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My daughter knows I like picking up old postcards at antique malls sometimes and so last week brought me home a couple oldies she found in a shop in St. Ignace, Michigan, near the Mackinaw Bridge in the Upper Peninsula. One was a black-and-white photo of some small vacation cabins near St. Ignace (the photo with this blog is not that card, though). The postmark was from October 14, 1946, and the card had been mailed to someone clear down in Alabama (how it looped back to an antique store in St. Ignace I don’t know). It is unsigned but contains a message that was very curious and that made me chuckle a bit. The postcard’s author wrote about having cleared almost $500 in fundraising at a recent carnival they held. The writer went on to note that they did not hold a dance associated with the carnival because the local teachers, school principal, and superintendent would not allow it on account of the young people always getting drunk and rowdy at such dances. The text of the postcard then observed, “And I suppose that soon we will have a bunch of pregnant girls around here again, too. The morals here seem quite low–no doubt the French influence in the area.”
Every now and then you run across a snippet of history that reminds you that some things never change. It’s too easy to create nostalgia for the good old days–pick whatever time period you want to qualify as “good old days”–when things were simpler, temptations were fewer, people were better behaved. Mostly, though, it’s not true. There have always been problems, always been sexual temptations and sins, always been problems with alcohol and drugs. Oh, and there has always been this tendency to look for someone else to blame for these moral struggles and failings. My postcard writer blamed the French but the scapegoat could as well have been the English or the Germans or the Irish or your spouse’s side of the family or the liberals . . . One thing we none of us are very good at is looking in the mirror and admitting, “I am part of the problem myself and so is my own tribe and clan and family.”
I was thinking of this recently when grading a number of sermons based on one part or another of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. Let no one think the Church ever had a golden age. Whenever I hear people say “We need to get back to how it was in the Early Church,” I want to respond by saying “We’re there!” The Book of Acts is at times brutally honest that early Christian leaders squabbled and sometimes split up on account of the disagreements. People lied to church officials, envy over spiritual gifts just about tore whole communities apart, and the threat of worldliness and the temptations of “the flesh” (as Paul termed it again and again) were ever-present. The Christians at Colossae were engaging in some early forms of Gnosticism that allowed them sufficiently to downplay the importance of all things physical so as to engage in trendy sexual practices and weird spiritual beliefs about secret words of knowledge that would give them access to “the pleroma” or the “fullness” of spiritual ecstasy. So Paul had to again and again call the Colossian Christians back to moral seriousness about the importance of our earthly bodies–and what we do with them–as well as penning some soaring reminders that they need look no further than Jesus to find all the fullness of the God who created the entire cosmos.
The summer of 2016 is proving to be a tough stretch. Shootings by police–and now shootings of police–combined with tense political conventions and, this week anyway, with soaring heat and humidity are making these “hazy, crazy days of summer” very crazy indeed (and not in good ways by any means). Like many people, I have felt sad and burdened in recent weeks. And it’s easy to assume that things are getting worse, that it’s never been this bad before, that we should wish we could get back to . . . some past period or another when it was all smooth sailing.
But the latter is not true. Times don’t change that much in this still-fallen world. But one other thing also does not change: it’s an already-redeemed world in Christ, too. The Church has had to rely on prayer for healing, for comfort, for renewal in the past even as we have to do so now. But these are prayers marinated in hope.
It may be no comfort to point out that times have always felt bad. But it is well to remember that God is faithful, that he hears our prayers, that he is still in control because, as Paul wrote to the morally beleaguered, confused, messed-up Colossians 2,000 years ago, it really is true that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
In society the center may or may not hold at any given moment. But in Christ, all things still hold together. And on this hot, hazy, humid week of political and social turmoil, that is our comfort and hope.