unmasked. Certain destructive features and ‘addictions’ have been exposed – and only good can come of it. Alvin’s Future Shock, did not cover this possibility.
People everywhere are re-examining what it means to live in this kind of world; the endless cycle of production and consumption has been disrupted. People are discovering and re-discovering what is important to them. What do they really value? What they miss most and what they can live without. Even those who are still harnessed to particular treadmills while others, forced to abandon theirs and come up with other ways of living a meaningful life, are thinking about what next? Is this really what life is about?
How would we live post-COVID
I’ve been doing a fair bit of listening to talk-back radio this week, and I sense that there is an enormous amount of reassessment going on all around us. People exercising greater curiosity and imagination; they have shifted from discussing 30 ways to bake sourdough during ISO, to discussing ideas about future work-styles and environmental issues. Will family-friendly work practices continue beyond this pandemic? Do my children really need 21 after school commitments? What kind of schooling is best for them? People are seriously discussing how they would like to live post-COVID etc. And I also detect confidence rather than despair. As they say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
These changes might also provoke religious communities, including our own, to think more deeply about their role in society. What are we here for? Once we also go through the process of detox and strip away all those activities that create the illusion of being active, ‘healthy’, in ministry or at the mission, what is left? What is being a faith community essentially about? So for me, it poses a question: Can COVID-19 give birth to Christianity- 2021 ?
Will this experience be for us the ‘womb’ out of which a new kind of Christianity might be born?
Possibly something for each of us to consider. But for me, the church has always been about trying to be a sign and a voice of hope in the midst of a world full of harsh realities. Living as if Hope means something. Allowing hope to become transformative. Being a community that is hope-filled and does things which stimulate a fresh cause for optimism in others.