It can be hard to find good role models these days. Often the people who are famous and the first to promote themselves as the ones we should be following are the last people on Earth we should be following. The world has no shortage of role models and leaders who are leading us astray.
Unfortunately, this is not only true of leaders in politics and entertainment, it is far too often true of Christian leaders as well. Celebrity culture has made itself at home in the church, and some of the people who rise to the top of Christian organisations and mega churches and TV ministries and yes, even regular local churches, get there for all the wrong reasons. They have charisma, but lack character, they have business savvy, but lack integrity. Maybe that’s why so many Christian leaders fall in scandal and shame—they never should have been there in the first place. They were good at building organisations and personal fame, but they were bad at living like a Christian. In their ministries they made disciples, but not disciples of Christ—they made disciples of themselves, teaching others to look at them and compromise for them instead of looking to Christ in trust and obedience. We need better role models for the church, but how do we find them?
Some things are worth saying over and over again. I’m sure that’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating. At our house, we said “sit down” and “eat your food” so often that my wife started saying those phrases in Irish, just to break the monotony. Still, we knew that saying it over and over again was the only way to get to the point of not having to say it over and over again.
But there are some things we’ll never get to that point with. There are some things that will need to be said as long as there are people on Earth. The reason for this is that us humans tend to forget basic truths almost as soon as we remember them. We work and fight and kill each other to right some horrible wrong like genocide, oppression, or slavery, then turn around and create new ways of doing the exact same things, like abortion, police brutality, or human trafficking. Each victory bleeds into a new battle, where we have to say the same old truths all over again, like “all people are valuable” and “all men are created equal”.
A murder, on film. Lawless lawmen, racism, protests. Burning cities. Is this the normal we all wanted to go back to after lockdown?
We’re angry. Angry that a man could ignore another man even as he begs for his life. Angry that men who swore to protect would stand by and threaten force against anyone who tried to intervene as he died. Angry that this is far from the first time this has happened, and won’t be the last. Angry that more innocent people are now being hurt by riots that are destroying their communities and businesses.
We need justice. We demand it. Nobody should get away with cold-blooded murder. We want justice for George Floyd. We want it for everyone. We want a just world. We want a world where no one abuses power and no one is targeted for their skin colour. We want a world where protests are unnecessary, and never turn violent. We want a world where justice never fails. There’s only one problem with a perfectly just world:
I was challenged by a young man recently to write a poem about the current situation. I love the medium of spoken word poetry, so I decided to take this opportunity to give it a try. Here’s the result (The reason it looks homemade is because it is homemade):
We’re later than we intended to be, but we’re still early. It’s our turn to help set up. The children take chairs from me as I bring out the stacks, then there’s the projector and the microphone, plus I need to run through the music with the others. We won’t have much time, but we never do, and we always manage to pull it off. We joke that if our band had a name, it would be A Wing And A Prayer.
Only a few minutes before we start, and familiar faces are smiling their greetings from across the room. As the hum of conversation grows, I see my children playing with their friends in the aisles between the chairs—are they being too loud? I see a few people slip into a side room to pray before we start. Through another door, I catch the movement of busy preparations in the kitchen, teas and coffees don’t make themselves, and they’ll be needed straightaway after the service.
In the weeks we’ve lived in lockdown, we’ve discovered that Parcheesi is a fun game, car parks make good bicycle playgrounds when there aren’t cars in them, and there are paths to walk on near us that we never knew about. Having a 2km travel limit for weeks on end has forced us to be creative, and to look more closely at the familiar things in front of us.
Normally, if we want to see flowers in the Spring, we go to the old mansion house a few minutes away, where the formal walled gardens are open to the public and kept blooming with exotic beauty from around the world. Ever since we moved here, we’ve felt lucky to live near such a place. Now that place is closed. Instead, we walk in the industrial estate.
While adding a slew of new things to worry about, this long lockdown also removes some normal kinds of pressure. There are things I don’t have to worry about right now, like how I’m coming across in a social setting, or if I’m being too loud or too direct or too effusive or too whatever with people around me. They aren’t around, so it’s not an issue. I don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules of social engagement and politeness. I don’t have to check the temperature of the mood in the room and adjust my body and language accordingly. These days, I can slip comfortably into whatever unusual habits I prefer, and no one will give me a funny look to let me know I’ve missed a standard social cue. I can do things my way, and no one will see if my way is weird. I’m living in safety, inside the walls of my own comfort zone.
This is the most unusual Easter weekend any of us have ever seen, and hopefully ever will. The sun is blazing where I live, but we can’t go out and we can’t even have church services to mark the most important day in the Christian calendar. This Easter Sunday will be different, to say the least. But I can’t stop thinking about Easter Saturday.
It’s the day we normally set aside for egg hunts and preparation for Sunday’s celebrations. It’s the day that even the gospels skim over, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The day between death and resurrection. The day when Jesus’ disciples were heartbroken and hopeless, even though they were only one day away from seeing the greatest victory the world has ever known.
The world is a mess right now, but I have a feeling a lot of houses and gardens have never been cleaner. Projects that were living on the “when we have time” list are getting done, now that our calendars are cleared. Gardens are being planted, storage is being organised, and fresh paint is going up on walls. It’s happening at our house, too, which is why I’ve broken out the work clothes. You know, the ones with the paint on them and the holes in the knees, the ones I don’t care what happens to them because they’re already a mess.
There’s another kind of sickness growing in the shadow of the pandemic. It feeds on isolation and loneliness, and our quarantines and lockdowns have created the ideal breeding ground for its growth, which is already being documented. Unlike the virus it’s nothing new, and I’ve seen the destruction it can leave behind.
I remember the eyes of my friend – I saw it there. More precisely, I saw nothing. His eyes were empty, and I found it unnerving to see them looking around with no life in them. I’d seen plenty of tired eyes, sad eyes, and eyes filled with fear – but I’d never seen eyes so full of emptiness. No spark. No motivation. No concern. Nothing. Except for one thing: pornography. And that one thing had driven out all the others. He lived for it, and died a little more each day for it. I saw it happening, and I hated it.