Twice a month I have breakfast with some other retired United Methodist pastors. The other day we found ourselves discussing the “stuckness” in much of contemporary life. Every attempt at dialog and civil discussion of “hot-button” issues quickly degenerates into a shouting match. In Arizona, where my colleagues and I live, it often happens around immigration issues. Bring together folks with strongly opposed ideas and expect the encounter to go nuclear! We disagree intensely with our neighbors about this and many other issues. But we’re so sure of our position that we refuse to seek common ground with those who differ. We’d rather be “right” than together. We’re stuck in our (self)-rightness.
Naturally we professional church folk talked about the “stuckness” in our United Methodist system–the exhaustive, expensive General Conference whose hours of debate and mountains of paper changed precious little; the focus at the top on “metrics”—evaluating pastors and ministry primarily by counting dollars and people. (Many worry that this approach will squeeze the life out of pastors and their ministries by not taking into account vital but harder-to-measure “qualitative” factors.) We talked about the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” resolution by the Western Jurisdictional Conference (a regional unit of the church). This resolution proposes what amounts to ecclesiastical civil disobedience to the church’s conservative stance on homosexuality. Homosexuality, you may know, is the subject most likely to trigger a yelling fit among United Methodists these days.
Then we sought to widen our horizons. If our national political process doesn’t get unstuck, our whole country—and beyond—will suffer. Right now Congress is stuck with regard to passing a meaningful national budget; with regard to increasingly critical immigration issues; with regard to doing much of anything that requires cooperation or compromise. Most legislators are dug in on their own side of the aisle. They’re unwilling or afraid to make any move toward the other side, let alone actually cross party lines to take meaningful action for the common good. 2012 has brought a dismal display of bipartisan dereliction of duty and legislative malpractice with respect to the national debt. Remember that ridiculous drama in the first part of the year, the on-again/off-again deal between the President and the Speaker, the Select Committee’s utter failure to agree on budget cuts sufficient to stave off “sequestration” (automatic budget cuts) in 2013. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently predicted that this dismal display of inaction could well send the whole nation careening over that fiscal cliff into renewed recession.
The mood in the room had grown serious. Were we seeing an ending, a decline, a historic transition? What if we fail to overcome the stuckness paralyzing our church, our nation, our families, nearly all our institutions? We must address our challenges creatively and responsibly with the best available wisdom from all perspectives—or else. None of us was eager to detail “or else”. But all of us envisioned disturbing scenarios if our leaders fail to exercise the courage and political will to “unstick” our public dialog, our political process—and themselves!
Then someone (not me) asked, “Are we coming to the end? Or are we at the beginning of something new?” Key question for people of faith to ask. Huge question for Christ-followers who believe the last word in life is not death but Resurrection. Hard question to answer while we’re making our way through history one messy day at a time. All of us around that table hoped and prayed for our nation and our church to find their way through the “stuckness”. We also reaffirmed that we have the power, individually and together, to act to “unstick” ideas and attitudes in the local congregations of which we’re a part; in the neighborhoods, community organizations, and political groups in which we’re involved; in our persistent, respectful communication with our legislators. We can choose to model civil, respectful dialog instead of perpetuating polarization, stereotypes, name-calling, and negativity. We can be respectful and assertive equal-opportunity truth-tellers, especially where truth seems in short supply.
Are we at an ending—or a re-beginning? People of faith will answer “Yes”. Every ending contains the seeds of new beginning. Those seeds are planted by our God who says, “Look, I’m doing a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19 CEB)The shape of the new beginning is often unclear clear while we’re in transition. But never doubt that our creative God is at work whether or not we can see it clearly at any given moment. Look at the Exodus journey. Look at the Babylonian Exile. Look at the post-Easter church. Look at those times in your life when all the pieces came together in a way you never could have planned or imagined. The end may not be what we want. But every ending bears the seeds of re-beginning. What else should we expect from the God who promises, ”I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5 CEV)