I appreciate a good 2020 joke as much as the next guy. My kids and I zing ’em back and forth within text and messenger threads–“Say, did you hear this one?”– most every day. And 2020 is no longer just the name of a year. It’s an outright adjective for whatever’s run amok. “That’s so 2020.” Just like saying something’s “delightful” or “purple.”
Speaking of that which once was entirely amok, our country seems to have leveled out in the supply chain aspect, though a few paranoias remain firmly entrenched as we continue our 2020 journey. The empty store shelf anxiety lingers. There are fewer and fewer folks left who lived through the Great Depression with their understanding of not being able to put hands on needed items for any real length of time. The vast majority of us are just not used to that. It’s jarring.
One afternoon not long ago I did a double take at the 2 lb. block of activated yeast sitting on a back shelf of my refrigerator and wondered, “WHAT have I become?” I, who use maybe two or three of those teeny little envelopes of yeast every year, have a BLOCK of the stuff. And you know why? Because it was there. I saw it on the shelf at Costco and knew that it had been impossible to come by a couple months ago and I put it in the cart. Bob watched and said nothing. He’s used to crazy. You should see what’s in the garage.
Another ongoing twist is continuing isolation, at least to some degree. Because of our particular state’s social distancing mandates handed down from the top, our church has not met in person since March. I’ve not gone this long without sitting in a pew/chair-that-replaced-a-pew for 40 years.
Amok! A year gone amok. A good word used not nearly enough.
And then came the riots.
Honestly, at my age (middle, not senior thank you very much), dealing with social justice and its perceptions happen more in a quiet cry of my heart than through reacting to a finger- wagging soap box, so the protests and riots and I check in with each other regularly and sometimes agree and sometimes don’t. But I always listen. Sometimes cry. Societal change must be preceded by heart change and that’s all I know or can say. My mind is working a lot more than my mouth on this topic and you can mark that auspiciousness on the calendar.
And then came the wildfires.
The west coast of my country caught fire seemingly overnight. “Conflagration” is a word that is used in context when states declare disasters due to fire and it was used often around these parts. The fires took much. In my lifetime this area will never look the same. There are families who are saying those exact words through rivers of tears. Looking for “beauty instead of ashes” as the prophet Isaiah wrote has been challenging.
There’s another blogger, MUCH more prolific and accomplished than I, who writes under the name, Sean of the South. I imagine some of you are familiar with him. He posts every day. Recently he wrote about what his home state of Florida has been enduring with Hurricane Sally and also remembered Hurricane Ivan from many years ago. His “beauty for ashes” takeaway went like this:
After the damage, Good Samaritans were everywhere. They were crawling out of the wallpaper, lugging gas powered lawn equipment, driving flatbed trailers, operating Caterpillars, steering Ford F-250s.
–from “Mustang Sally” 09/16/2020
The same “crawling out of the wallpaper” can be said of our community with so many donations to firefighters and evacuated families that the management of the donations became a monumental task within other monumental tasks. Beauty for ashes . . . quite literally.
Yesterday morning the air quality here in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon hovered between “hazardous” and “very unhealthy” and my glee at the possibility of “unhealthy” was such that I masked up and ventured out to the driveway and began sweeping up the week’s worth of accumulated ash. The fires closest to us burned much of our little corner of the world to unrecognizable cinder. As I swept the horrid stuff into reasonable piles I wondered which part of the forest or whose house had landed in my front yard.
Since the beginning of 2020 when we first started to hear the word, “Coronavirus” and then “COVID-19” our world has changed. There’s no denying that. Then came protests, riots, fires, and hurricanes. I hear hail is in today’s forecast. Of course it is.
What’s real? What’s contrived to sell the news? What’s temporary? What’s permanent? Why? What next? Will we ever be the same? Do we even remember what “the same” looks like?
Within the medical community there is much debate surrounding what is called “herd immunity,” which in super-duper layman’s terms is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease. So, it’s a good thing.
Is there such a thing as “herd mentality?” Oh yes and yes and yes. It’s called, in super-duper layman’s terms, the Bandwagon.
