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I’ve been feeling a lot of empathy for the Israelites lately.

Out they come from Egypt, feeling energized and excited and elated and terrified. They’re hopped up on adrenaline after racing across the Red Sea, they’re feeling triumphant after watching their enemy be swept under the waves. And then they arrive in the desert, and they look to Moses, to their fearless leader, the one who has a direct line to Yahweh, the one who managed this miraculous thing, and they say, “Okay man! What’s next? What’s the plan??”

And Moses looks at them. And shrugs. And the people…don’t like that.

We all know we’re supposed to judge the Israelites in this situation. O ye of little faith! But I have to tell you, I feel for them. Plans are nice. I would like my leaders to have a plan.

Particularly, at this point in time, I would like for leaders to have some kind of plan for when and how the border reopens. As far as I know, such a thing is nonexistent. And I’m not sure why. It seems to me that some committee of people, somewhere, could sit down and figure out the basic metrics we need to hit in order for phase one of reopening, and then phase two, and they could figure out what those phases would look like, and then they could tell us what that plan is.

But maybe this is in fact quite difficult, because as of right now, no such thing exists. And so those of us who haven’t seen our family in over a year, who haven’t been home in over a year, who haven’t held our loved ones in over a year, can do nothing more but sit and wonder when we might possibly get to do so. And every time the border closure extends on the 21st of the month, I get a little more sad and a lot more frustrated. I need for there to be a plan. I need to know that we’re working towards something.

Now – I realize that governors and premiers and presidents and prime ministers have their hands decently full with what’s happening in their own backyards, and me whining about the border is perhaps a bit selfish given the state of Covid cases in both Ontario and Michigan. Our leaders are trying to put out fires and deal with crises of enormous proportions. It’s a job I do not envy, and regardless of my frustrations over how some of it’s been handled, the people who have walked us through this have my deep thanks and respect.

But I do wonder if – even while responding to the crises – part of what leaders need to be doing right now is looking forward. And casting a vision. And speaking in a language of hope. Framing everything in hope.

It feels like it’s always been the other way around. “The vaccines look to be effective! BUT we still don’t know if vaccinated people can transmit the virus.” “Millions of people have responded well to J&J! BUT six people got blood clots, so we’re pausing it.”

I get it. We want to err on the side of caution. There are a lot of unknowns and we need to be wise and careful. No one wants to lure the public into a false sense of security and lackadaisicalness. We’ve proven we don’t do great at following rules even when we’re taking things seriously.

But I can’t help but wonder if flipping the narrative – if speaking in hope, and spending more time casting a vision for the future – would in fact motivate us more. If we’d be more willing to buckle down if we at least knew what we were working towards, if we had some goals, if we had a plan. Would we be worrying about how many people won’t get the vaccine if the narrative around the vaccine had been far more celebratory and hopeful than it has been? If the story was more “LOOK HOW AMAZING THIS IS” and less “Here’s everything that could go wrong”?

And that has me wondering…do we often spend too much time focusing on what has and could go wrong, and not enough time casting hopeful visions for the future? And does that hamper our ability to work together to make change happen? Would we maybe get more traction from more people if our conversations around challenging and controversial issues were framed by more hope and less fear, more vision and less anxiety, more forward momentum and less present blame? There needs to be space for anger and lament and honesty. But is that too often where the story ends?

I’m curious what you think. It strikes me that in the church, where it would be incredibly easy to focus on the bad, the ugly, and the sinful, instead we’re called to frame everything we do by a future vision, an eschatological imagination. The ugly isn’t denied, but it’s situated in the reality of hope. “Here’s what’s coming,” says Jesus and Paul and John. “So how now shall you live?”

In seminary we learned to always end sermons on a grace note, to always end with hope. On the one hand because that hope is the truest truth out there. But I think also because people respond better to hope than they do to fear or guilt. Hope will always be the better motivator.

I could use a little hope right now. About a lot of things.

I could use a plan.

Laura de Jong

Laura de Jong serves as pastor of Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

16 Comments

  • Joan Bouwma says:

    How I agreed with you! I always do better with a plan as it gives me something positive to think about, to do, to build on. A plan gives me a sense of control when everything around me seems out of control. A plan gets me through most days. New of the good that is happening in our churches, in our community, in our country, and in the world usually takes a back seat to the stories of violence, chaos, and dysfunction. But God is at work in all of us and we need to recognize and celebrate how he is working out his plan to bring his kingdom to this earth. He has a plan.

