This quick-read newsletter curates resources of value regarding faith and public life targeted towards business and community leaders.
HERE'S MY TAKE
May 1, 2021
COVID-19 will be part of all of our biographies. We’ve been asked to do things we never imagined doing and challenged by questions we had hardly contemplated. We are all “so done with it” (writing as I am in Ontario where the lockdown rules are stricter today than at any time in the past 13 months) while the malaise that the New York Times rightly labelled “languishing” seems widespread.
In the fog of our collective languish, many no longer muster the energy to do the hard work of understanding the complexity of COVID or think innovatively. Debate has been reduced to tweeting bumper-sticker slogans; the social solidarity of “we’re in this together” has given way to good guy/bad-guy narratives.
In this context, the temptation to lionize or demonize almost everyone around us blurs our judgment. We are upset with the political decisions made and point out their ineffectiveness. A change of course just proves that the leader was originally wrong. A tearful apology is a sign of weakness and incompetence. A pastor told me he was feeling guilty because some of his colleagues were facing legal troubles for leading worship services but he wasn’t yet. Did that mean he was being less faithful for the gospel? The youngest person who dies from COVID; the oldest person who gets vaccinated; the overwhelmed doctors and nurses in ICU wards doing the double-shifts and breaking down on camera – the coverage is mostly emotion and dramatic image.
I don’t mean to minimize any of the depth of pain or the reality of the challenges that any of these images represents. I only mean to point out that in this languish stage, the public processing of our present circumstance has shifted from the cognitive to the emotive. Our evaluation of the situation has less place for nuance and the players are categorized as heroes or villains, martyrs or victims.
My own reading this week included some reflections on a sermon by St. Augustine, preached in the year 397. Martyrdom was very real in the living memory of the early church and Augustine was asked to preach at a “festival of the martyrs.” However, Augustine goes out of his way to avoid heroizing the martyrs, contrary to most who celebrated them as “muscular athletes” or “triumphant stars of the faith.” Instead, Augustine deliberately aimed to make the celebration “less dramatic, so as to stress the daily drama of God’s workings in the heart of the average Christian.”
“God has his martyrs in secret,” Augustine told his audience. “Sometimes you shiver with fever; you are fighting. You are in bed: it is you who are the athlete.”
When media coverage seems little more than a “Festival of the COVID-Fight,” it is useful to be reminded of the learning and growth that can take place in the ordinary. In languishing times, we don’t need martyrs. We need friendships. We need to remember history and learn from those who have walked troubled roads before us. We need to seek and give forgiveness, and let neither the emotion of the news coverage nor the pique of the moment rupture our everyday relationships. Give thanks for the gifts of the moment and plan for the future, recognizing these plans may have to be held lightly.
Another week. A continued need for ordinary grace in languishing times.