Dear Siblings in Christ:
Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
One of the things I’ve been saying a lot the last couple of months is that possibilities are exciting and uncertainty is exhausting. Last week, it felt even deeper than that. I got to the point where I was too exhausted to have the capacity for excitement. Every day was like walking through water. Or molasses. Or wet cement. I know many of you can relate. It’s been day after day of waiting for the next shoe to fall for months.
I know I’m not the only one in this position or something like it. Everyone is tired. We’re not alright and, objectively, that’s entirely appropriate. If someone broke their arm, you wouldn’t expect them to have to say, “Doing great!” You’d expect them to say, “Ow, ow, ow. This really hurts.” In the middle of a pandemic, a brutal political season, the repudiation and defense of various forms of supremacy, climate collapse, and, and, and… No one should have to say they’re fine.
I’m going to write a bit about hope, anyway. Just to be clear, I’m not writing this because I completely feel this. I’m writing this because sometimes the sermon you need to hear is the sermon you need to give. I’m not even trying to suggest we need to feel hopeful as much as to name somethings that, objectively, are hopeful.
Regardless of how you might feel about the results of the election, more people voted than ever before. You helped that happen. Whether or not you voted for the first time or were part of the movement to encourage people to vote, you helped make that happen.
The number of women and people of color who ran for office says something powerful. The people of various gender variations, ages, religious variations, sexual orientations, and physical abilities who ran for office – and participated in the political process – is stunning. Again, regardless of the outcomes or whether or not you agree with one candidate or another, every time the variety of candidates becomes a greater reflection of the variety of people who are part of our country, the better off we are. We need a wide variety of people in elected office to benefit from the wide varieties of opinions and wisdom among us. In the short term, this can make our differences starker but, in the long run, it can result in wiser, better-informed decisions.
About those stark differences… Remember how many people were worried about spontaneous violence emerging once the results from the presidential election were announced? Sure, there are still risks but the fact that violence – even though it was threatened and predicted – did not happen on a wide scale speaks towards something hopeful. Our disagreements may be clearer and starker than ever but maybe we can still figure out a peaceful coexistence.
And the pandemic… Maybe we were too tired to dance in the streets yesterday or maybe we’ve run out of room for hope but WE MIGHT HAVE A VACCINE! At the very least, we’re closer than we might have hoped. If this thing pans out, we’re talking about a 90% effectiveness rate which is far higher than anything we were told might be possible for the first round. Yes, we have suffered a lot of loss – more than we needed to – and the potential for financial abuse in making and distributing the vaccine will require vigilance but the idea that there might just be “another side to this” is more than a baseless optimistic thought. It is built on solid, genuine, hopeful evidence.
One of the advantages of having a kid around the house is the opportunity to learn more about things you thought you already thought you knew. A couple of years ago, Leo was learning about what happens when a caterpillar goes through its cocooning stage. What I assumed was that it kind of evolved like a tadpole; that slowly the wings just started to pop out and the body got smaller and, when the wings were ready, it broke through the chrysalis and we got to see a butterfly.
Nope. After it cocoons, the caterpillar uses its own digestive juices to liquefy itself from the inside out. At some point along the way, the cocoon is a liquid-filled little packet. What is left, however, is something and amazing called imaginal cells. These imaginal cells knit themselves together and create something new.
So here we are in what is an isolating moment. There are days it does kinda feel as though I/we are being digested from the inside out. But, what if this is a sort of cocooning moment? What if, instead of imaginal cells, what we’re left with is our imagination, faith, love? What do we need to create in order to be different in the world?
What kind of country might we be able to become if we prepare ourselves to continue to have high numbers of participation? What would it take to build ourselves into people who create a world of equity, consent, and compassion? What would we need to become in order to heal the planet and act in harmony with it?
Maybe we’re so tired, not just because this moment is so full, but because we’re having to digest all that we have been and imagine what we might need to become all at the same time. We’re in a bit of a mixed up state.
The next several months are not going to be easy. They will be at least as hard as the last several months. Possibly harder. However, even from this tired place when I feel a little like I’m being digested from the inside out there are sparks of life and creation and hope coming together. I’m beginning to imagine the self I may need to be for the sake of the world and all God’s people. I’m beginning to catch glimpses of who we might be becoming.
I’d always assumed the cocoon was a quiet, gentle, sleeping place. Now that we’re in it, I’ve learned it’s not. It’s a storm of horror and beauty; destruction and creation.
I’m also beginning to imagine what it will feel like the day we all get to stretch out our wings.
Rev. Mike Denton
Conference Minister ofThe Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ
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