Message from the Pastor-Our Advent Series

Advent wreath

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac

Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball

Starkweather homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, space monkey, mafia

Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, Payola and Kennedy

Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire

It was always burning, since the world's been turning

We didn't start the fire

No, we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it

In 1989, Billy Joel - who was just in concert in Minneapolis the weekend before I write this, although I didn't attend the concert - released his song "We Didn't Start the Fire," which I have excerpted above. It is essentially a litany of news-y things, serious and unserious, but the chorus is the part most folks from that era know by heart: "We didn't start the fire; it was always burning since the world's been turning - we didn't start the fire; no, we didn't light it; we've been trying to fight it!".

The core idea here is pretty simple: the absolute tidal wave of bad news, celebrity gossip, political punditry, and stories of bizarre trends that make up our "newsfeed" are the latest logs thrown on a fire as old as human life itself. Each generation both feeds the fire - and fights the fire - as it is passed on like a relay baton.

This song has been given an update by the band Fall Out Boy just this year, 34 years after the original. Here's a sample of their lyrics:

Captain Planet, Arab Spring, L.A. riots, Rodney King

Deep fakes, earthquakes, Iceland volcano

Oklahoma City bomb, Kurt Cobain, Pokémon

Tiger Woods, MySpace, Monsanto, GMOs

Harry Potter, Twilight, Michael Jackson dies

Nuclear accident, Fukushima, Japan

Crimean Peninsula, Cambridge Analytica

Kim Jong Un, Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man

We didn't start the fire

It was always burning since the world's been turning

We didn't start the fire

No, we didn't light it, but we're trying to fight it

By updating the lyrics, Fall Out Boy adds a layer of meaning: not only do we both feed and fight the fire with each successive generation, but it implies that we need to see the events of our own time in a much broader context. We should not, dare not, get caught up in current events as though our time is uniquely hard, challenging, and scary: "it was always burning since the world's been turning." Biblically, they would find themselves in agreement with the writer of Ecclesiastes: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us." (1:9-10).

Our Advent series is an attempt to reframe and reset our picture of the world, God's work in it, and our place in it all. "Doomscrolling" is a word that was coined to describe going through the headlines on Google, cable news sites, or social media, dwelling on and in the worst, ugliest, most cynical things that come to us that way. Remember: algorithms pay attention to what spend our time looking at, so they feed us more of what we already pay attention to.

In Advent, we will be "Hopescrolling" - telling stories of where good has happened or is happening in the world, perhaps underreported and unseen, but happening all the same. The prophet Isaiah will be our companion for that series. As a prophet who saw apocalyptic doom fall on his people in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and forced exile to Babylon, he had every reason to spend his days looking for the worst. Instead, he looked for the coming of God. He believed in grace, redemption, forgiveness, and a God who plays the long game.

There are fires we start, fires we feed, and fires we fight - it is a worthy question when we find ourselves caught up in the fierce urgency of "now" to ask which we are doing . . .and which we are called to do.

Blessings, Rachel