Before we end the year, it will be useful to look back on 2020 and reflect on what has happened and how VYLTP has been affected by it – and perhaps even begin to chart a way forward. Our mission at VYLTP is to “gather young leaders to form a safe space of learning, through courageous conversations, to foster wise leadership that empowers them to facilitate transformative justice in church and society”.
Looking back …
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were able gather some of the alumni virtually, and this was highly appreciated by many of them (see the VYLTP alumni meeting) . We heard about their lives and their hopes and fears. It was important that we listen to them. We committed to pray for them through this important time of their lives.
The only time when we could gather some young leaders physically, was when we followed up on the Taizé Pilgrimage of Trust on 28 November. This was a highlight of our year (see photo’s here), and we committed to gather again on 27 March 2021.
In the meantime, we developed the beginnings of an online course focused on the theme of building BELOVED COMMUNITY, and young people between the ages of 18 – 35 yrs old are invited to register here by the 20th of January 2021.
Looking forward: no, not the old normal!
In a blog at the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote about the need for a “re-set” and the fact that our old normal was actually abnormal. It is therefore sad to see that so many people simply want to rush back to the old normal as quickly as possible. I wonder what is behind this? Do we simply lack the creative imagination necessary for a re-set? Are we as humans simply bad at reflecting and discerning and changing course? Or is this process too uncomfortable to bear?
Frameworks for reflection
We do not have a lack of resources to reflect. The historian Yuval Harari has written and spoken much about where we have come from and what the possibilities for the future are. You can view video’s about his views:
The young people who attended the VYLTP course knows that I often say: “An unreflected life is not a life worth living”. These words were apparently uttered by Socrates and is quoted in Plato’s “Apology”. Is it possible for human beings to reflect well? If we do not have a framework for reflection, it might be difficult to know how best to do it. The process of “see-judge-act” has been one that many people have found useful over the years. To “see” is to observe and acknowledge, to judge is to analyse and discern and to act is to start new actions based on the previous two things. This process is not simply linear but is circular and any person can do it. You do not have to even start at “see”. You can act and then reflect on that action through observation and analysis and then act anew and then reflect again on that.
A particularly interesting framework that I was alerted to this year, is one established by Kierkegaard: Beauty (or aesthethics), ethics and faith. Bonhoeffer turned this around and started with Faith, followed by ethics and beauty. It should not really matter where one starts, as long as one does not get stuck in one place and as long as one does not see the process as linear. Archbishop Tutu once said to a group of young people: “Go make life beautiful, especially for the poor”. They were really struck by this comment. Poverty and beauty are not often combined, but the Arch urged the young people to combine these.
Breaking down the wall between life and death
If we are able to break down the walls of our frameworks, even the wall between life and death, we might have a chance to make life meaningful and beautiful. One of the expressions we use at funeral services says: “In the midst of life we are in death”. We see this in nature all around us.
Death does not necessarily mean “permanent death” but could simply be a tree that seems to have “died” but by spring and summer, it is full of life again! I really hope that we can recover this, as it was Christ himself who said that “a seed, if it were to truly live, must die” (John 12:24). On Holy Saturday, Jesus “descended to the dead” – we say this in our Creeds all the time. He was very busy there, proclaiming that “death does not have the last word”. It was St Paul who was able to share this insight most sharply and clearly. “Where O death is your victory, where is your sting?” (Romans 8).
Let’s use our imagination
In summary: if we just want to “return to normal”, we are simply being foolish and we lack the ability to use our God-given imagination. There is something deeper and better that we can return to, where we can live life in all its fullness and beauty. It requires a certain kind of death, a self-emptying, that will return us to service and beauty. Will we hear this message? I hope so. It is the only hopeful way forward for humanity and the earth.
Many blessings to all during this special Christmas-time – may the child in the manger point us towards love and service and away from the Empires of emptiness, lifelessness and lovelessness.
Rev Edwin Arrison
20 December 2020
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