Last summer, I was driving down a dual carriageway when my iPhone shuffled to the song “Once” by Liam Gallagher. “But oh, I remember how you used to shine back then,” Liam snarled over an over-dramatic string arrangement, “When the dawn came up you felt so inspired to do it again, but it turns out you only get to do it once.” By the time Liam had exhausted his efforts, we had pulled in at Morrisons to pick up some essentials for our holiday. Suddenly, while bossing a reverse parking manoeuvre, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.

I was nearly three months into a burnout-induced leave of absence from work. It all came to a head after years of burning the candle at both ends, trying to lead a church in a way that would defy the statisticians—believing that Jesus was serious when he said he would build his church. A heavy year filled with pastoral challenges, a house move, ill health, and the unexpected death of a close friend and colleague finally brought me to a standstill. A friend, upon hearing the news, sent me a message: “The signs were there for a while.” Yes, I was exhausted, but I hadn’t realised just how much.

Sobbing in that Morrisons car park, one of my sons screamed in utter panic: “What is wrong with Dad?” I felt embarrassed—not only for sobbing in front of my children but also that it took a Liam Gallagher song to finally break me. All summer, I had been stoic, answering questions about my health with well-rehearsed platitudes about needing a new rhythm in life, faith, and health. But I hadn’t reckoned with the big picture—the sense, the dread, that one’s best years were behind them.

Recently, I heard Elizabeth Oldfield explain on a podcast that our generation, the older millennials, are experiencing a particular kind of social grief. We got to experience a period of political and cultural hope in the 1990s, but it was dramatically snatched away from us. We haven’t come to terms with it, and we’re filled with a dread thinking that the best has been, as we log on to our smartphones to be reminded that we’ll still be paying our mortgages into our late 60s—if we were fortunate enough to get a mortgage in the first place.

Since my burnout, I’ve found many things helpful—from reading good books to avoiding Christians with theology that irritates me. But if I’m honest, one of the best things I can do to filter out my anxieties is to escape back to the 1990s with a pair of good headphones. This, of course, is nostalgia, a term originally coined by a seventeenth-century doctor, Johannes Hofer, to describe a particular kind of homesickness exhibited in soldiers far from home. Nostalgia is a compound of the ancient Greek words ‘nostos’ (return home) and ‘algia’ (longing). In Welsh, we might use the word ‘hiraeth’. Nostalgia sells; it has significant political and cultural capital. But it’s a hard drug, a sedative—it helps you deal with your pain but offers no cure. I will never be 17 again, and Oasis are not getting back together.

So here we are in 2024, on the verge of a so-called ‘decade of renewal’ led by Keir Starmer. If Blair had his Cool Britannia, Starmer’s been sentenced to Angry Britannia. But what can give us hope? How can I escape the nostalgic grip two brothers from Manchester have on me? I could bore you with details of my latest fad diet, talk about medications I’ve tried, and encourage you to observe a sabbath regularly. But hope and renewal mean nothing if we haven’t got a narrative and a story we can believe in.

Deep in the Old Testament, in the Second Book of Kings, we find an almost comical story about how a generation had lost the book of the law. They were busy trying to build Jerusalem (literally) but had lost what was essentially the cornerstone of their whole society and culture. Their efforts were not lacking, nor was their sincerity, but they didn’t have a coherent narrative to tie it all together. Does this sound familiar? Upon finding the lost book of the law, King Josiah led his own decade of renewal because he had found and could communicate a narrative that made sense of both the past and the future.

This is why my sobbing in the Morrisons car park listening to Liam Gallagher was not only a nostalgic cry for a yesterday that’s never coming back but also a cry of longing—even hope—to better focus on a narrative that makes sense of life. And if you’ll forgive me for getting a little preachy, I recall something Tom Wright once wrote:

“All language about the future is simply a set of signposts pointing into a fog. We see through a glass darkly, says St Paul as he peers towards what lies ahead. All our language about future states of the world, and of ourselves, consists of complex pictures which may or may not correspond very well to the ultimate reality. But, that doesn’t mean it’s anybody’s guess, or that every opinion is as good as every other one. And – supposing someone came forwards out of the fog to meet us?”

The Christian hope is anchored in the past but has this odd feature of being also about a future yet to be fully realised. This is one of the main reasons, even after everything I’ve been through during my burnout, I still feel called to be a Christian pastor in this secular age. Even in this slightly depressing cultural moment, I still have hope that things can only get better.

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