2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Reframe, Restart, Re-imagine

As I write this, we are less than two weeks from Thanksgiving.  When you read this, it will likely be almost, or already, December and we will be counting down to Christmas.  We, both individually and collectively, have been trying to manage, and cope with, the constantly changing restrictions on our lives brought on by the Coronavirus since March.  And the latest resurgence and new peaks of COVID-19 are forcing change on us yet again. 

As I met with our Worship Committee and our staff, I had hoped to find a way for us to hold on to some of our Advent and Christmas traditions.  We talked about a drive through service, and even began designing a Christmas Eve service that would travel from station to station, in small groups, through the church and still light candles in the sanctuary.  But with the latest surge in virus cases, and the newest recommended restrictions, I doubt that we will even be able to do that.  Instead, we will pivot, again, and try to find a meaningful way of celebrating Christmas Eve together while we are apart. 

Few of us imagined a Christmas quite like this one in March and, if we’re honest, we’re having a hard time imagining it now.  But as we rush toward the end of what has probably been the strangest year any of us has ever seen, we also struggle to imagine what the new year will bring us.  We have hope that new vaccines will successfully conclude their clinical trials, be approved, and begin distribution but, at this point, we are told that widespread availability probably won’t happen until mid-summer.  Sigh.  That means we probably should prepare ourselves for Coronavirus to dampen our plans for yet another Easter.

But a new year still encourages us to image a new beginning.  A new year now, as always, presses us to reflect on the year we leave behind and envision a better, brighter, bolder, future.  Perhaps this year, more than ever, we look forward to leaving 2020 behind and hoping for something better.  But as we do, let us also grapple with what lessons, however difficult, that we have learned. 

I believe that this pandemic has taught us, or at least boldly reminded us, that “church” is not a building and “mission” is not what happens inside of that building.  We are learning that “community” and “family” are bigger ideas, and stronger ties, than just the people with whom we can shake hands each Sunday and we are finding ways to stay connected to the people we care about, the people in our church family, and the people in our communities in other ways.  We are learning that the “reach” of our church, and our worship, is bigger than just the people who show up in person, on Sunday morning and we are learning, I hope, how to reach out to, and to connect with, the people around us in ways that we hadn’t considered before.  We are already seeing “new faces” in our church that have joined us on the internet and haven’t yet attended a single “in-person” worship service, and despite not having what we might have, a few months ago, considered to be an essential element, they now consider themselves to be a part of our church.

And so, as we hurtle toward the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I hope that we will continue to reframe our ideas of what some of these words mean.  For some of us, words like church, mission, outreach, community, and even family will never be the same even after things return to “normal.”  As we grapple with these new meanings, and with our new knowledge, and yes, new skills, let us also continue to re-imagine what we could be, what we can be, and what God is calling us to be as individuals, as a people, and as a church.  Clearly, the situation that we have is not one that we wanted, or even one that we ever imagined, but I am certain that through it, God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable…

if we are willing to listen… and learn.

I pray that, years from now, rather than mourn over the things that we lost during the pandemic of 2020, we would instead rejoice over the things that we learned, and what that new knowledge, and that new understanding, allowed us to achieve.

Blessings,

Pastor John

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