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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.