Tag Archives: exile

Light at the end of the tunnel

Coming Out of Exile

This is developed from material written for my memoir, The Lie Called Cancer, but not included in the book. (A four-minute read)

I’m a big believer in the power of language. This would seem obvious because I’m a writer and a speaker, but I mean more than simply using language for description. I want to go beyond making sense, into cultivating sensitivity. Spoken and written words do more than motivate; they carry great power to create: a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere, an attitude.

In truth, the words I speak over myself affect how I feel and what I think about.

A simple example

I’ll be 65 in a few weeks. This isn’t necessarily a remarkable thing, but it is an age where many people (far too many), speak of themselves as old or infirm. I read a Tom Clancy novel recently in which the author referred to someone 60 years old as ‘elderly’. SMH. Or as the elderly might say, ‘Tsk tsk’.

I don’t do ‘old’, I only do ‘bold’. I’m never ‘infirm’ or ‘unwell’, instead I just say that I don’t feel like I want to feel. Only people who don’t know me well would dare buy one of those birthday cards, or bring a handful of black balloons, or joke that I’m 455 in dog years.

Speaking About the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us speak, and the way some of us think. Certainly the way some of us live. New terms have entered the language, a few of which make no sense. So I don’t use them. My least favorite is the ubiquitous and useless term, ‘social distancing.’

Maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or avoiding direct contact, even to prevent potential infection is not a ‘social’ activity. It’s actually ‘anti-social distancing’. Or perhaps more accurately, ‘social equi-distancing’. It smacks of the Newspeak out of George Orwell’s 1984.

Here’s another one: Lockdown. Used to be that a ‘lockdown’ was limited and temporary. An area might be ‘locked down’ for a short time while police search for a suspect. Or a school would be ‘locked down’ because someone was seen nearby with a gun. Lockdown shouldn’t mean months-long involuntary quarantine of an entire population, 96% of whom have absolutely nothing to fear.

Forget ‘lockdown’ then. Instead let’s call it ‘exile.’ Like Israel’s exile in Babylon, we were all taken away from the lives we were used to. Only in our case it wasn’t because we messed up and received promised punishment (see Deuteronomy 28). I’ll refrain from offering further criticism of government policy decisions. It’s always easy to cast blame in hindsight. None of our opinions about it matter anyway after the fact. The deal is done. It’s all over but the whining.

What’s important now is how we come out of exile. How do we re-engage with one another? This is especially important for the church to consider, not only within itself, but with its relationship to the world. Read the post-exilic books for some clues (Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Do we ‘build back better’ to borrow a phrase, or do we go back to the same old sins?

The leaders and prophets in these five books continued to tell the people where they were corrupt or astray, and called the few believers among them to a life of holiness. That’s the key for believers today: that we set ourselves apart and not sink into the secular post-pandemic muck that’s sure to come.

I’m particularly struck by the book of Haggai. Twice in the opening prophecy, Haggai warns us to ‘consider our ways.’ 1 The word translated ‘ways’ is the word derek, which could easily be rendered in modern idiom as ‘lifestyle.’ As the world comes out of exile, I should be careful to consider my lifestyle.

Exile is a hard, lonely and uncertain place. It’s length is unforseen. Exile can create fear and anxiety, and these can be tough to shake off. But there’s an upside to exile. Good things can come out of exile, after we re-emerge. Take heart from Jeremiah’s ‘Prayer of Confidence’.

‘The Lord says, “Now I will show them my power; now I will show them my might. At last they will know and understand that I am the Lord.” 2

If I carefully consider my ways, I’m confident this will be true. If not, it will still be true. But I won’t like it.

  1. Haggai 1:5-7
  2. Jeremiah 16:21 (NLT)

Alan from behind looking into the distance

Absence Makes the Heart Grow

This is based on material written for my recent memoir, The Lie Called Cancer but left out of the book.

(A three-minute read)

When the UK restricted everyone in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was considered a vulnerable person because of receiving cancer treatment in 2019. I was told to stay a home for twelve weeks and not go out, under any circumstances.

After a week of it, I was still saying Humph! Humph! about the idea of being medically vulnerable, but I’d get over it. It turned out it wasn’t a problem, it was an opportunity to build my faith. It was not only an opportunity for me, but also for the church.

Now, in October, 2020, we are back into another round of restrictions. For many of us it continues to be hard, especially for those who have lost loved ones, are separated from family and friends, feel financial stress, or in a myriad of other ways have had their lives disrupted. At the very least, it’s continually annoying.

When everything in life is going bonkers, when what we count on crumbles, when it’s unclear what the next steps are, we can always count on the one unmoveable: Jesus Christ. I have faith that the long-term effects of these lock-downs will be good.

Lukewarm Christians, in it for religion not relationship, will either be winnowed out or lit on fire. Those of us already on fire will see our flames rise higher. The gospel will be preached. Christ’s kingdom will advance.

By being physically apart from one another, we’ll come to know deeply how much we need one another. Ironically, through separation, we’ll grow in intimacy. The church that emerges from this will be on fire for evangelism; we’ll have a fresh desire for prayer and intercession.

We’ll be eager to share the message of Jesus.

People will ask us, ‘What happened?’ and we will simply answer, ‘God was faithful.’

I’m in the book of Jeremiah in my annual cycle of reading. It’s such an excellent pairing – better than the right wine with a gourmet meal. It’s made for this lock-down season.

‘The Lord says, “Now I will show them my power; now I will show them my might. At last they will know and understand that I am the Lord.’ *

Let me be quick to say that I’m not suggesting that God is responsible for the outbreak of a new virus against which people apparently have no natural immunity. All such things are the work of the devil.

However, I believe God may permit these things to provide an opportunity for growth. He certainly steps into the middle of all such situations to continue His work.

As the aftermath of this crisis falls out, if we look at it through the lens of opportunity, instead of relegating it to problem status, His glory will be revealed. There will be events through this season that will demonstrate His power. At least for those who have eyes to see it.

Finally, let’s not think of it as ‘lock-down.’ Think of it as exile, like Israel’s exile in Babylon. Because good things always come out of exile.

* Jeremiah 16:21 (NLT)

Photo: Rachel Richards