After Sunday: Melting Traditions; Emerging Worlds

A paraphrase of a comment made in our membership class after the Church Service at First UMC Burlington yesterday: “You don’t join a church for what it was. You join it for what it is becoming.”

Daily Kos posted a discussion between Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R. TN) on the issue of Climate Change. One of the points Rep. Blackburn made was that carbon emissions have only increased their presence in the atmosphere from 320 ppm to 400 ppm. The operative word is “only”. Nye called out the congresswoman by saying that was a change of 30% – nothing “only” about it. The arctic ice is melting. England is under water. California is more thirsty than ever it has been. Hurricanes hit with increased intensity. What is this weather costing us? What is our responsibility for bringing it to pass? Even if you don’t think what is happening is the fault of human activity, who do you think is going to pay for the devastation? Arctic ice is not the only thing that is melting. Funds in local communities and entire nations intended to deal with weather emergencies are also disappearing faster than they can be replenished.

Some communities are preparing to borrow from funds set aside for spring maintenance in order to deal with the cost overrun of winter snow removal. That makes for either a messy spring, or an impoverished summer, depending on how things go. As Greenland melts what will emerge?

It seems as if we don’t want to expend the effort to keep what we have until it is actually slipping through our hands. Once we find ourselves in that precarious position, we either deny anything bad is really happening, or we begin to lend our head, heart and hand to the work of creating what is to come.

It might be melodramatic to compare the changing climate of religion and spirituality to that of our planet. In truth, however, Christians don’t see these as being entirely different categories. On so many levels we are faced with retreat into denial or facing the hard truth of the as yet uncreated future.

I’ve preached it before. My heart breaks that my grandchildren cannot go out and play with the same abandon I enjoyed as a child. Sunshine wasn’t an enemy for me. Mosquitoes were a nuisance, not a deadly threat. Bats and bees were plentiful. The lifestyle of my childhood abandon, however, was paving the way for the kind of world we now live in. I don’t deny it. I cannot claim absolute innocence. Even if I denied or somehow morally exonerated myself from contributing in any way to the cause of what is, I now have to live with it. I have to live in it. And that brings me back to the mystery of “Incarnation”.

God with us – Jesus – Emmanuel. Not because we got it right, but because we continually are bent on getting so much wrong – God comes to earth. God visits creation with an eye toward salvation. Healing, wholeness, peace, forgiveness.

So much of what we have held dear for generations is melting around us. If only, as in one well known story, evil would melt more quickly and easily than good, things might be different. The question before us has to do with what we will now become. What kind of world is emerging around us? And what is the relationship between that world and the one that is emerging within us?

It is amazing – wonderful really – to think that someone is contemplating becoming a member of First UMC – not for what we have been in the past, as good and noble as that might have been. They are aware that we are being called to give ourselves to something new. It will take humility, energy, faith and commitment to be the kind of community envisioned by Jesus – redeemed, forgiven, empowered to love and serve as never before. That is the kind of community that must emerge.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.