From the President – Forming Communities of Hope
Slate magazine declared 2014 as “The Year of Outrage.” Outrage over the police shootings and excessive use of force. Outrage over environmental degradation. Outrage over proposed environmental laws to curb pollution. Outrage over human rights abuses in North Korea and other places around the world. Outrage over, well, the lack of outrage about human rights abuses. Everywhere you look, there seems to be a sense of outrage, expressed especially and relentlessly on social media.
I don’t think that’s an accident. Indeed, I think the outrage Slate notes is actually a natural by-product of living in a culture of the outrageous spawned by the unending streams of information that are tweeted, tumbled, and posted our way each and every day. With hundreds upon hundreds of television stations, and thousands upon thousands of satellite and digital media outlets, it’s not that we live in the age of information, but that we’re drowning in it. In this kind of environment, it’s increasingly difficult to get attention without resorting to the outrageous. And, more often than not, the outrageous comes in negative packaging.
Don’t get me wrong. There is room for outrage, for righteous indignation, and for protests. But as outrage increasingly becomes a dominant cultural attitude, even the most important calls for justice are likely to be lost in the cacophony of the outrageous. Moreover, a constant dose of anger and fear often siphon off energy to make sustained change and wear us down until, besieged by negative messages, our vision is clouded and we expect no better than what the media offers us.
This can be a hard environment in which to preach, teach, and share the Gospel. The temptation, of course, will be to fight back with increasingly strident voices, unwittingly contributing to the very condition we decry, hoping all the while to carve out some space in an overcrowded arena of competing messages.
But I wonder if there isn’t another tact the church of Jesus Christ might take, one heralded again and again by the messengers in Scripture we call angels. In the face of fear, we can say, “Do not be afraid.” In the face of anger, we can say, “Peace be with you.” And in the face of the outrageous, we can reiterate the baptismal promise, “You are God’s beloved child; with you God is well pleased.” In short, in a culture of the outrageous, perhaps the church can offer communities of hope, encouragement, tolerance, and respect.
In the Epiphany season we celebrate the revelation of Jesus as the light of the world, the light that “shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” What might it be like if the people in our congregation and community knew that each and every week, folks gathered around this light, seeking meaning and encouragement together. And what might it be like if, each and every week, the same people left the assembly equipped and powered to stand tall in a culture of the outrageous and offered the world the one thing it desperately needs: hope.
Fashioning communities of hope, of course, is not easy work. It takes equal measures of faith, patience, creativity, and energy. But while it isn’t easy work, it is good work. Work worth doing. And we do not do it alone. For we are supported by the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and sent him into both wilderness and the mission field to proclaim the coming kingdom of God. Thank you for your part in carrying on that mission and ministry.
Yours in Christ,