Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Will our lives ever be the same again?

Will our lives ever be the same again?
The prophets of doom are predicting that things will never be the same again. We will never travel overseas, the economy won’t rebound and we will never trust each other to shake hands. Meanwhile, some politicians and business people glibly promise that communities and markets will return to normal within a month and all this fear and disease will go away.

The truth is that things will be different going forward. Life will be different, because life is always different. To live on earth is extraordinary, but it is never static. The earth is spinning at about 460 metres per second. Meanwhile our planet is orbiting around the sun at a speed of about 100,000 km per hour. In addition, our solar system (earth and all) is whirling around the centre of our galaxy at about 780,000 km per hour. The galaxies in our neighbourhood are rushing around at about 1000 km per second. At times we might convince ourselves that we are standing still, but that is simply not true.

In life, we often commit to Plan A. We are certain that if we follow our Plan A, our lives will produce our dream. Plan A will deliver.  Plan A is what we need. Plan A quickly becomes our only hope. Suddenly, Plan A stumbles, wobbles or crashes. There is very real grief when it disappears. Grief, however, does not need to lead to despair.

Fortunately, there is Plan B. Sometimes, before we know it, we are on to Plan C, D or even P. George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation famously said about such plans, “Praise God for a big alphabet!” Verwer knew that often things happen on Plan Y, that could never have happened on Plan A. The human spirit is stronger than we imagine. Sometimes we even get a glimpse that the perfect Plan A actually had a few flaws and design weaknesses. In time we learn to enjoy the unexpected, adapt to the unplanned, grow from hardship and embrace the future with all its uncertainty.

We can, we must and we will.

For those of faith there is comfort that we are not alone. The old book talks about a God who never changes, whose love never fades and whose strength led our ancestors through the darkest of days.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want, Psalm 23:1

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Retreat yes, surrender no.

Bruce Springsteen’s classic song No Surrender needs a revisit. No retreat baby, no surrender is an amazing line.  But it needs an update. At the moment to retreat seems to be our only alternative, but maybe there is a way to retreat…but not surrender. When our jobs, our sport, our relationships, our entertainment, our communities and even our public worship are in retreat it is time to start using our God-given creativity to sing: Retreat baby but no surrender.

A dear friend of mine ventured out briefly today to buy wool and needles to begin knitting for her family. She has time on her hands, but she is not surrendering. At the door of the store she met a distraught elderly lady with a walking frame coming out of the shop. The heartbroken lady had ordered her supplies inside the shop, had fabrics cut to size and then was reduced to tears when told that her $45 cash was not acceptable tender. Card only for health reasons. You can’t blame the frontline retail staff, but my friend refused to accept defeat. She paid with her own credit card and accepted the ladies cash. The lady was blown away by a simple kindness and my friend was able to pocket a few extra frequent flyer points that one day may be redeemable.  One act of kindness is not going to overcome our present world-wide dilemma. But one act of kindness made a huge difference to a frail old lady who wants to sew rather than surrender.

Around the world surgical masks are in desperately short supply. The internet is full of how to videos. I asked the head of our medical centre Is a hand-made mask of any use? No, they are a waste of time was his firm reply. But, he said, if I have to go out and can’t get a mask I’ll put a handkerchief over my face, it’s better than nothing. A hand-made mask will not stop the virus but it might remind the thoughtless that social distancing can make a difference. Making a mask is better than surrendering to Netflix passivity.

Another simple act of defiance is the act of making two caring phone calls a day. Call two people from your contacts list, ask how they are getting on, share a laugh about better days and together refuse to surrender. Visiting and socialising are benched. Phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, WhatsApp or a shout over the back fence are all valuable human responses that show love and care, with a spirit that refuses to surrender.

Finally, a trendy young barista friend refused to accept defeat when his cafĂ© closed. He immediately applied for a job in the frontline as an orderly in a hospital. That’s courage, that’s impressive and that is not surrender!  

We cannot let politicians, doctors, nurses and the medical troops fight this battle alone. We cannot allow those in the medical world to risk their lives, while we ignore their advice or veg out in front of the telly.

Spiritual strength begins with humility and refuses to surrender as we draw on divine strength.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:3

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

There is a season.

Courage is easy to identify – right? Courage faces a crisis with a spirit that is ready to defy. Courage stands up in the face of fear. Courage never takes a backwards step. Courage, in short, is ready to stand your ground and fight. Right?

During WW1 many generals believed that courage would win the day. In spite of the odds, in spite of the dangers and in spite of the concerns generals ordered men to advance with courage. The troops had courage and they were willing to fight to the end. There was however one problem. Advancing in the face of machine gun fire was not courageous. It was foolish! Calling on the troops to exhibit courage was absurd when the enemy was overwhelming. Sometimes the most courageous call is not to advance, but to retreat. Courage is no substitute for wisdom.

Today the world faces its greatest health crisis in 100 years. Doctors, pandemic researchers, immunologists, health officials and the World Health Organisation are unanimously shouting that today the most courageously wise thing to do is to retreat. They are warning us that for our own sake, for the sake of the most vulnerable and for the sake of the health system we need to socially isolate as comprehensively as possible.

Every country that has had a major outbreak of Covid-19 is now listening. 
However, countries which still have a small number of cases are much slower to call a general retreat.  Some still want to go to the footy for one last week. Some think it can’t happen to me. Some fear the economic cost of retreat. Some fear that retreat will make us look weak. Some believe that the herd will be stronger if we advance and accept the casualties. Some are so committed to victory that the thought of retreat is unimaginable.

I am neither a general or a scientist. I’m not even sure that I am very courageous. In the face of the reality of the medical and economic crisis we are facing, I too am afraid. However, I am convinced that life has seasons. Humility demands that I accept the wisdom of the scholar and the scientist and humbly bow before my Maker, dependent on his mercy and grace.

This season too will pass. We are not helpless. God has given us minds to think and reason to follow.

Our refuge is prayer.
To retreat today is not to give up, but to ready ourselves for tomorrow’s advance.

There is a time for everything and season for every activity under the heavens: 
a time to be born and a time to die
a time to plant and a time to up root
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to tear down and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8.