The inauguration of the 46th US president took place last Wednesday. I was always compelled to preach or write something on such an occasion. This time, I choose to keep quiet. Perhaps it’s the repeated disappointments I had after building a sense of excitement for change. But I do find myself praying for the new president. May God supply Joe Biden with the needed strength to lead in these difficult times.
I try not to set expectations too high. When Obama took the oath of office, I thought we were finally witnessing a turn in history. Then we saw how history took a different path with the Trump administration. As a young man I believed in historical progress, but such convictions have grown dim on me. There were days I stood in protest in Washington D.C., made several visits to State Department Headquarters and the White House. In retrospect, I see that those efforts bore only small significance, if any, in the actual decision-making processes. It sure felt like our activism was making a real difference back then, but those proud moments were short-lived to little or no avail.
But what genuinely moved my heart were the lines from the inaugural poem read by Amanda Gorman: “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Just as Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world,” what the young poet reminds us is the purpose of our being. I am reminded that I can neither lose the courage to see the light nor faith to be the light because “being the light,” in essence, is the mandate of Jesus.
This past week’s early morning devotional passages were drawn from the book of Ecclesiastes, which begins with the Teacher’s search for meaning. While there is an acknowledgment of “a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heaven,” the Teacher also sees a lot of meaninglessness in the midst of repetitious cycles of the affairs of the world. I agree, and for that reason, I try to focus on matters that will bear lasting meaning in the end. And in the meantime, I try not to be anxious or impatient, as much as there is a time and season for everything.
Nowadays I’m reading a book titled “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going,” by Susan Beaumont. It’s about leadership in an in-between time – in a liminal season, as Beaumont calls it – when one chapter ends but the beginning of the next is yet to arrive. It speaks to the nature of times we live in, from the present situation with the coronavirus to the journey that awaits our denomination after the General Conference in September, just to name a couple. The ambiguousness and uncertainty of what lies ahead feed anxiety, tempting us either to go back or leap forward rather than faithfully living the present. We see the inclinations in ourselves, just as we’ve seen in the stories of Israelites post Exodus. Growing impatient in the wilderness, some wished to go back to slavery in Egypt indulging in biased memories. Others acted to make the golden calf out of the desire to hold the gaze of something tangible, in hopes to soothe the fear of the unknown by regaining the sense of control. But those who let their hearts feed in distrust failed to marvel at the grace of daily manna. God was faithfully present in the moment, walking with them in a pillar of cloud by day, and giving light in a pillar of fire at night. But those who would not hold their gaze toward that constant presence could not enter the Promised Land.
2021 will not be an easy year. I remember reading that the key to surviving a shipwreck is staying calm and focusing to stay afloat. Pushing, shoving, then plunging into the ocean and treading water to save yourself will actually lower your chances of survival. Perhaps the times we live in and the problems we face require a leader who, with a calm and steady disposition, will chaperone this country out of this troubled season. I think it’s the same for the churches. Passing through the middle of the rough ocean depends not on our physical strength to tread water but calm focus in the Word and prayer, and responsiveness to hear God who speaks through presence and even silence.
Our church has been having funerals every week since the beginning of this new year. After each burial and entrusting of their spirits to God, there is a warmth of gratitude that fills up my heart. I reflect on how each moment of living together is in itself the grace. Being able to live in wonder of my own journey and accompanying others on their journeys with God is the gift and blessing I want to take in deeper and draw meaning this season.