From tornadoes to tsunamis, it has been quite a year.
We blow out the candle on 2011 Saturday night, and for some midnight will come not a moment too soon. I guess we were warned. New Year's Eve celebrations last December were hampered by tornadoes that blew through town. Books on hell were some of the biggest selling religious books of the year, and evangelist/broadcaster Harold Camping widely predicted the world's end on May 21. (For the record, it didn't.)
We should have guessed it was going to be rough.
Through it is tempting to rehash all the tragedies of this year - significant as they were - today I want to think about what worked well. I took advantage of the warm weather this week and spent the day working outside. That was a gift in itself. As I raked leaves, I thought about God's gift of time and the many good things that I'd been privilege to experience throughout 2011.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not minimizing the pain of anyone who suffered through the numerous tragedies we all witnessed. But I was moved by NPR's series "It was a good year for..." to make my own list of the year's positives. Conversations with friends and family turned up an amazing array of personal joys and unpublished headlines--poignant reminders of God's providence and grace.
There were countless such holy moments in 2011. Couples were joined in marriage, babies were born, trips were taken. As I asked friends to share their experiences of grace, they told stories of callings to ministry affirmed, times of laughing with family, moments of hugging elderly parents and the joys of completing long anticipated projects. Even tossing old papers into the trash brought joy-a true clearing out clutter in order to see the holy in the ordinary.
It's telling that my conversation took place on Facebook, where more and more such conversations occur. In 2011, we continued to learn how to form community in new ways.
Though social media is still evolving, and there are certainly kinks that still need to be ironed out, there is no doubt that Twitter, Facebook and blogging sites are birthing new forms of community. It was a good year for social media, as evidenced by the Arab Spring. Not everyone understands this or sees it yet, and perhaps the evidence is only anecdotal. But more and more, connections are being formed through social media. Social networking is becoming a part of way I conduct pastoral care. Suddenly, Facebook is more than a cool place to find friends from high school. It is also a place where prayers are offered and bonds of faith strengthened.
That's good news. The difficulty is that many faith communities are struggling to implement technology into ministry. As Carol Howard Merritt points out in an excellent blog posting on the Christian Century website, "We have to realize that a new generation uses their smart phones and computers to gather information and communicate."
If life in the virtual world was a highlight in 2011, so was learning how to form actual community.
As my Facebook friends reminded me, 2011 was also a good year for discovering the power of joining together. Following the Good Friday tornadoes in Bridgeton, I heard stories of neighbors supporting each other and businesses cooperating in new ways. Churches opened doors and recruited volunteers. Strangers found common purpose in helping others. Later in the year, new experiences of community continued as work crews from across the country converged on Joplin, MO to share gifts of hope, love and friendship. The storms were certainly uninvited guests, but they forged important bonds that remind us that God works miracles when neighbors stand shoulder to shoulder.
Quite a year, indeed. Or, as an early twentieth century Presbyterian hymn writer put it:
God of our life, through all the circling years,
We trust in Thee;
In all the past, through all our hopes and fears,
Thy hand we see.
With each new day, when morning lifts the veil,
We own Thy mercies, Lord, which never fail.
Hugh T. Kerr, "God of our Life, Through All the Circling Years."