As I was thinking about my Easter sermon, I began noticing stories of good news; they were popping up everywhere like those green shoots that make their way through the frozen soil. These illustrations weren’t quite right for Easter Sunday, but I find hope in them…each of them defies former predictions of doom and gloom.
- We’ve heard it said the death knell has tolled for brick and mortar bookstores, primarily because of Amazon. When even a large chain like Borders shuttered, many people predicted that every bookstore would follow suit. But the week before Easter, I heard this piece of good news for readers everywhere, in a story on NPR: “Between 2009 and 2015, the number of independent bookstores grew by 35 percent.” They still face tough challenges, to be sure, including razor-thin profit margins, but some small, independent bookstores have found creative ways to not only survive, but thrive. They are becoming vital community spaces where people gather for food, drink, conversation and book discussions. They are hosting author’s events. Five bookstores opened in Washington, DC in the course of two years. One shop owner there attributes his success to this secret ingredient – real people!: “For all the convenience of online shopping, Amazon can’t compete with the fact that bookstores usually contain live humans.” And remember the other dire prediction of 2011? That e-books were going to eliminate real books? As it has turned out, most digital readers are also the largest consumers of print books.
- Those of us in the mainline Protestant church world are keenly aware of the decline in numbers across the board…every mainline denomination is losing numbers of congregants, and churches are closing at a rapid clip. Yet on Palm Sunday weekend, I heard from two of my colleagues, both of whom serve large-membership UCC congregations, that they had experienced their highest worship attendance ever. Numbers aren’t everything, and church growth is easier in some settings than others; the point is that decline is neither universal nor inevitable. It’s good news worth celebrating that some mainline congregations are flourishing, that new people are still attracted to the message of progressive inclusive Christianity.
- “Young people don’t care about mealtimes; family dinner is a relic of the past; no one even sits down to eat anymore.” There may be a kernel of truth in those complaints, but they are not the whole story. At Vanderbilt University (where I went to Divinity School), the administration noticed that undergraduates were busy: busy hustling to class, studying for tests, catching up on social media. The administrators observed this lifestyle and so proposed a “grab and go” counter at one of the residential colleges – a place where students could have quick access to a meal they could take with them. The students, however, balked. They said they cherished the community and connectivity of dining together. Who knew? During Holy Week, our church hosted a panel of high school students who answered questions from parents of younger children about what high school is like. Each student, unprompted, talked about how much they value time with their family and conversation with their parents. They may not always say it directly, but they did that Wednesday night, with candor and vulnerability.
I think of other examples, too. I remember hearing, not long ago, that there would be no more family farms; that all farmers would be forced to sell their land to a giant operation. Yet small, organic farms are on the rise, community gardens are burgeoning, the farm-to-table movement is popular, and farmer’s markets are booming. Why? Because people have decided these things matter. They add to our quality of life.
So do we just ignore all dire predictions? Of course not. Problems like climate change and racism are not going to solve themselves. Each of my examples proves, though, that people can and do change, habits follow, and trends can turn. People, real live human beings, are more powerful than statistics and trends and data. We have the ability, when we choose, to make a difference. It begins when a few people speak up about what has value for them, and others join the chorus.