I step into 2021 gingerly. After the unfolding events of 2020, I feel a little gunshy. Yet, traversing 2020 has given me a commitment to the power of being present, a drive to listen before I speak, a dedication to addressing racism, an obligation to be generous, and a renewed vibrancy in my faith.
I find my perspective on world events or domestic events to be more complex than some of my friends. They have not had the international exposure and interactions that I have had the privilege of engaging. I monitor social media from almost every continent because of my international friends and have come to appreciate their non-western take on global events. The perspective of my international friends has ruined me for simplistic slogans and culturally bound perspectives that are bandied about under the guise of patriotism here in the United States. The world is so interconnected that I cannot simply hide from the challenges my friends face. I struggle to find the means to respond as a friend to their financial, material, spiritual, and emotional needs. I think this is why faith has taken up a new vibrancy.
The economic impact of COVID-19 or the political upheaval experienced in 2020 on friends in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Nigeria, or Uganda, or Kenya, or Israel, or Thailand, or Cambodia, or Singapore, or China, or Korea, or Brazil, or Chile, or Germany, or Pakistan, or India is not a distant news item to me. I have conversations with these men and women and hear their laments, their cry for help, and their frustrations. I regularly get Facebook Messenger updates about the great things God is up to in each of these places and the struggles that are unique to each. If I had millions of US dollars I could respond to each of the needs. Instead, I send gifts where I can and spend time each morning praying for these needs.
Meanwhile, here in the United States I hear certain friends and acquaintances whin about trampled personal rights and persecution – I hear these statements through the grid of having international friends. I can’t hear from a parochial filter anymore. I hear some evangelical pastors announce on social media that they will stand for their first amendment rights by exercising their second amendment rights and I groan at the distortion of faith such statements represent. I pray for these friends too, friends who march in open rallies against the imperfect attempts for public health imposed by state governors. Admittedly I am not always sure what to pray when talking with God about these. So, I pray a lot in the Spirit.
I mentioned to another friend the other day that I was looking for ways to practically address the systemic racism that haunts so many of my friends in the United States. He turned toward me and launched into a tirade about liberals and their “bullshit.”
“Racism doesn’t exist in the United States,” he announced, “it is a construct of the liberal machine designed to rob us of our rights and oppress us.” My jaw dropped.
“Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in the experience of many of my friends,” I replied. “So, you may want to investigate the stories of others before announcing a universal solution has been met in the constitution.”
The conversation just stopped.
2020 has been a strange companion, a presence of diametrically opposing assertions, conversations filled with rage and reaction, and loads of uncertainty. Somehow through all the haze, and I haven’t listed the personal tragedies we went through in our family this year, I come out of 2020 stronger. I enter 2021 with both reticence and assurance. I have a heightened sense of caution and a feeling of deeper peace. I have the disappointments of 2020 mixed with an expectation of God’s work in 2021.
So, happy new year! May this be a year you find the faithfulness and love of God in a deeper and more personal experience. May you know the comfort of friends, the joy of forgiveness, and the power of reconciliation. May your days be undergirded with songs of deliverance and peace. May you see God’s provision and power in ways you have not seen before. I’ll stay in touch. Bye 2020, I won’t miss you, but I do appreciate the shaping work you have done in my life.