What have been some of the things in the back or front of your mind about life, society, spirituality, culture, or anything else?

BT (USA, Massachusetts): I have been incredibly frustrated that everyone is praising healthcare workers as heroes and yet some of those SAME PEOPLE rant about individual freedoms and COVID being overblown by the same people they were just praising! It hurts a lot to be discounted and ignored.

I would also say that no one in healthcare wants to be a hero. We just want proper PPE so we can care for our patients and go home to our families at the end of the day.

Anyone who says Trump has handled this pandemic well is DELUSIONAL.

I'm tired. And I'm incredibly grateful for my family and my friends who have absolutely kept me sane. I'm also grateful for a core group of people who have become my work family over the past few months. We have been through something that will bond us together for a long time.

DK (USA, Florida):

  • Conservative Christians who voted for Trump are as dangerous or more than bad cops. Those cops can only intimidate and kill so many people, while the other turns a blind eye to racism, deceitfulness, inequality, poverty, and much more in America.
  • As I’ve said previously, in much harsher terms, there needs to be consequences for people who enabled Trump, who perpetuate the lie that the 2020 election was rigged, who said COVID-19 was fake, who did and said nothing when the norms that held our government together were obliterated.
  • Prison reform. America locks up more people per capita than any other nation, at the staggering rate of 698 per 100,000 residents (prisonpolicy.org). This needs to change; a not insignificant amount of people in jail are for drug offenses. To reduce the amount of people in jail, we could have a department/computer program that compares convictions with what is legal now and vacates them. We also need to look at how much power the state attorney has with offering plea deals vs. how many charges are filed. For example, if someone doesn’t take a plea deal, the state attorney could add additional charges to put pressure on defendants to take a deal. Solitary confinement should be abolished or at least the amount of time a person can stay in solitary confinement. A prisoner is not a slave and should not be treated like one. When they do work, they should get paid; they should have proper food; they should have heat and A/C; they should have safety while in prison. To treat them less than human does nothing to help them when they get released from prison.

JA (USA, California): One thing I keep thinking of is the comparison between 9/11 and COVID-19 on our society. Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, and it led to a massive upheaval in societal norms and our civic institutions, but 2,000 people are dying each day due to COVID-19 and there doesn't seem to be anywhere near the same level of response, urgency, or unity to improve our outcome. The fact that so many people would ignore or politicize a public health crisis is very disappointing to me.

JE (UK): For the past two years I've been working with the UK government response team on Ebola outbreaks in the DRC. So from a professional point of view, it's been quite fascinating to see the UK government response to a disease outbreak in our own country. All the bungling, the hesitation to make the hard choices, the fear and the failures. All things the UK (and US) governments have criticized the DRC government for in handling Ebola. It's funny that the high standards we hold others to are impossible for us to meet ourselves, with all the additional resources we have at our disposal. The hypocrisy of the developed world.

One of the things that happened this year that I think has been really positive is how the BLM movement has started to shift and shape mainstream narrative about race and privilege. I don't know what it's like in the US but here there is much more openness to have conversations and to challenge damaging norms. Even at work. That encourages me. I hope real change comes from it all.

My big concern for this year is how this pandemic and the response to it may further divide our world—particularly between the vaccine haves and have nots. These vaccines are a wonder of science but if those governments who signed up to the Covax agreement don't stand by their commitment we could quite easily see a global conflict develop.

As the hope for it all... Well, Jesus coming back I guess 🤣. But failing that I have no answers, just big questions:

  • Can Biden's administration win the hearts and minds of the other half of the US? I hope so, but it seems like such a huge ask, especially as they're going to inherit such a mess and have to focus heavily on getting the pandemic under control which will undoubtedly hurt the US economy deeply.
  • Can the UK survive Brexit with any political capital left intact and what real global influence will be left to us in the aftermath of a humiliating departure from the EU and a bungled response to this pandemic?
  • How will the global church respond to increasing need around the world (we will most likely see large scale famine this year unlike anything we've seen since the 80s)? My deepest shock and disappointment has been how much of the global Pentecostal church has supported Trump. I have a deep skepticism for the church right now. I've never been the biggest fan of the church as an organization (small c). But now more than ever I just can't see how it's a force for good in the world. Other than perhaps good old Popie boy (who my father calls the antichrist—yeah, the first pope in living memory to take a real stand for justice and the poor, and MY father, gotta love him, believes he is the promised antichrist—sigh) and our own archbishop here in the UK. More than ever I so firmly believe we as Jesus followers need to be the salt and light, the little mustard seeds of faith in our families and communities. Being and doing more than saying. Living it in small everyday mundane ways. Not buying into the social media garbage nonsense we get bombarded with. Choosing individually if not collectively to opt out of our fast fashion, fast food, greedy selfish capitalist ways. Can we do it? Big question.
  • Will social media morph sufficiently to become something less damaging in the world? Will the global media powerfuls finally take responsibility for the awesome power they wield and start to regulate more of their content? (I think the current 20 something generation will continue to erode the influence of social media as we've known it so it will potentially be forced to change.)
  • And on that note, how will youth influence new global movements for justice and human rights this year? The impact of this pandemic on their education and opportunities is unprecedented. Will they use their frustration and anger for positive change, to hold the powerful to account?
  • Will the global polluters and powers (particularly the US and China) make any real progress towards fixing the drivers of climate change? And will science make any really progress in finding the creative and needed solutions to the climate challenges that we can't reverse or fix?
  • What the heck is going on in/with China and Russia anyway and when will the US/UK grow the balls to actually stand up to them? And what will THAT look like?

