2020 has been a year like no other in our history. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Racial unrest and systemic racism is at the forefront of our attention. As if that isn’t enough – let’s go ahead and throw in an especially tense and divisive election into the mix. I am sure every single person has been affected in some way by the things that we are experiencing right now. I know for certain that all of these things have significantly impacted me… and not just on a surface level. They have shaken me to the core – the very being of who I am. They have caused me to ask deep questions about who I am, what I believe and what I stand for. They have led me to question the people and places that I have used to represent who I am. For me, 2020 will go down in my autobiography as the year of losing my religion.
I may be showing my age, but those words – losing my religion – may be familiar if you are my age. The words of that REM song from the early 1990s have played in my head over an over again throughout this season. If you were in the space I was in when that song was popular – head deep in the evangelical world – that song was not one that you could include on your mix tape of favorite songs. The song was interpreted by many to be a rejection of the institution of the church. Interestingly, I have done some research and that is not a correct interpretation. The phrase from that song….“Losing my religion” is based on an old southern expression that means “being at the end of your rope, the moment when politeness gives way to anger.” Humm…..that is a pretty accurate description of where the events of 2020 have led me – I have found myself at the end of my rope and my anger over what is going on in the world and my community have superseded my normally polite demeanor. I have felt lost and disconnected as I no longer align with the people and groups that I have in the past. These feelings didn’t emanate from the events of 2020, but they have definitely magnified them and brought them to the surface where I could no longer deny them.
The attitudes expressed and the reactions of some to this pandemic have moved me from being apprehensive about the virus to being angry. The number of people that have refused to wear a mask and the outright defiance against our leaders when we were told to stay at home and not to gather together in person for worship has boggled my mind and left me angry for the ways that we have put our own wants above the good of the whole. I have felt overwhelmed by the self-centeredness that has been displayed so prevalently and unapologetically.
Then, In May our country was enraged by the news footage of the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. Around the same time, the protests began in my city – Louisville, Kentucky – over the death of Breonna Taylor when police raided her home on a no knock warrant a couple of months earlier. While many were sympathetic to the cries for justice and took a stand through participating in protests, marches and prayer vigils. The silence of the majority of my friends was deafening. Even worse than the silence were some of the statements that I heard:
“That’s what happens when you do something illegal.”
“That’s what you get when you socialize with a known drug dealer.”
“All Iives matter.”
With each statement made, they cemented their stance – unwilling to hear or believe that these incidents happen disproportionately to Black members of our community.
These two issues have left our country extremely polarized. This polarization was like gasoline being added to a fire that was already burning out of control and engulfed our recent presidential election. People took strong stands on one side or the other – no one seemed neutral this year regarding the election. I moved from being heartbroken to being angry when I realized the number of people that I had held in high respect took a firm stand in support of Trump for a second term. Despite his lack of regard for humanity that he had displayed. Despite his refusal to seriously address the pandemic and the thousands of people that have died and continue to die. Despite his unwillingness to admit to and address the systemic racism across our community. Despite all of that, the election result were close.
The past 8 months have been a lonely time as I have realized that the people and groups that have defined me and that I trusted for so long, no longer represent or stand for who I am and who I want to be. This realization has caused me to lean in and do some deep dives. Evaluating what friendships I want to build up and cultivate and which ones I want to release. Considering what groups I want to be identified with and which ones I will reject because I no longer align with them. Digging deep into my theology and re-evaluating what I believe that scripture says and how Jesus would respond to what is going on in our world.
While this has been a difficult season for me, I have learned some valuable, life changing lessons. First, is that I must offer grace and forgiveness to others and work on my own self-centeredness instead of being focused on others. Understand, I’m not saying that grace and forgiveness means turning a blind eye, but it does mean not holding a grudge because they refuse to see what I see. Second, is that sometimes we outgrow spaces and places that we previously thrived in. When that happens, it’s okay to take a stand – and it’s okay and necessary to walk away sometimes. Finally, I don’t always have to be polite. It’s okay to get angry. Jesus wasn’t always polite. He turned over the tables in the temple. He called out hypocrisy. He called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Jesus was more concerned with truth and justice than he was about being polite. That is what I want my life to be about too.
I may have lost my religion in 2020, but I believe I found God and myself as a result. Just like that song back in the day, some may refuse to accept me because they don’t understand what I mean. However, I have come to a place where I am okay with that. As I have started listening more closely, I am finding others who are humming that song along with me – and this journey isn’t as lonely as I originally thought.