3 ideas for living well in 2021
As we enter what we hope is a less exciting year than the last one, few of us now doubt that we are living in historic times. You may have heard Uncle Albert’s signature line in the comedy Only Fools and Horses: “……during the war …..”. He sits in the corner and says it a lot, and it gets met with a chorus of sarcasm from Rodney and Dell Boy. Well I wonder if we will end up in our old age quipping “during the virus …..” only to be met with a chorus of “grandad you tell us that story EVERY WEEK!” I don’t know, but “the virus” is the defining narrative of our age, the story we will retell for years to come, a period of history on which school examination questions will be set.
The 4 walls of our church have been replaced by the 4 edges of our screen, and we have adapted to new ways of living and new ways of socializing, at breathtaking speed. 2021 will also be a year like no other. Once we are through this pandemic – and we will get through it — this year will be about picking up the pieces, recovering the activities and communities we had before, but not necessarily in the same ways. As we consider this new, online, distanced way of living, how can we prepare ourselves for 2021? Here are three ideas.
“During the virus …!”
Let’s be quick to listen, slow to take offence — especially online
So much of what we used to say in person is now done by hitting Send.
So much of what we used to say in person is now done on zoom, by email, or with a text. But when we are online, we only ever see a limited view of the other person. When we get onto a zoom call or into an email thread, we leave part of our humanity behind, and it’s easy to make hasty judgements about the motivations and agendas of others.
Whatever it is you are discussing online – whether with work colleagues or church friends — remember this: God is as interested in how you stand as where you stand.
What does that mean?
Well, it might be a secular discussion of how to grow your company’s presence in a particular region. Or it could be a church matter of how to manage divisive building works, or what the Bible really says about some topic. Where you stand, what you think and how well you explain your opinion obviously matters — it says something about your knowledge and experience. But how you stand, how well you listen to others, how willing you are to let go of an entrenched view, says much more – it says something about you.
1 Corinthians 13: “Love does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking”
Online anger is a bit like road rage – we are physically distanced and emotionally charged. And whatever else changes in 2021, we are in for more online discussion than we have ever had. But here’s a suggestion from author Bex Lewis: before jumping into a disagreement on an email thread or a zoom call, ask yourself: “what does the fruit of the spirit look like online?”
Church for many is now 100% passive – that must change
With online church, you no longer need to pretend you’re paying attention!
As we recover from the effects of COVID, churches in 2021 will return to physical congregations …. with conversation, singing, coffee, and no masks (YES!!) But one question worth asking is who’s coming back? That might seem a dumb question, surely everyone is keen to get back to church? I think that is true – people are keen to get back, but how keen? And for how long? Online church has introduced us to consumer-oriented ways of church we didn’t have before. So, staying home to watch church at a time I choose, in my comfy chair is now “normal”. Not only that but being able to step out to make a coffee and (heaven forbid) fast-forwarding over the bits I don’t like, or (heaven twice forbid) flicking over to another church because “ours isn’t very good this week” …. or just not watching church at all, are all new temptations.
The positive side of course, is that, for some, online church is an enabler, a huge blessing. If you are housebound or not able to return to church, it’s perfect. But for most, of us the passive weekly experience of sitting watching a preacher and a band, just became even more passive.
What can you give to your church once you are back in the building? Well, showing up, when you feel like staying at home, encouraging others with a word, a smile, simply being, there are also forms of giving.
Hebrews 10: “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together as some are doing but let us encourage one another all the more as we see the day approaching”.
Be open to views outside your own – even on matters of faith
After a year of dramatic changes, I wonder if we are any better at allowing God to change us?
We easily fall into the trap of thinking our faith must never change. We feel we have our faith worked out and it’s not up for discussion. We only mix with people who think like us and we have little appetite for dialogue with people from other traditions. The idea that any of our beliefs or traditions might need to change is unpalatable, even frightening, as it can start a house of cards effect where other, unrelated beliefs in God become questionable. I understand, but ultimately this makes us unteachable. It means we miss out on the vastness of God. It makes God small, neatly contained within my worldview, made in my image.
Certainly, there are core beliefs which we should hold to — the early church creeds remind us of these including crucifixion, resurrection and forgiveness. But that leaves many other issues for example heaven and hell, other faith traditions or, say, transgender, which, important though they are, we should hold lightly. And we must make safe spaces where it’s OK to raise contradictions, to discuss doubts, to disagree well.
Maybe for me it’s easier. I came to Christ as a “crossbreed”, through various back-doors. Brought up the son of a Hindu priest who was himself the son of a Hindu priest, attending a school where my friends were Muslim, and having a mixed-up denominational start. But if you are a “thoroughbred”, brought up in one tradition which you will fight for, this is hard!
But for those who can embrace it, a dynamic faith that is open to learn new ways and (harder) unlearn old ways leads to a richer, more engaging Christian life. It means God can teach us ideas which today are entirely outside our conceptual framework. Let’s accept that our tradition might not have everything right. Jesus said: “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18), meaning: we must strive to become learners. Or as the Catholic writer Richard Rohr says “try to develop a beginner’s mindset, where you live in happy wonder!”
…. and I might be wrong!
Matthew 18: v1‑5
If you enjoyed this try Is it OK for my Christian beliefs to change? For more thoughts on consumerism and faith, try Is consumerism killing your faith?
