Stop judging by outward appearance! Instead, judge correctly. – John 7:24 (GWT)
Happy New Year!
For many years when I taught an honors world cultures class at Patrick Henry High School, my co-teachers and I looked for a good “hook” to start the year. Before we began studying other cultures, we first asked our students to identify some local icons and aspects of Roanoke culture. Our goal was to start with the familiar then build out into the unfamiliar. Common icons the students cited were the Roanoke Star, the Blue Ridge Mountains, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, etc. Some mentioned the centuries-old oak tree that stood in the middle of a street in South Roanoke. The street literally split to go on both sides of the beloved old tree.
The one day, it happened. In the early 2000’s Roanoke had a windstorm and the giant tree fell, making local headlines. Since our students had talked about it for years and I wanted my family to see that piece of area history, we drove to the spot. Two things shocked me:
The enormity of the trunk. Lying on the ground, the circumference of the broken-off part of the trunk was about as tall as my children, and
The rottenness of the trunk. So much of the tree had rotted from the inside, to view the snapped-off part of the trunk was like looking at a very skinny donut. As I remember, the outer rim of the tree was only about 6-12 inches thick in most places, so some 70-80% of what should have been the trunk was actually hollow.
Viewing that, I realized the true shocker was not that the tree had fallen, but that it had stood for so long despite being so weak and compromised on the inside.
The tree had been a tall, broad, beloved icon in South Roanoke for generations, and seemed like it would stand for generations more–that is, as long as the weather stayed pleasant. But all it took was one wind storm to knock it down.
I don’t know about you, but I am concerned for our country. Many of us have been concerned about a “hollowing out” of the USA for several decades now. Violence, lack of respect for life, immorality, family breakdown, apathy, political divisiveness, spirit of entitlement, the “dumbing down” of culture, the national debt and who will pay for it…all these and more have been gradually unraveling the fabric that holds us together as a people, yet like the rottenness in the tree trunk, much of the damage has been quiet and out of view.
Yet, while things have remained relatively calm in recent years, we have remained standing.
However, 2020 unleashed one storm after another. After such a challenging 2020 it may seem almost like ancient history now, but do you know what the main US headlines were exactly one year ago? The impeachment. Then, like a cascade, came the virus, then “14 days to flatten the curve,” then lockdowns with children out of school, then unemployment and bankruptcies, then the mask requirements, then the urban riots with looting and arson, then #defundpolice, and all along, many of us have experienced heartbreaking hospitalizations and sometimes deaths among family and friends. For those who have been blessed to remain healthy, there has been the constant apprehension that one might get sick or else pass on the illness to a loved one.
On top of that, we had a federal election Nov. 3 that is still, two months later, disputed. After any normal elections, the side that lost is unhappy, but they accept the verdict and life goes on. However, this was no ordinary election. The allegations of widespread fraud, the courts refusing to hear cases, the media and big tech silencing questions and divergent viewpoints, frightening comparisons to coups in other countries–these are all unprecedented in the US in the lifetimes of anyone living. Plus, many are asking: “If we can’t be sure this was a free and transparent election, how can we ever hope to have free elections again?”
These are challenging times. On January 6, Congress is supposed to meet to debate and accept the Electoral College results. In normal years, this is a mere formality, but this is not a normal year. Some members of the House and Senate have pledged to contest the results and instead demand a ten-day audit to investigate allegations of voter fraud themselves. In the Christian calendar, January 6 is Epiphany. In English, an epiphany is an illuminating shock, insight, or discovery. We will see what we discover on January 6 and beyond.
A recent devotional I read in The Word for You Today challenged the reader, “don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.” In our culture and country, we face numerous challenges.
So, in the spirit of focusing on the solution, according to both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, what is the solution to insoluble problems?
“Prayer and fasting.”
Want to know more about fasting? Read Isaiah 58. (w/ this hyperlink: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%2058&version=NIV
– Scott Dreyer