The Bandwagon is a comfortable place to be. It’s like 50-yard line seats at an Oregon Ducks football game deep in green/yellow territory (friends and neighbors, can you conjure up a memory pre-pandemic?) where you’re surrounded by seemingly like-minded folk. All hollering towards the same end. Wearing the same color and booing appropriately at calls from referees deemed crummy by a guy 20 seats away who woke up that day with his facial skin suddenly yellow and green striped. Boos travel like a wave on the ocean. I wonder if when that game was concluded and a cross-section of 100 or so fans were lined up and questioned about the rules and nuances of the game of football, how many would have a clue. Probably quite a few would know the basics. How many would know enough to legitimately coach the team? One? Two on an extraordinary day? Zero? Anybody wanna referee professionally? Ha.
And yet we listen to whatever crosses our path on our computer or phone telling us who we are and how to feel, how to deal with pandemic/social upheaval/wildfire/hurricane. If I am called a (fill-in-the-blank) by someone then it must be so. Here’s how you should think. Here’s what caused this. Here’s how I, in my basement on a computer, know how to cure the ills of the world. Do this. Not that. I’m right. You’re wrong.
So many bandwagons. So little time. All the while we could actually be thinking for ourselves, and as Christians, finding peace within while we carefully measure what soap boxes we wag our fingers from. And which ones we give our time to.
If you’re my age or a bit older you’ve most likely heard the Joni Mitchell 1970 environmental statement song, “Big Yellow Taxi.” The whole piece does not, of course, speak specifically to our 2020 situation with the wildfires, pandemic, and social upheaval; it was more of an early attempt at raising awareness of what this movement called Mother Earth and the realization that people ought to care for it. Here though is a key phrase from that song which landed in my brain while I was sweeping ash from my driveway and would not leave . . . sort of like this incredibly long loop someone chose to give us on YouTube. You probably can’t stand to listen to an entire HOUR of one phrase, but give it a try for 30 seconds or so.
“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”
If this year has any lesson in it (and we would do well to grab whatever good we can from the months past and those to come) maybe it’s that we ought to be better at appreciating what we’ve got. If I miss certain landmarks along the McKenzie River Highway that have gone up in flames, think what their residents and owners must feel. If I reach out for products now available on store shelves that were in short supply a few months ago, think what so many millions who struggle with basic food needs endure every day. If I inhale the first smoke-free breath I’ve had in a week and am glad for it, think what our wildland firefighters operate surrounded by day in and day out. I have yet to find myself in the middle of an urban riot, but I imagine that’s miserable too.
We’ve been shown in 2020, the Year of Amok, that what we’ve got is as fragile as a wisp. There is not a guarantee that it will not slip though our fingers tomorrow.
So dears, shall we panic? Shall we rant from atop our soapboxes of virtue and wag our proverbial fingers at the world and say, “I told you so. And here’s why I’m right . . . ” ? Shall we forward every Bandwagon post we run across on social media thinking, “Ah . . . THIS. . . this is what will change their minds.” Or better yet, shall we whisper amongst ourselves about those whose thinking does not align with ours and place wagers on their souls?
Hopefully not I.
There have been too many personal losses. Too many adjustments. Too many wisps that have slipped through my fingers to not realize my smallness in the vastness and my complete dependency on God and His sovereignty. The peace that reigns when that sovereignty is first noticed and then honored is indescribable. Yes, I still buy blocks of yeast and stash a thing or two in the garage, but that stuff is small potatoes compared to an utter and complete trust in Him who is fully present in my daily thoughts, activities and reactions to the world around me. It frees me to pray for others, both friends and not-so-friends. It releases me to cast not only myself but my loved ones fully into His care.
Disease. Death. Riot. Fire. Flood. And today hail. God is sovereign.
Look around. See what and whom you might not see tomorrow. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
And now, here once again, is my favorite song of 2020. You’ve heard it from me before. “Sovereign Over Us.” For those of you who would like lyrics, you can find the lyric video below, but it is not as wonderful musically.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3 NKJV (bold added)