A New Year or another year? It depends, in part, on us. Enjoy this year, look for surprises after the last two COVID semi-quarantines. Embrace yourself, claim this year as a time to live fully. Brace yourself as you enter the year, on the world and national scene it looks like more redundancy and repetition of past mistakes. Resolve, not in your life, not so?
1. Film festivals
There are hundreds of them on five continents. If you have not attended such an event, consider it this year. We just returned from Palm Springs International Film Festival. We picked 12 films from almost as many countries that cried for justice, grieved for human suffering, wrestled with impossible situations in documentaries, traced unusual biographies. And then we sat and talked theology, morality, politics and laughed again at remembered comedy, wit or irony. Check your area for the festival near you, and see another culture, conflict or comedy through other eyes from other lands. Choose wisely, listen attentively, watch closely, learn experientially. Bring tissues.
2. Olive Again
If you read or saw the film portrayal of Olive Kitteridge, the Pulizer Prize-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, then you must read her follow up book, Olive Again. It is waiting for you at your public library. We suspect that this brusque, irritable yet endearing woman will evoke recognition of your own shadow self, and you may be more authentic in relationships because you have seen how it is possible and even transforming. Few books offer models of healthy frankness and candor given with the warmth of empathy. We can’t find enough models of empathy, and Olive will offer you a few that you can try on and perhaps live out. Have you read a book that stays with you for a month? We hope so, and so we nudge you toward this one.
3. A Welcoming God
Stanley Green’s message at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church on Jan. 6 will become a classic in Mennonite preaching and doing theology from the pulpit. It was given on the day of celebration of a congregation being welcomed into Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, and the refrocking of the defrocked by the unwelcoming former conference. Best of all, longtime unrecognized pastor Audrey Hindes was licensed and named senior pastor. The unforgettable sermon should not be missed. You can watch it on YouTube—(Willow Ave Mennonite Jan 6.) Whether in the audience or attending on Zoom, eyes were wet and hands joined in clapping praise to the welcoming God
4. Mississippi River over California
Or was it the Amazon? The volume of this celestial phenomenon called an “atmospheric river” is awesome. A long narrow corridor of water vapor flowing from the tropics follows the jet stream and when forced upward by mountains releases a drenching downpour to the grief of the vulnerable and the delight of the drought-stricken. Lakes begin to refill, roads become rivers and mudslides endanger people as climate change becomes visible in floods and torrents. What does our future hold in our continuing to care so little for this planet Earth?
5. Selling the soul, buying untruth, trading identities
We are watching how people put their identities up for sale so cheaply. (We want to interject, “Be yourself, every one else is taken!’) Who of us can be heard over the cheers of admirers of popular falsehoods? How do we explain the new norms of manufactured fractured facts? Guess who said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters?” It was Albert Einstein. Marketable “truths” have taken the place of integrity and authenticity, As followers of Jesus who lived in a time of Roman propaganda, zealot conspiracy theories, Pharisaic alternative truths, He spoke the authentic truth that got him executed. How can we refill our souls with fresh supplies of grace and truth? How will we risk being baldly honest? One can lie to oneself, lie to others, but not to one’s soul. Search for truth, research the truth, consider being truth.