This article was also published by Premier Christianity
Being a dyed in the wool Baptist, whilst having lots of time in quarantine — I have attended almost all LBC online services but I have also benefitted greatly from attending the St Ebbe’s morning services online. Not only for spiritual benefit but getting ideas for improving the presentation of our online services — passing on ideas etc That isn’t pick &; mix. For me it was a way of learning about the richness of the prayer life of the Church of England. I have always found prayer a difficult thing in other people’s restrictive definitions of it &; especially with… Read more »
David have you also felt you have had to ‘unlearn’ things ie ideas you carried as a ‘dyed in the wool’ type?
Dyed in the wool Baptist in the sense that my paternal family have been Baptists for generations. My grandfather had seconded that ABC be called Altrincham Baptist Church & his brother Ebeneezer had gone out as a missionary with the China Inland Mission. My father & Aunt Audrey had been founder members of Newall Green Baptist Church back in the 1940s. I was brought up in the Christian Endeavour movement so had lots of friends from other denominations almost exclusively free church. I was invited to be president of Warrington Free Church Federal Council for 2 years. We were members of our… Read more »
“Adapting and learning new approaches” — yes I’ll take that 🙂 And I agree with regard to liturgical prayer — which as you say is outside our “Baptist tradition”. I find it helpful for several reasons: it often has a repetitive, rhythmic nature, it often comprises beautiful language and the fact that liturgy can provide words when we have none.
Another excellent article
Finger on the pulse
If you believe in a god, then that god is responsible for Covid and the deaths and suffering it has caused.
Without theism it all makes sense, doesn’t it?
Hey Neil hope you are well — I think we may have been here before…?
— “God is responsible for COVID and death and suffering” … that’s a pretty huge, and incorrect, assumption of what Christians believe. Would you like to defend it? The old “God is all-powerful so he must have done it” is simplistic
Do you not believe god has created everything?
Could he have not prevented it?
The god hypothesis makes no sense, unless he doesn’t care.
With a natural world view, it all makes sense.
Hey Neil Yes — God created everything And yes he could prevent anything from happening. That would be to robotically overrule the free will he gives us within a world that itself is fallen. Christians believe that ultimately the awful things in this world will be resolved. Right now we continue to see that God can bring good out of bad situations — just as we have seen eg with the levels of volunteering during COVID, (although the vast majority of volunteering for good causes, of course, comes from religious adherents not atheists) Then to your “with a natural world… Read more »
Why would a god preventing disease affect our free will? That makes no sense, I have had the covid vaccine, it doesn’t appear to have affected my free will at all!! Your comment about theists doing more good work than atheists is very poor, I wouldn’t have thought that you would stoop so low as to say that. As a member of the BHA there has been a lot of good done by atheists. I see no problem with my view of the natural world. It all makes perfect sense. There is only a problem when a god is thrown into the… Read more »
On your 3 points: 1. “why would a God preventing disease affect our free will” .…we are back to the Christian belief of a fallen world. There is disease and poverty, and destitution. We (people) made the world a mess. If God was to step in to solve all our messes, all of the time, then that does infringe on the idea of free will. We have discussed this before on the idea of “if God exists he should prevent suffering” .…. but how much suffering should he prevent> All of it? .…. how much suffering is “acceptable”? Is it unacceptable… Read more »
Yes he should prevent all suffering. What sort of monster would allow suffering if it could be prevented? Why would that make it an “artificial” world? Isn’t heaven going to be without suffering? Will that be artificial? Whether it is true or not, it is still a low blow. Firstly religion is a powerful organization, that can arrange to do these charitable works, they also have the money and power to do so. But when an atheist does charitable work, it is not to appease a god or because he is afraid of that god, he does it because it… Read more »
Hi Neil — many thanks again for your comments. Responses: 1. “Why would that make it an “artificial” world?” .….…… not sure if you read my reasoning above, so to summarise: “.……how much suffering is “acceptable”? Is it unacceptable suffering if I break my neighbour’s nose? should God stop that? Is it unacceptable suffering if my neighbour hears me verbally abuse him — should God stop that? where do you draw the line or do you have a kind of “artificial“ world where nothing remotely bad can ever happen?” And I accept that you remain unconvinced by this 🙂 2. I dont… Read more »
Is heaven an artificial world? Will you want to break your neighbours nose in heaven? Could your god not devise a way to eliminate suffering? Because I can, with your gods so called power it would be easy. The money the church has it could eliminate poverty right now. Following your link, First I have no faith in anything. I only accept things on evidence. Faith is useless. The Universe exists by chance. I don’t know how the universe came to exist and neither do you. I do not believe that everything can be discovered by science, some things may be beyond us.… Read more »
An awful lot we could go at there Neil! As mentioned I will let you have the last word as a guest — and since we both agree we have both been around these topics before. I always enjoy our interactions Neil — take care and I am sure we will talk again:-)
Thanks Chris Really enjoyed reading this — passed on to our folks here to read
Thankyou again, Chris. Thoughtful and thought-provoking as usual. Angela.
Just read this. I always find these articles thoughtful, balanced and presenting a different view — thanks!
Don’t know how you fit all your responsibilities in Chris but if you can possibly continue (we shall understand if it’s imp0ssible) please do. Your comments are thoughtful and sometimes quite ‘brave’ — very few good non conformist Protestants 50 years ago would have been advised to read Richard Rohr but God’s wisdom can be filtered from many channels. What an amazing God and what an amazing world! We can respect one another even where we disagree.…because each follower of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazereth knows they are ‘loved to the uttermost’.….. and we are encouraged to follow our leader… Read more »
Yes — in fact I much prefer listening to Richard Rohr and reading. His spoken style I find exceptional — insightful. Thanks for your encouraging comment 🙂
Thank you, Chris. Thoughtful and challenging.
Hey thanks Keith — thanks for reading and commenting!