So many questions, I could go on. I have no answers or solutions.

Mostly though, for my husband and I for right now, it's okay to live with the uncertainty of these things. We do what we can to bring light and be burden lifters in our world and maybe a bit beyond if I get to work some more as a humanitarian. For the rest, I'm grateful we live in a rural village and have relatively simple lives full of centuries old rhythms and joys. Come what may.

MH (Japan): I think there is definitely a problem with how ideas and personal opinions are expressed through social media but that bleeds into real life as well. I see patterns of dichotomous thinking, simplified thinking, and robotic thinking and expression. It's almost as if people's opinions are not their own but a part of some collective brain. The spectrum of thoughts on any one idea has been eliminated in favor of left and right, black and white. I would say my position on any subject had not changed this year. And here it is… it's not that simple.

Most things are complex and involve many complex variables. I think we feel more comfortable with simple answers to our questions and problems. We want one line mantras, miracle foods, and quick vaccines.

We long for a clean narrative with talking points that fit into 140 characters. I believe SMS has literally altered our thought patterns. I'll be clear. We are becoming a dumbed down version of ourselves. Of course this is a well thought out strategy by some to keep us engaged for financial gain. They want to keep us emotionally charged and reactionary.

I am tired of engaging, mostly because if you don't agree with the common mantras concerning any topic including race, food, the environment, religion, politics ad nauseum, you are stupid, a hick, white, an inlander, believe the world is flat, a Trump supporter... add insults as you wish.

We've all become extremists. We hear a narrative and we don't even investigate the varacity of its presuppositions and claims because all together it sounds good.
Plausible has replaced truth. "Of course it's true" is the new mantra.

I'll stick with "it's not that simple."

DC (USA, Massachusetts): I've watched my kids become more resilient. That has been a beautiful thing to see. It was scary at first to see all the pain and fear they were dealing with. Schools closed, they weren't allowed to hug their grandparents, neighborhood friends became off limits. It was hard times, but I now know they will be stronger because of these experiences. Suffering does bring about perseverance, character, and hope.

JO (USA, Massachusetts): Big thought for me is: I am so lucky to cut hair for a living. I have a large network of guys that I talk to every week. I gain insight and knowledge every day. Some people’s whole network is Facebook and they have to be connected to the negativity and echo chambers. There’s a style of speech that happens on social media and when someone is really in deep, they speak with that style. They fit in for likes. It’s sad. It’s like the only place they have human interaction and it's not human at all. It’s algorithms.

PD (New Zealand): In sickness and health, being well is largely up to me. I can care for myself and others in meaningful ways even if the odds seemed stacked against me.

JB (USA, Florida): I’ve heard of a lot of personal negative consequences of all the shut downs, people isolating, sitting inside eating junk and binging tv, leading to higher depression rates, higher suicide rates, etc. And I don’t doubt there’s truth there. But in our circles we’ve seen the opposite. People are outside more, cooking more at home and healthier meals, taking more time to call and connect with friends and reaching out. Now it might just be the Its a Wonderful Life effect, but I feel like the difference really is in relationships. Those that had strong relationships they’d invested in before this whole thing are faring ok. Those that didn’t are not ok. Those with friends are really rich indeed.

NG (USA, Florida): Other than the things I’ve talked about already, I have a theory that people have reacted in three ways to the craziness of 2020—and that all of us have reacted in all three ways at various times:

  1. We have reluctantly or enthusiastically embraced this time to be with our families, to learn new things, to try and understand other points of view and sympathize, at the very least, with oppressed and less fortunate people in our society, and to try and keep a positive attitude and a grateful heart for all the good in our lives. We have tried to resist our more negative impulses and have pushed ourselves toward the things that made life more enjoyable this year—calls and texts with friends and family, exercise, time outside, books, music, cooking, art, DIY projects, etc.
  2. Or, we have been pushed up against a wall, had to work under severe stress or lost jobs entirely, lost housing, lost family members, or been so stressed out about those possibilities that nothing else really mattered. We have all had to deal with a lot, but certainly some more than others, and I know there are many who felt the pain of this year more deeply.
  3. Or, we have given in to boredom and loneliness and dived in corkscrew fashion down a long dark hole of anger, self-destruction, hopelessness, powerlessness, cynicism—feeling self-righteous AND completely miserable at the same time.

What do you think of this theory: people who are able to regulate their activities when they feel themselves becoming less happy and less healthy are withdrawing from social media (unless their work or lifestyle depends on their engagement), and people who are not so good at regulating are falling further and deeper in, becoming more miserable and making the internet a more miserable place by extension?

As we closed in on the end of 2020, I wanted to find out from some of the people whose thoughts and perspectives I respect and admire what they had to say about this crazy year and how it affected their lives and their views on the world.

I asked four questions:

  • How much has Covid-19 changed your life?
  • Have your views changed in any significant ways?
  • What have been some of the things in the back or front of your mind about life, society, spirituality, culture, or anything else you have not addressed above?
  • Do you have any thoughts about how we solve our collective predicaments with the current divisiveness in national and global politics, endless social media warfare, cancel culture, rampant conspiracy theory popularity, lack of trust in government-journalism-basic social institutions, etc.?

I thought there might be enough good stuff in the answers to pull out some highlights and turn them into a post. I was wrong. It was pure highlights from start to finish!

So I decided to present the answers in full, including my own, lightly edited for readability, in four separate posts—one for each question.

Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash. Thanks Nicolas!