What’s the opposite of a dumpster fire? Of doom-scrolling? Of trolling?
What would the best-year-ever be like?
Long ago, I drove away from a town in which I’d experienced a lot of pain. As I crossed the city limits and, a few minutes later, the county line, I looked into the rearview mirror to catch the last glimpse of the “Welcome to . . ..” sign. I said to myself, “I hope never to be back here.” I feel the same way about 2020.
Whether or not it was actually the worst year in all of human history is open to debate. It’s even an open question about how it compares to other very difficult years in American history. Hands down, though, it’s the worst year of my lifetime (though 1968 is a contender for that title).
In 2020, we shared hard things in common: grieving the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to the coronavirus; enduring economic fractures; witnessing, yet again, how systemic racism is insinuated in nearly all of our society’s institutions and practices; seeing the further erosion of civility and commitment to the common good; and fearing for the survival of democracy itself.
There were also, as there always are, personal challenges. All of us, including the apparently untroubled, are dealing with things that threaten our well-being, our ability to cope, and our capacity for hope. I know mine. You know yours. We know some of one another’s.
There’s nothing magical or automatic about a New Year. Many of the conditions which made 2020 such a struggle are still with us, both individually and collectively. Any newness we might experience depends, in part, on what we do.
We need to lament the losses, grieve the deaths, and protest the injustices we’re experiencing—to say to God and to one another that it’s wrong and too much.
To push-through hard things, some of us have minimized or denied them, but newness is on the other side of our unflinchingly facing the brutal realities. Letting ourselves feel deeply our hurt, express it honestly, and weep over it unashamedly open us to mercy for healing, energy for endurance, and resources for resilience.
We need to reaffirm our mutuality and vulnerability—to acknowledge with our words and in our actions that we need and affect one another. Over the last year, I’ve been amazed at the quiet heroism of medical caregivers, first responders, nonprofit providers of emergency help, essential workers, neighbors looking-out for neighbors, and many others.
I’ve also been astonished at the recklessness of people who are willing, not only to risk their own health, but to put those around them at risk. That recklessness, comprised of a politicized denial of facts and a superficial assertion of “rights,” is dangerous.
The interlocking crises of our time make it unmistakably clear that what we do either enhances or diminishes the common good on which all individual good depends. Public health, economic vitality, equal opportunity, civil liberties, environmental sustainability, and restorative justice depend on our respecting, listening to, understanding, valuing, and helping one another.
The newness we seek comes, in part, from honoring the ancient wisdom of “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.”
You might not feel this need, but I need to recenter myself on Jesus—to recommit myself to his will and way. There have been times in the last year, when I’ve lived more in fear and anxiety than in faith and trust. I don’t think that as frustrating to Jesus as it is heart-breaking. He understands why I have, but he doesn’t want me to be mired-up in that kind of worry and wariness about life.
I’ve been angry in ways that aren’t constructive. I can’t help but feel anger when I, or people I love, or things I value are threatened. Anger energizes us to respond to such threats, and Jesus encourages me to use that anger in ways that address creatively what is wrong rather than in ways that add destructively still more wrong to the world.
I could go on with this confession: I’ve judged harshly; nurtured grievances and resentments rather than practicing forgiveness; and allowed conflict to simmer without doing the hard work of seeking peace.
In 2021, I intend to spend a lot of time with the Sermon on the Mount this year. I trust that the presence, voice and guidance of Jesus can and will make all things new, including this year. . . and me.