Early March 2020 seems like another time and another world. In the second week of the month, I was in Baltimore working with Presbyterian colleagues from around the country to craft the next cycle of ordination exams for candidates preparing for ministry. I remember packing some hand sanitizer and regularly using the automated dispensers that seemed to appear in more places as the week went on. By late in the week, we learned that Tess would not be going back to school after spring break, and by the end of our stay, hotel event staff were already being laid-off as groups were canceling events and conferences. Many of my colleagues had trouble getting home; flights were disrupted and rental cars were no longer available. We never expected, in those early days, that we would be wearing masks and social-distancing and spending a lot of time on Zoom!
A few days later, the world shut down.
We are familiar by now, with the many challenges that this shut down has caused. We also know about the suffering and grief and the loneliness and anxiety. And, of course, all of these things have impacted churches as well. We have learned to use technology in new ways, wrestled with hard decisions about what we can and should do and how we should do it. And it has been imperfect, to say the least. But we have also found ways to stay in touch and care for one another and to worship, learn, and serve together. I hope that even as we mourn the things we have lost, we can also celebrate and build upon the ways we have sought to be disciples of Christ in these strange days.
In the midst of all this, the nation (and the world) has been awakened to the dire need to face up to our history of racism and the ways in which it pervades every aspect of our lives. It is a topic many of us would like to avoid; it is a hard discussion to have, a difficult truth to face. This fall, I will be leading a discussion about racism and the church. One book that I have found very helpful is White Awake: An Honest Look at What it Means to be White. As one reviewer put it:
“White Awake is a call to tell the truth. It is a call to follow Jesus. It is a call to find our deepest sense of identity in Christ, but also to realize that those who are white can’t get there without breaking free of the distorted sense of identity they have internalized from the narrative of racial difference. . . . For those who take the journey, this book has the potential to change hearts and minds and help Christians reclaim a message of reconciliation that repairs our interracial relationships and the structures that mediate those relationships. Let the awakening to racial and social healing begin!”
I commend this book to you. It is rooted in theology but also quite accessible. It focuses on the change that must happen in our own hearts and minds, and unlike some other books of this sort, it does not seek to shame the very people who are seeking to be transformed.
There are many ways in which seeking to follow Christ already looks different from the way it did in early 2020. My prayer for GPC is that we will be open to the movement of the Spirit as we continue to seek to follow Christ into this new world, a world in which we must not only do some new things in some different ways but also face some very old problems that continue to haunt us and be transformed.