Public Domain Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A reborn Phoenix, rising from its ashes, depicted in the Aberdeen Bestiary with wings out stretched and head to one side like Christ on the cross.
A phoenix is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet. It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. - From Wikipedia
Like the phoenix, our society as a whole is on the precipice of a great transition - as is the church, and particularly The United Methodist Church. There is and will be some anticipation, anxiety, sadness, and pain, but ultimately there will also be hopefulness, joy, and gratitude as a part of this great transformation that is already in progress. To most, it will feel like a fierce fire. I have seen (or smelled the smoke) of the seeds germinating in mySan Francisco State University students and local churches. I also noticed clear evidence of it on my recent trip to the Pre-General Conference briefing in Harare, Zimbabwe, among many of the upcoming General Conference's African Central Conference delegates.
I look forward to my presentation at the BMCR (Black Methodists for Church Renewal) in Las Vegas later this month. We will discuss and contemplate our role as African Americans within a church who is on its way to living out its "welcoming" and "open doors" creed by becoming fully inclusive of GLBTQ people and clergy of faith. UMC progressives will also need to re-evaluate our responsibility to support our Central Conference African brothers and sisters as they pursue full equality and fair representation within our great global church. We will need to meet the challenge of reconciling our moral and scriptural disagreements. Sure, it would be easier to "kick the can down the road" and write this off as a challenge for the younger generation after we are all old and gray. However, change is in the air. Many of us can already smell the smoke as the fire begins. To bury our heads in the sand is no longer an option. I am reminded of a quote by Martin Niemöller , a German Protestant Clergyman, who wrote:
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Prepare yourself for some surprises. We must speak up!!
One of the first of many kind people with whom I connected during my visit to Africa was Betty, our host. She is from Zimbabwe and one of the most outspoken African Central Conference GC delegate leaders of the past three GCs. During our drive from the airport, she described the tragic reality of waking up one day and finding out the national Zimbabwe currency value had dropped in value to zero. Suddenly, citizens had lost everything. This included everyday people's retirement funds, investments, and savings - gone in the blink of an eye. A successful business owner herself, Betty could not even pay her employees. Department, grocery, and other retail stores were empty within days of the initial collapse. It became a full-time job just to find gas, groceries, and live from day to day. She and her family had to drive six hours to South Africa just to buy gas and get groceries. She emphatically testified that it was only the grace of God that brought them through the fire. According to Betty, this had taken place over three years ago, and although the smoke had not yet lifted there was a newness of recovery happening across the country. Certainly, this is an example of the move of the Holy Spirit following a time of great challenge.
Both faculty and students of Africa University and The United Theological College testified to this story with their own testimonies of courage and perseverance in the face of such great hardship. Like the phoenix, coming out of the ashes, we will rise. A new "hope is alive," and "love will find a way." I love to sing the Chinese proverb that says:
Where there is light in the soul
There is beauty in the person
Where there is beauty in the person
There is harmony in the home
Where there is harmony in the home
There is honor in the nation
Where there is honor in the nation
There is peace in the world
May God bless The United Methodist Church as we pray for a fully involved and inclusive church, and may we work together to promote peace around the world!!
The Rev Dr. Derrick Spiva is Chair of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC)