Greg and I were recently chatting about transitioning into the new year. One of the first things that came to mind in reflecting on 2021 was “good riddance!” Even though 2021 had its good moments, there is soooo much about 2021 that I hope not to repeat or continue into 2022. Come to think of it, there was a lot about 2020 that I had hoped would come to an end in 2021 but didn’t. Sure, there were a lot of personal ups and downs this past year: family health challenges; my first (and hopefully last) experience with a concussion; the receipt of a sabbatical grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.; a little bit of weight loss; and more. I hope to take some time as this year comes to a close to review and reflect on some of those ups and downs and what I’ve learned from them. So, what is it about 2021 (and 2020 before it) that would warrant such a quick and almost visceral plea for good riddance? I’m coming to realize a couple of things.
First, the challenges of these last two years have been communal. For the most part, we’ve been going through so much together. And I don’t just mean together as a congregation or a localized community. So much of what has shaped our lives during the past year is global. It’s one thing to go through something as an individual or small group and have the strength and wisdom of those who are not going through it to lean into and draw from. It’s something very different to be going through something entirely new for the entire planet! Even though there’s a great deal of variation in the way we have been “going through” this, we’re still experiencing something in unison. COVID-19 really doesn’t care what you think about vaccinations or face masks or social distancing. It’s an equal opportunity virus that simply seeks to attach itself to something and grow.
Second, the world’s response to the challenges of 2020 & 2021 have brought about an unprecedented questioning and denial of authority. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with questioning of authority. We should do that. Otherwise, we become vulnerable to exploitation. We consider ourselves to be Protestants because those who have gone before us not only questioned but challenged and refuted the authority of the hierarchy of the church at the time. But, when questioning authority results in the dismissal of the wisdom of those who are trained, educated and experienced and who continue to seek new understandings, we become vulnerable to the whims and fantasies of those who create unfounded authority from unsubstantiated sources. So, what does this have to do with church and faith? Lots. And the two are connected.
As a church, a community of faith, we abide in the ongoing story of God’s love that is revealed across time by those who have gone before us. Real, live, living, breathing, mistake-making human beings who experience something of the divine through teachings and actions of life-giving love. This ongoing story of love is both our authority and that which brings us together in community. We don’t all go through life and faith exactly the same (how boring would that be?!). Again and again, throughout history, when we drift away from the basis of love (call it sin), God finds a way to bring us back into that story. Sometimes that coming back comes through the challenge and questioning of authority. When the motivation for the story is no longer about the care and wellbeing of others, it’s time to question the authority of those who are attempting to create a different story. In practical terms, our response to the pandemic is first and foremost about what is the best we can do to love one another—not because it’s nice or politically correct but because it’s who we are as people of God.
When it comes to saying “farewell” to 2021, my farewell will include a note of gratitude. Along with all the challenges and uncertainty has come the gift of circumstances to exam and refine my faith. I go into 2022 saying, “Bring it on!”
I wish you all the very best in the coming year. Maybe not the easiest but the best!
Rev. Lynne (BTW…. Refine was my 2021 Star Word!)