From the publisher | January 5, 2024

Pollyanna and polycrisis

Rustic ceramic lantern shining against a dark background
Photo by Wendy McFadden

Four years ago I wrote a chipper column that celebrated January. January’s a little tough in northern Illinois, but I managed to come up with 17 good things about the coldest month of the year, including one about that particular January in 2020. The most Pollyannaish item on the list was “the intrigue of a year named for perfect vision.”

Well, we all know what happened just two months later. “Perfect” is not the word that comes to mind.

In fact, the crisis of the pandemic has been accompanied by so many additional crises that there’s a word for it: polycrisis. That’s when the world experiences a pandemic, economic crisis, geopolitical crisis, and environmental crisis all at once. The crises are simultaneous, systemic, and knotted together in ways that make them worse than if they happened individually, say those who have written about the phenomenon.

The headlines tell us destabilizing news every day: war, authoritarianism, artificial intelligence, dysfunctional governments, floods and fires, shootings. There are crises in mental health, education, immigration, policing, drugs, housing… .

When we’re buffeted by the latest overwhelming news, I often think of the movie title “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

In the midst of a polycrisis, what is the role of the church? Maybe we also can be everywhere all at once. Not of our own accord, of course, but as agents of the One who truly is everywhere all at once. Perhaps our job is to think both small and big. Small, in that we pay attention to the individuals and situations that are near at hand. And big, in that we look far beyond our congregations, our denomination, our country, and do what we can to bring light and life into the world.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus told the crowd. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and executive director of communications for the Church of the Brethren.