Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve seen leaders and writers discuss the expectation we have for normalcy. A return to business-as-usual, or a “new normal”, and sometimes enthusiasm about what positive change might be born from difficulty. These are, of course, perennial questions for any new year, but already 2021 has proven to be uniquely complex, with record-breaking numbers of deaths and widespread illness, economic uncertainty, and political instability fueled by white nationalism. It is understandable that we, as individuals, leaders, and religious organizations, might wish for some measure of normalcy.
This week the Christian calendar enters into something that is called “ordinary time”.
What does it mean to talk about ordinary time? In ordinary time, the church measures time by the ordinal number: the first week after Epiphany, the second, etc… When Christians are not in either of the great seasons of the church, Christmas or Easter, or in their respective seasons of preparation, Advent and Lent, time is counted by the distance from these seasons, and called “ordinary time”.
What could ordinary time mean for an organization? Can we be more fruitful, more just, more generous if we abandon our past expectations about the ordinary and instead embrace the possibility that we can order our time, our resources, and our organizational priorities by their proximity to the transformative and powerful promises of our faith? Lake Institute on Faith & Giving invites research, reflection, and experimentation as religious organizations address questions around faith, giving, economic practices and meaning-making. What is your organization’s sense of the ordinary, and can the disruption of that ordinary bear good fruit?
Anything But Ordinary
I have been challenged, across the last year, and directly in this last week, in my privileged expectation that “ordinary time” means well-ordered and predictable, with reliable opportunity, justice, and equity. I struggle with the desire for ordinary time, ordinary practices, ordinary problems, when we’ve become overwhelmed, weary, disheartened by the extraordinary. I miss being physically together with others – my colleagues, neighbors, friends, congregation, and my family – and I miss feeling confident that the ordinary measure of grit, worry, effort, accomplishment, and joy are sufficient to the challenges and opportunities I’ll face in a given day, week, or season.
While this might be the experience I’ve had in my own personal and organizational life, it is not the only “ordinary” that exists. For too many, “ordinary time” is rife with struggle, limited by lack of access to opportunity, distorted by social and economic injustice, and harmed through structural racism and discrimination. My longings for the ordinary betray my privilege – for far too many in this world and in our country, ordinary includes suffering, discrimination, injustice, and violence. The shocking incitement and violent insurrection that took place last week in Washington, DC, loaded with the weight of white supremacy and Christian nationalism, feel to me like an extraordinary circumstance that I’d wish to unwind. And yet I also know that this attack and its motivations are not at all surprising to Black Americans for whom the ordinary includes 400 years of violence, injustice and inequity.
Liberation of the Extraordinary
What can be done with the desire to find balance, return to normal, or just experience the comfortable ordinary that it seems we’ve been denied? For me it requires a perspective that is open to the experience and insight of others. I am grateful to the poets, writers, preachers, and prophets who help me to break out of my narrow experience of the ordinary, and experience the liberation of the extraordinary, even if it requires living through fear and discomfort and uncertainty. The reminder that my days and weeks are measured in proximity to the deepest claims of my own faith tradition also helps me to maintain a sense of possibility in the complexity of ordinary time, even ordinary times such as these.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
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