As I begin this Monday Briefing for the California-Pacific Conference on the worldwide pandemic, let me remind you of the “Stockdale Paradox” made popular by leadership guru, Jim Collins. This paradox is about Admiral James Stockdale who was shot down over Vietnam during the war and held for 8 years as prisoner of war by the enemy. He believes the prisoners of war (POW’s) who didn’t make it were too optimistic. In his own words:
“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Stockdale believed these optimists failed to confront the reality of their situation, something he accepted, and then proactively worked to do something, ever so small to change this reality. He did things like developed a communication system to his fellow POWs by tapping the walls and sending intelligence information through sharing seemingly innocent letters he wrote to his wife.
Ultimately, he retained the faith that someday he would be liberated, regardless of the torture and terrible conditions of the prison. It led Jim Collins to coin the phrase: “Confront the brutal facts, but never lose hope.” The Vietnam War eventually ended, and Stockdale was freed, returning home as a true hero.
“Confront the brutal facts, but never lose hope.” This is what we must do amid the COVID-19 crisis, especially as it relates to our churches. A group of us faith leaders recently met online with Governor Newsom and he was just as articulate and compassionate with us as he has been on his state briefings. He compassionately cares about us, the people, and prioritizes our safety and well-being over the economic downturn that has also devastated our society.
Because of this, I don’t think that we are going to be able to open our churches right away. We have an older demographic as members and each person is beloved by God. I will be pushing for our own list of protocols before we can safely return to public worship, but that is realistically at least another month away. I know that this is difficult to hear, and there could be some dramatic intervention. But, it is more likely that, for the safety of our members and friends, we will probably be using electronic means to worship and meet all of the month of May.
However, remember we are a people of faith who never lose hope. That hope is expressed in returning to live worship, Holy Communion, Bible study, visitations, weddings, funerals and Baptisms. We await in exile like our fore-bearers, but we wait in hope and anticipation that our day will dawn and we will return to that which has given us comfort and joy.
Will it be the same as before? I am doubtful. We will have to adapt to new circumstances, and continue to innovate even when we are allowed to meet in person. This pandemic has changed everything, and will continue to force us to change. I believe that is good news, as our complacency and hubris of the past has paralyzed us with a nostalgia that is life threatening. Dealing with the sheer mortality of COVID-19 has shocked us into “Confronting our brutal facts, but never losing hope.”
We will continue to monitor our situation daily and report to you when we think it is safe to return to public worship and gatherings, but never lose hope!
For our inspiration today, here is a longing hope for the future:
And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant,
dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways,
the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again,
they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images,
and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed.
By Kitty O’Meara
Be the Hope!
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop