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Things are going to get worse-no way around it

Conference Minister Mike Denton

Much of what I’ve written or preached has had a message something like this: “Things are going to get worse before they get better.” I’ve been thinking about this message a lot recently and I’m not sure I believe it any more. What I’m starting to believe is something that makes me considerably more uncomfortable to say out loud but here it is: “Things are going to get worse. No shinier, more optimistic other side. Things are going to get worse.”

I don’t see a way around it. The environmental changes we’re already experiencing are just beginning. What’s started was what predicted if we didn’t change the way we interacted with the Earth and we didn’t collectively make the changes that were needed. So, as predicted, we’re well into a human generated mass extinction event in which there is no certainty humanity—along with millions of other species—will survive.

Culturally, we’re in the middle of what many have described as a cold civil war in this country and it’s warming up. Many are treating their privileges as their right or inheritance. Many are waking up to their oppression, realizing it’s killing them and saying “No” with stronger statements and actions. We’re not being called to bridge the divide nearly as much as we’re being asked to take sides over and over again. We were warned by many and saw the signs but...

Most everything seems to be viewed through the lens of a toxic individualism that establishes the privileges particularly of straight, white, well off, christian men as the norm.  These privileges are presented as a reward for “good work” or services. We forget how many of these things count on the diminishment of someone else’s life. We act as though we can also purchase freedom from accountability.

We forget that we are participants in this world not consumers of it and that means that sometimes “good enough” for us can be mean good for most. We forget that receiving the rewards for enforcing these norms is our share of the loot that Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as “plunder.”

And our churches’ resources (people, finances, time, etc.) continue to be pittered away as, in the middle of existential threats, people’s expectations of us are increasing.

We confuse mission with maintenance in a time when we sometimes seem to have forgotten what we have to offer.  Our buildings, governance structures, our worship or our membership mean little if we aren’t thinking about how these things save lives and help make life worth living.

Please hear those words as what has become for me an exasperated, heart rending confession. I am part of a tradition that was called to be prophetic but, all too often, was called to be prophetic without sacrifice. I have sometimes defended privileges of clergy persons as rights or defended the poor behavior of a community as inevitable. I have treated commitment as a commodity instead of as a responsibility and means for accountability. I have placed the false idol of the institutional church in the place where Christ should reside while forgetting who serves whom.

Things are going to get worse.

As they do we must figure out ways to serve like never before. We must pray like never before. We must sacrifice like never before. We must speak up like never before.

We must let go like never before and hold on to each other like never before. We must love like never before. We must ask seek out more sustainable behavior than ever before. We must recycle like never before. We must conserve water like never before. We must celebrate children like never before.

We must have more potlucks than ever before and more rummage sales than ever before. We must attend more funerals than ever before and visit the sick more than ever before. We must feed the hungry like never before and be an open space for our community like never before.

The most exciting and frightening news you may hear today is that the church is needed, now, like never before because things are going to get worse.

Grace and peace dear Siblings in Christ. Grace and peace.


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2017


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