  • mstair says:

    Grateful for your reminder of folks yearning for home and family …
    I will offer prayer for resolution.

    Your thoughts brought up this realization … our Government “by the people” currently has nearly half the “government” (45%) with no vaccine and no plans to get one …
    Their plan?

    Resolve nothing, wait for the vindication that it led to damaged DNA, and then celebrate their rightness?
    Watch the other robotic 1/2 half of the country blindly succumb to the compromise of liberty and then delight in their own asymptomatic infection?
    Quietly acquiesce to eventual world-wide realization that – like cancer, there are some diseases that never give way to herd immunity?

    It seems Our Lord has another way …

    “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phillipians 2)

  • John vanStaalduinen says:

    Since this is a political opinion piece, my comment is: how is the Biden Church working out compared to the Trump Church?

    • Laura de Jong says:

      John,
      This is a political piece only inasmuch as I’m wondering what the role of any political leader is (or any kind of leader for that matter). Nothing is pointed at one specific person. Nor am I trying to conflate politics with the church…simply querying if the same “hope framework” that exists in the church could or should carry over into our political conversations, not because our ultimate hope rests in politics, but because hope generally prompts better responses from people than fear.

    • George Vink says:

      John, if, and it’s always an if, if I’m reading your comment correctly, it’s not helpful!

      • John vanStaalduinen says:

        I think you read it correctly, the Biden Church is failing miserable and spreading doom and gloom news Where as the Trump Church was always trying to spread optimistic news. By the way, I learned there was a Trump Church right here on this ‘reformed’ journal blog, very informative.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Laura,
    I appreciate this because I am always despereate for a plan, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is I want that plan because it gives me a false sense of control. If we have a plan, then we can control what happens and where we’re going, but what if we’re not in control? What if control is an illusion?
    The second thing I’ve realized is people desire truth over a plan. We can handle what’s happening if you tell us what you know at this time, what you don’t, and how much it could change in the future. In other words, you’re working on it, but you can’t guarantee anything because you’re not in control.
    I also think that this truth requires a consistent integrity. You tell the truth over and over and over again, because when it counts, when people need to trust you with their lives, they will because you’ve been honest with them as much as we can expect or hope.
    Finally, you are 100% right, hope is more powerful than fear or guilt, but hope cannot be a wish or a dream. It must be real, honest, and full of integrity. Only then can hope drive us to a future that we can believe in.
    Thanks

    • Laura de Jong says:

      Thanks Rodney. I’ve been wondering along those same lines – how do we speak in hope without resorting to false optimism. But to your point about truth-telling, what strikes me about the pandemic/vaccine narrative is that there are two ways to tell falsehoods. On the one hand, the seriousness of the pandemic could be and was gravely downplayed. But I think the effectiveness of the vaccine, and the hope that that gives, has been downplayed as well. We’ve tended to focus on the negative side effects or all the unknowns, even as there is overwhelming data that tells a story of incredible success. So how do we measure the truth of the unknown against the truth of the known? Or balance caution with hope?

      • Rodney Haveman says:

        Thanks Laura,
        I agree. In the beginning we (larger culture) undersold the severity of the virus (even as those who were experts told us how severe it could be) and now we undersell the achievement of the vaccine (again, even as the experts tell us how marvelous it is). I wonder why that is. It seems that the first action comes from wishful thinking, maybe from all of us … It won’t come here. It won’t be too long. etc. And then we spent so much time trying to make folks see how serious it was/is, we never turned to the good news or hope that is available to us now with simple action in getting a vaccine. The media doesn’t help (if it bleeds it leads).
        I wonder if we sometimes spend so much time trying to emphasize the seriousness of sin in our church that we struggle to turn to the good news of hope, eschatology, etc.

  • George Vink says:

    Laura,
    As someone who shares particularly the need to have a more open Canadian border, we’ve gone ahead and made plans for a late June “crossing no matter what…..” It gives us a sense of planning, expectation, hope…………even if then it’ll get dashed or delayed. Thanks for your thoughts and felt though that last night’s address to congress injected some hope if we’d get beyond whatever political blindnesses adhering to our observations.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Laura, for sharing your hope and desire for a plan. I agree that focusing on the negative is often a downer, although often necessary. But let’s lean toward the positive. As to a plan, we certainly are not at a loss, for a plan. As we saw last night our president has a great plan that the rich will pay for. Let’s ask them. As to the church’s eschatological plans, we have an abundance of them. There’s the a-mill plan, the post mil plan, the historic pre mil plan, the dispensational pre mil plan, the pan mil plan. Just pick one and be happy. It’s too bad the church has a hard time agreeing to the same plan and hope. Maybe that’s why people outside of the church sees the church as such a negative force in our society. What a conundrum for the church.

