The last day of 2018

The end of the year brings challenges for publishing my journal. My website needs to have big changes to accommodate the new year. Starting tomorrow, my journal will post to a new URL because of the starting of a new journal. You’ll still be able to navigate around my web site, but things will look a bit different. For those who have set a bookmark on Journal 2018, a new bookmark will need to be set for Journal 2019. To make matters worse, the number of files that need to be published to accomplish all of the changes is huge and requires a high speed internet connection. Since I am traveling, I suspect that there will be some disruption until I get home and get everything straightened out. I apologize for any inconvenience this is causing. Please be patient. I’ll get things running smoothly soon.

I suppose that some kind of a retrospective on the year that is ending would be in order. It is probably going to be the most consumed media today. Newspapers and web sites and television programs will be filled with a look back at 2018. Perhaps there will be some observations from which some conclusions can be drawn, but I suspect that most of this coverage will reveal little about what really has happened.

I don’t mean to be too cynical, but the problem with much news coverage lately is that there has been too little to cover. We have become a culture of the 24-7 news cycle. We are addicted to continuous coverage. We check our cell phones and computers for the latest multiple times per day. What makes for good news is action. When there are things that are happening, such as wildfires or hurricanes, there is plenty of action and we follow the changes in the story.

Much of what is called news in our society, however, is really politics and, in a country as deeply divided as ours, politics is not about quick action. The real art of politics involves slow negotiation and compromise. People have to find small places where change can be made and discover the trade offs that allow for small bits of agreement in a world of disagreement. The result is that there are lots of words, but little real action. Words don’t make news. We have become lazy in our use and consumption of words. We find ourselves looking for “tweets” and short posts that are common in social media. Most of those platforms don’t allow for the kind of complex thought that is required to move the common culture forward.

So we get bored with the repetition. And we disengage, which is disaster for those whose incomes depend on consumption of the news.

The current stalemate in Washington D.C. that has resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government is a good example. There really is very little action to cover. There news channels have long since exhausted the rhetoric about the disagreements that have brought about the situation. The major players may be having conversations and talks that will lead to incremental changes that can bring forward an end to the shutdown, but that process is not producing action. There is little that can be reported in a series of soundbites that hasn’t already been aired. The news becomes so repetitive that people tune out and when people tune out the advertisers try to follow the attention of the people. Consumption of news is down despite our desire to always be in the know and fear of being left out. The news channels are all experiencing a decline in viewers and facing declines in revenue.

In the midst of all of this, I am hesitant to say much about the year that has passed. As a pastor, I have noticed an increase in anxiety among those I serve. I have noted that many of the people in my congregation have physical ailments that are difficult to diagnose, have shifting and nonspecific symptoms and seem to present as chronic conditions. My experience is only anecdotal, but it certainly seems like there is a lot of general disease among the folks in the church that I serve. And it seems like 2018 was worse than 2017 which was worse than 2016. I’m used to being the bearer of hope and speaking of positive change and progress. It is harder to know how to deal with gradual decline and general malaise.

If I were to say that politics have gone crazy and that our leaders seem to all have become irrational, it would be an understatement. It also would involve portraying mental illness and the reality of depression and other serious diseases in a less than flattering light. From the symptoms, you might judge that we’ve fallen into a kind of corporate mental illness where the ability to discern the difference between unreality and reality has become so widespread that it is difficult to find stable points to check the difference. When the whole world has gone crazy, the word “crazy” no longer carries meaning.

Despite all of this, I am not discouraged or depressed. It is clear that there is much work to be done in the church and leadership is needed more than ever in my career as a pastor. I have work that is meaningful and people whose lives continue to be interesting and complex. There are new babies being born and new leaders emerging in the life of the church. Attendance patterns are shifting. Budgets are as challenging as they have ever been. I suspect that the church in general is facing some hard times, but hard times are not always bad in the life of the church. Facing hard times together can build community, restore a sense of purpose and restructure priorities.

I am no prophet and not good at predictions, but from my vantage point it seems like 2019 will be a monumental year in the pastoral ministry. There are big changes that need to occur and judgment and leadership will be needed in critical areas of church life. We have resources sufficient for the challenge, but the challenge is real.

The end of the year is a good time to take stock, look back and get a fresh perspective. I’m not sure that I’ve accomplished that task yet. Like many other things in life it takes special effort and energy. Time will tell if we’ve invested sufficiently for the road that lies ahead.

I don’t think I could have imagined how I would feel to reach the end of 2018 when the year began. I know I couldn’t have imagined it a couple of years ago. So I’m going to forego predictions about 2019 except to say that the times in which we live seem to us to be momentous and there is much work for us to do together.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!