It has been 18 months since the pandemic really took hold here in Canada. One can argue that so much – and so little – has changed in these past 18 months. Was it just last year that the sidewalks in my neighbourhood were full of chalk drawings telling people to “stay strong” and “we’re in this together”? In those days, children posted jokes on trees to lift people’s spirits and lawns sprouted signs praising our health care workers. Now – save for a few weather-worn lawn signs – words of encouragement have passed. Instead, we see protests against pandemic protocols, harassment of health care workers and threats of violence against those charged with upholding Covid safety measures. How sweet the words, “stay strong”, sound now. How idyllic those early days of Covid seem now, despite the fear and confusion that accompanied our first lockdown. After 18 months of Covid, I wonder: Who are we now? Do we like who we have become?
The request Credence is receiving from congregations most often these days is for support related to navigating polarized conversations. Neighbours, families, colleagues, friends and yes – church communities – are being torn apart by differences that have become extreme. It isn’t only Covid of course. Some churches are reeling with divisions related to LGBTQ inclusion; others are fighting over how to thrive in an age of declining church attendance; some are polarized over their leadership; still others are wrestling with their vision. Of course, not all congregations are struggling. But it remains the case that collectively, our capacity to speak with those with whom we disagree is becoming weaker and weaker. One leader told me recently, “When people speak now, they immediately go to the extremes; they no longer moderate what they say, and it seems they speak for effect rather than speaking and listening to seek understanding.” Another shared, “Everyone is looking for someone to blame, someone on whom they can pin responsibility for all that has gone wrong. But nobody wants to look at themselves.”
If you are discouraged by the tenor and tone of our public conversations, you are not alone. It is worrisome. Who are we now? It seems that as a society we have become nastier, edgier, less patient with one another, more anxious and more limited in our capacity to bridge our differences. Collectively, we are not well. Naturally, it isn’t all bad news. There are many who keep leaning into goodness, generosity, and grace, even in the face of harassment. Even so… just a cursory read of the evening news or even a brief conversation with those navigating church leadership in polarized communities tells us how stressed and stretched we are.
In the midst of these polarized conversations, where do we find good news? What passages speak to us today? “Love your neighbour as yourself?” “Take the log out of your own eye before removing the splinter from the other’s eye?” There is wisdom in each of these passages. In these moments, however, I find myself drawn to another passage: “Come and I will give you rest.” With so much unease in the air, so much tension, and so many unknowns, we are exhausted and anxious. Come and I will give you rest reminds us that we do not need to walk this journey alone. We are welcome to lament and to weep. We are welcome to sink down at the foot of the cross.
Some months ago, I was speaking with an exhausted pastor. I asked him what it would be like to rest at the foot of the cross for a while. He replied: “Betty, I don’t want to rest at the foot of the cross. I want to lie in the tomb for a few days!” The pastor may be right. We may need an extended time embraced by the arms of a grace bigger than ourselves, held by a merciful Spirit of compassion that says, “It is ok to rest, it is ok to be unwell in this moment. I will uphold you, and be near you, come what may.”
My teacher James Finlay has often said: “God’s spirit can protect you from nothing but can sustain you through anything.” While some may quibble with the first portion of that sentence, there is a great truth in this sentence. Life does what life does. Suffering comes – for many it is here right now. In our suffering we are not alone. Even in our most unaware moments, we are sustained by a Spirit of grace that gives us breath and that, even amidst the storms of controversy, continues to whisper in a still small voice, “I am here in you and among you. Watch for me.”
Credence offers a variety of services that deepen the capacity to lead in challenging situations:
- Leadership Coaching
- Transforming Polarized Thinking
Let us work with you to customize your learning path. We can offer advice as you determine your best next step.