  • JK says:

    Laura for your thoughts and questions,
    As I look to this, I see 2 things.
    – in the Church, we understand grace, salvation, and look expectantly to perfection in heaven while looking and experiencing God sightings and his presence on this side of eternity. Ending worship in a moment of grace and hope is the best thing we can do to reset, gain strength, and bolster ourselves to the onslaught we will experience as we walk out the doors. Thank you for continuing to do this every week! Yes, this is where our attention and efforts need to stay focused
    – the press and much of our political leadership understand that in the (sinful) world, blood and gore sells. It sells media, it sells fear, and it sells leadership crafting more ways to keep or assume more control, and it sells short term memory via manipulating the emotions and cranking up the drama. For the press, it sells the chaos, and for the political world, too often it sells a replacement savior. They often are their own worst enemies, but they both understand the control aspect and that they need need each other. Our political leaders may have good intentions and will try to sell some optimism, but the reality is the plan is so lofty, we begin to be skeptical from the start and easily dismiss or forget the priorities laid out.

    In short, it is a power struggle – within ourselves and within our institutions – but it isn’t really about us.

    I realize that this may not be super helpful on the surface, but I have found that I too was exasperated until I began to understand it for what it is and not put added credence into it. My education was in Political Science and Economics. I used to get super charged about the theory, and the rhetoric. It took God rocking my world to get me to surrender and let it all go. (One of my daughters went 2 rounds with cancer before 12 years old. She grown and married now – in good health, but the lessons learned as a Dad haven’t dimmed.)

    I don’t have a plan for you specifically. But if helpful, this has become my plan. As I age, it has become more about observation and letting go. I find that as participate in what God has called me to and watch, I marvel more at God’s grace in my life and also the Devil’s desperate battle plans. The war being waged in front of us and in us, is truly epic and so far beyond us! It is most easily seen in our press, politics and sadly – too often in our churches. To keep from being consumed by these institutions, I find I must focus more on gratitude for what is immediately in front of me, followed immediately by finding more ways to show dignity to those around me. This has not been easy.
    Don’t get me wrong, I still have ideals and preferred outcomes. I am not pessimistic, throwing in the towel or slowing my political involvement. But for inner peace, I have found that I can look only to the evidence of God transforming me, his work with his Church and people, and focus less on our institutions – for none satisfy. It is a matter of letting it go and watching God work. I may not always get it at the time, but I am willing to let it go, and thus, in time be good with it.

  • Gerrit Van Dyke says:

    I am bothered by fact that there so many people who will not get vaccinated for various reasons including that they think the whole thing is a hoax. How can a government plan when dealing with irrational behavior. Both presidents worked to get us all vaccinated but somehow haven’t reached a lot of people on the necessity of that. The wrench in the works is that every new case of CoVid-19 is another chance for a mutation that is immune to the vaccine. The CDC does not want that to happen so we need to start all over.

  • Paul DeVries says:

    Thanks Laura, great article. I particularly like the lines, “And Moses looks at them. And shrugs. And the people don’t like that.” I feel like I do a lot of shrugging these days. If God had a plan for Moses and his ancient people, I guess he must have a plan for me and the church today too.

    I am going to share portions of your article with my Council tonight.

    Thanks.

    Paul DeVries

    BTW, when you finally get a plan, please share it. To quote a wise woman, “I could use a plan.”

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Laura, I don’t know what to think about this post. On the one hand, Biden has been attempting to present a vision, a plan, and hope. And many people are responding. I may add that people responded to Trump because he too presented a vision and hope, (of a sort I did not like) though only the rudiments of a plan. I think Hillary Clinton failed to present any of them, and I don’t expect any from Justin Trudeau. But my church experience has made me very wary of “visionary leaders”. They have done my denomination very little good. Maybe it was very good that Moses had no plan. (By the way, let me recommend Zora Neale Hurston’s flawed but excellent book, Moses Man of the Mountain.)

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