Quarantine. Covid. Pandemic. Social Distance. Home Schooling. Stimulus. Closed. Cancelled. Unemployed. Protests. Justice. Statues. Black. White. Equality. Racism.
What were the words of our lives?
In January 2020, we were all blissfully unaware of the trial headed our way. We were painfully unprepared for the shock and awe that our ‘new normal’ brought. We watched as supermarket shelves were laid bare of simple necessities and we caught a glimpse of people in panic, stocking up on toilet paper, canned goods, meat and Lysol. Thus leaving those who did not get there fast enough with empty pantries and lives full of anxiety. We soon had no words.
Then new words emerged. Stay Home. Masks. Infection. Fear. We watched as all the things we love were slowly stripped away. Restaurants closed, no more haircuts, people in hazmat suits walking the aisles of local stores, seemingly fearful and lost. We could not comprehend what was happening and how quickly we had lost it all. What we assumed would last a few weeks turned into months, and now we fear, years. We have seen those foreign countries in the past, where people wear masks in big cities. Places where they seem disconnected from each other – but not us, never us. Until… could it be? We are living in a fog that seems to have no end. What words will we now find?
Then, glued to our tv’s for facts and answers, trends and graphs, we see new news emerging. A death. An altercation. An arrest. Who is to blame? We see people blowing up social media with polarizing statements. Hate emerges. Arguments ensue. Criticism and critique run rampant. Racism, Injustice, Revenge, Protests, Riots. Are these our new words?
“Social distancing.” I love how we think this is a new concept. It’s humorous that people think this is an invention of Covid-19. It is actually just a revealing about what is already present between us. Distance. Sure, we want to maintain ‘healthy boundaries’ when it comes to a vial threat, but what about the infection of racism that has claimed far more lives than this pandemic? What about the rot within society that refuses to acknowledge the reality that looms contagiously among us all? We cannot distance ourselves away from this. I remember telling some of our staff, as we were planning to come back to church meetings, that one can not ‘out-sanitize a virus.’ That when people entered our building, they would smell the sweet comfort of bleach, and somehow believe that it was safe. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for doing our part and trying our utmost to keep people safe and healthy, but do we show the same vigilance to the diseased mindsets that claim our lives?
I really do like that people think that ‘social distancing’ is a new concept – it isn’t. We have been socially distanced from one another since the beginning of time. First record… Adam and Eve. After they sinned, God confronted them and the blame game began. Adam blamed Eve, Adam blames God for giving him Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and so on. Social distancing. Its what we do. It is a way for us to keep people at arm’s length and abdicate ourselves from anything we find unappealing. This way we can divide over anything and call it righteous indignation. “Well, I tried but the problem lies with them.” The emergence of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ is the systemic societal decay that has ripped us from unity, driven us to violence and destroyed our humanity. It is the great mark of the beast, which is the empire we have created.
I have long held a view that there is a profound difference between what I call ‘kingdom’ and ‘empire.’ In ancient worlds, like Rome, we see an empire sweeping across nations and dominating any who get in their way. They crush cities, destroy lives, rob a future by burning a past. They became ultimate authorities and ruled with iron fists, forcing submission, loyalty and obedience. Sounds wonderful right? Well, depends what side of the empire you are on, I suppose. A country that was enjoying the 20th year of a new millennium suddenly changed. It was immediately affected and uncontrollably thrust into a new normal. What were their words?
Kingdom, however, was a little different. Kingdoms waged war, but seldom exterminated. They became authorities, but allowed autonomy. They supported local religious institutions, they assumed languages, they learned, they taught – they forged a new nation through the expansion of value, culture and future.
When we read Scripture we see this tension between kingdom and empire. The Old Testament is fraught with stories of the Israelite nation building their kingdom, their country, their temple. By the time of Jesus, we see the Roman Empire looming in the city squares, the stain, a silent partner in almost every story. The religious institution of the day, Judaism was polluted by oversight, compromise and abuses. The world has been infected by the empire. The kingdom seems to be losing to the empire. Infected…yes, that is the right word.
We could have an effect on the world – soar towards change and create a better future, but often we choose the infection of the empire, and we allow the divides to grow, rather than the affect of unity. We need to sit across from each other, to look each other in the eye, to acknowledge, to apologize, to make right. To forge the path ahead, to accept what cannot be changed and choose transformation together.
Acknowledging an issue is important and something that we should seek in conflicts. Assess the issue and accept our part in it. Acknowledge what has happened and what could have been different. You see acknowledgement leads to apologies. Apologies allow space for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key. Apologies don’t change the realities, Forgiveness does. Forgiveness again, is not the abolishment of a shameful past, but rather a bridge to decide a future without the pain of the past. Forgiveness is the choosing to see the future unclouded by a harmful past – not forgetting, just not holding it as the standard moving forward.
I am a Pastor, and I happen to believe in the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe that God is sovereign, and that we are always the issue when it comes to conflict and the absence of peace. We mess things up – it is what we do best. 99% of all our pain is self-inflicted or caused through user error. We are the biggest challenge in our lives. When we seek empire – things go wrong. But when we seek Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, we find hope, peace, joy, love and contentment. When we line up behind God and His Will, life seems to go better. In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes to a church divided by race, Jews and Greeks. They hate each other. They have been taught that the other is bad. They spent their lives finding the differences, and now they have been thrust together into this new thing called “the church.” Paul is helping them overcome their differences, and to see the other as valuable and significant. He tells them that when they come under the banner of ‘kingdom’ the barriers are wiped away and they are now ‘one.’ They learn the differences between them, although present, are not the driving force behind their importance. They are equals, despite difference. Paul is not arguing equality, he is telling them about diversity. He is pointing out the differences between them and telling them that it is not the most significant consideration. He shows them that they are children of the King, and that there is enough room for all of them at the table in the Kingdom. They are different, but loved the same; equals, but different.
We can choose. We have to. We can sit idly by and allow the news to shape our worldview, or we can stand up. Divided though we may be, we still stand. Stumbling at first, but gaining strength as our bodies rise. Divided we stand, and maybe, just maybe one day united. Until heaven, let’s practice.