President’s Note: Just to Be Clear

Just to be clear: we are dust to dust.  We are inescapably in-between creatures.

Much of the time, we refuse this news.  We act as though we can prove it wrong, or at least try to modify or forestall its reality.  Then, along comes COVID-19 (or another diagnosis or an accident), and suddenly we have finitude rubbed in our own faces and in the faces of those we love most.  This is not a mild experience.  It can be and has been brutal for millions.  A world seeing finitude up close, under isolated, lonely, disorienting conditions.

This pandemic has amplified the in-betweenness of the rest of life as well: our family rhythms, our children’s development and education, our work lives, our finances, our churches, our friendships, and so much else.  “When things get back to normal” is probably a euphemism for “when we are no longer in the pandemic in-between,” which will be then its own in-between.

Our longing for what is beyond this in-between pervades our lives right now, like an intense spotlight on what is always present but not so plainly visible.

Some of the most profound in-betweenness before us will have to do with what emerges as church on the other side of the pandemic.  Jesus assured the disciples that “the gates of hell cannot prevail against” the church, but it can and has been seriously battered in recent years.  How will our experiences of virtual church affect in-person church?  Who will “return” to church or not?  What will that tell us about the state of Christian communion and communities?  About the life and witness of God’s people?

The sweep of teenagers and young adults leaving church, faith, or both, began before the pandemic.  Will this be stemmed?  In what ways?  What embodied good news of God’s redeeming love and justice in Jesus Christ will see, hear, and embrace young people?  How might Christian communities and individuals hold open space for the in-between love and hope needed especially by our teenagers and young adults in “such a time as this”?

Further, in a time of great upheaval and division between ethnic and political sectors of the Christian community in the United States—now splayed out for all to see, exposing what was already there—what is the constructive work, as well as the truth-telling and grieving work, to be done now, and on the road towards the other side of “this”?  What might be possible in entirely new ways?

Meanwhile, all our daily time is right in the in-between.  We are saturated in it.  The richness of the ordinary.  Individually and together, we spend our days getting from here to there—even if it’s just a change of Zoom call.  Doing this on the way to doing that.  In these spaces, we make our lives, we love, and we learn.  We seek, and desire, and pursue.  We ignore and digress.  We eat.  We believe and follow.  We cry and agonize.  We wait for this in-between to be over.

Every leader, parent, employee, no matter their role or tenure, will do better if they understand themselves to be stewards of this in-between for the sake of their institution, church, organization, or movement.  Being able to fully enter into the now has to be the first and primary step, even as one must also lead into the future.  This is no simple or easy task, nor is there an alternative.

We can be grateful and assured that Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us or forsake us still stands, and that it does so in the only place we have, the in-between.  It’s right here, in the midst, that our discipleship is lived.  What a grounding difference it makes to know that we are not alone, and that the holder of the whole story holds this chapter.  We are relentlessly and unflinchingly held in God’s love and hope.

mark labberton thumbnail

Mark Labberton, President

Just to be clear: we are dust to dust.  We are inescapably in-between creatures.

Much of the time, we refuse this news.  We act as though we can prove it wrong, or at least try to modify or forestall its reality.  Then, along comes COVID-19 (or another diagnosis or an accident), and suddenly we have finitude rubbed in our own faces and in the faces of those we love most.  This is not a mild experience.  It can be and has been brutal for millions.  A world seeing finitude up close, under isolated, lonely, disorienting conditions.

This pandemic has amplified the in-betweenness of the rest of life as well: our family rhythms, our children’s development and education, our work lives, our finances, our churches, our friendships, and so much else.  “When things get back to normal” is probably a euphemism for “when we are no longer in the pandemic in-between,” which will be then its own in-between.

Our longing for what is beyond this in-between pervades our lives right now, like an intense spotlight on what is always present but not so plainly visible.

Some of the most profound in-betweenness before us will have to do with what emerges as church on the other side of the pandemic.  Jesus assured the disciples that “the gates of hell cannot prevail against” the church, but it can and has been seriously battered in recent years.  How will our experiences of virtual church affect in-person church?  Who will “return” to church or not?  What will that tell us about the state of Christian communion and communities?  About the life and witness of God’s people?

The sweep of teenagers and young adults leaving church, faith, or both, began before the pandemic.  Will this be stemmed?  In what ways?  What embodied good news of God’s redeeming love and justice in Jesus Christ will see, hear, and embrace young people?  How might Christian communities and individuals hold open space for the in-between love and hope needed especially by our teenagers and young adults in “such a time as this”?

Further, in a time of great upheaval and division between ethnic and political sectors of the Christian community in the United States—now splayed out for all to see, exposing what was already there—what is the constructive work, as well as the truth-telling and grieving work, to be done now, and on the road towards the other side of “this”?  What might be possible in entirely new ways?

Meanwhile, all our daily time is right in the in-between.  We are saturated in it.  The richness of the ordinary.  Individually and together, we spend our days getting from here to there—even if it’s just a change of Zoom call.  Doing this on the way to doing that.  In these spaces, we make our lives, we love, and we learn.  We seek, and desire, and pursue.  We ignore and digress.  We eat.  We believe and follow.  We cry and agonize.  We wait for this in-between to be over.

Every leader, parent, employee, no matter their role or tenure, will do better if they understand themselves to be stewards of this in-between for the sake of their institution, church, organization, or movement.  Being able to fully enter into the now has to be the first and primary step, even as one must also lead into the future.  This is no simple or easy task, nor is there an alternative.

We can be grateful and assured that Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us or forsake us still stands, and that it does so in the only place we have, the in-between.  It’s right here, in the midst, that our discipleship is lived.  What a grounding difference it makes to know that we are not alone, and that the holder of the whole story holds this chapter.  We are relentlessly and unflinchingly held in God’s love and hope.

Written By

Mark Labberton, President

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