Four recent events in my life maybe converge to a theme: After six apocalyptic years, I want some normal.
First event: I am walking around Zurich, Switzerland, in September. From what I have learned about Switzerland, I am confident this is a country whose current politics are pretty normal, as politics go. They are not facing a crisis of democracy.
It is a sunny warm day. A couple has just gotten married at the courthouse, their friends now happily celebrating them as the photos are taken on the front steps. The lovely Limmat River is shimmering in the sun. People are sitting outside at restaurants drinking their coffee and chatting.
I find myself relaxing deeply, even though I am a stranger. I think: This is what normal feels like. What would it be like to feel normal like that back home?
Second event: I am at my home church on the Sunday before Election Day. My job this day is to say the pastoral prayer. Pastor’s job is to preach an appropriate word. But what is the appropriate thing to pray and to preach on this day?
I listen for the heartbeat of the congregation as they engage the worship songs. I think to myself — these are normal Christian people going about their lives. They need church today to be what it is most days, a place where they can encounter Jesus, community and hope. I hear the passion in their voices as they linger over the praise choruses. They, at least (unlike me), do not appear especially fixated on the likely election results on Tuesday.
When it is my turn to pray, I mainly say: “O God, help us to be your faithful people, and to remember that no matter what the election results, we will still be called to Christian faithfulness. And that our project is bigger and older and deeper than what happens in any earthly election. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done …”
Third event: Elon Musk buys Twitter. The normal mix of professional exchange, mindless blatherings, political combat and angry snark turns darker still. Musk shows no ability to manage but only to destroy Twitter. The site, it is said, might crash. People start saying their goodbyes like it’s the Titanic’s last night.
“Why did I ever think it was good to invest much time on this site?”
I ask myself, “Why did I ever think it was good to invest much time on this site?” There are people who it seems to ruin, obsessing them, regressing them, unfiltering them, unhinging them. For many, including me, it is a time suck, making me distracted, jumpy, and snarkier than is good for me. And I think: “Perhaps this is an apocalypse that needs to happen. Maybe we will be healthier and kinder.”
Fourth event: I am at the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Denver. It is so good to see this massive professional event getting its feet under it again; it was cancelled in 2020, half-attended in 2021, but this year at about 90% of its pre-COVID population. I reconnect with colleagues, look eagerly at learned books, buying several to read in the two hours a day I might once have spent on social media. I listen to scholars, good ones, practicing a trade whose canons of excellence are centuries old: Read everything relevant; deliberate deeply; read some more; draft something; share it with learned colleagues for their critique; read more, deliberate more, re-draft, re-share, and finally put something out there as your own contribution to knowledge. The work is so hard, yet so rewarding.
Do these meanderings add up to anything? I think maybe this: I believe it is time to shrink the political back to something like normal size, and I dearly hope this will be possible. (Hear our prayer, O Lord.) Then maybe we can learn to breathe again, and the different spheres of life developed in our civilization over centuries can get back to doing what they were meant to do.
“I believe it is time to shrink the political back to something like normal size.”
Government leaders in our democracies can make sound policies appropriate for the common good using long-established processes aimed at excellence.
Pastors can shepherd their flocks according to the standards long established for pastoring, which includes public engagement but far more than that.
Scholars can do their scholarship according to their own ancient canons of excellence.
Social media? Let it recede or die, with adults remembering there was very good reason why our parents taught us to think before we speak.
It is impossible to sustain apocalyptic sensibilities for very long. It unhinges the mind. Maybe we are in an apocalypse and there is no escape. But maybe not. Call me naïve, but I vote for a bit of normality.
David P. Gushee is a leading Christian ethicist. serves as distinguished university professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, chair of Christian social ethics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and senior research fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Centre. He is a past president of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. His latest book is Introducing Christian Ethics. He’s also the author of Kingdom Ethics, After Evangelicalism, and Changing Our Mind: The Landmark Call for Inclusion of LGBTQ Christians. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Atlanta. Learn more: davidpgushee.com or Facebook.
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