The Edge of Great Change: Why All the Ugliness is Still Good News

I take it for granted sometimes that I can stand up and preach on a Sunday. I get caught up in the week to week of Having Things to Say, and forget that this privilege of voice would never have been extended to me a century ago.

Ladies, every one of us—and I do mean every. one. over 18—will (please!) go vote in November in some critically important midterms. One hundred years ago, we were still in a fight about our rights to do that.

On Saturday, I officiated a beautiful wedding for two brides—and signed an actual state of Kansas marriage license for them. A decade ago, five years ago even, that was still a pipe dream.

A few days ago, a federal judge ordered an end to family separation at the border … This time last week, we were still waiting and hoping for someone to make that move.

Yesterday, in a park near my house, there was a huge “Make America Great Again” picnic. You know, family friendly fun and barbecue with a side of xenophobia. But meanwhile, downtown in Penn Park—and in parks and public spaces all over the country—people of all ages showed up for Families Together marches. 

Which is to say, I know it’s rough out there. We want things to change, now. We want our systems to work for the poor and not against them; we want the the country we live in to be safe for immigrants and refugees; we want equality for everyone—women, LGBT folks, people of —and we’re not just being politically correct, it’s about making the world more just and merciful.

Remember that the work begun a year, a decade, a century or millennia ago is still moving forward, as long as we move it. We’re standing at the edge of great change.

What we’re after, in all of this, can be summed up in one tangible concept: the Kingdom of God. We want it now, and it just does not seem to be coming around. Things just get heavier.

Right about now is a good time to take a deep breath and remember: this is how great systemic change works. It’s slow and it ain’t pretty.

Every ugly word or hateful action we witness—micro or macro, personal or corporate—is just a reluctance to welcome the change that is coming. It’s loud and it’s awful and it has always been this way. Every great movement towards justice comes with just as great a movement to uphold the status quo. Bottom line is, it’s ugly out there because privileged people feel their privilege slipping, and they’re fighting like hell to maintain the systems that protect their place in the food chain.

The folks who benefit from a tilted, patriarchal system are getting nervous. It’s good news that they are nervous.

The side effects of this reckoning are gross, and might well get worse before they get better. But meanwhile—repeat after me—Nobody’s moving to Canada. That’s a nice escapist day dream, but really, we need to stick it out here and finish what we started. Actually, scratch that … we need to stay here and continue the work that was started long before our time, and will keep rolling long after we’re gone. 

And by “we,” I mean both “We the people,” who come from a dream of democracy, of liberty and justice for all. And also “we” who call ourselves Christians and, rumor has it, model our lives after the way of Jesus. Remember that the call of the faith community is to be together and work together at the edges of great change. We fall into the forward motion of the Spirit. We trust that the work God began in us—not yesterday, but millennia ago—is still unfolding.

In fact, the Church emerged out of this same kind of witness, this same waiting. They thought Jesus was coming back just any minute now, bringing the Kingdom of God hot on his heels. Peace and justice and potlucks for all, and then we all go to heaven!

***Sidebar: Check out this cool Kirk Cameron action figure. It comes in—wait for it—an empty box. (I’ll give you a minute). ***

ANYway. In the epistles to those early Christian communities, you can sense the urgency of their work. You can also pick up on the weariness, the waiting. “How long O lord?” and all that.

I preached a lectionary text Sunday (which I don’t always), and Paul’s word to the church of Corinth seemed especially fitting, for all those who wait for better days: And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.

In other words: get back out there, Church. The gifts God has given you are sufficient for the needs of your time. No matter how heavy the work. Get back out there: after the latest mass shooting; after most recent legislation to punish the poor or squeeze out the immigrant; after the fire; after the flood; after whatever terrible thing or whatever human tragedy moved you into action in the first place. Your desire to do good is, in fact, goodness itself. Finish what you started. Or rather, keep doing the work that faithful people began long before your time, and will persist in long after you’re gone. 

I know the news feels heavy. I know times are troubling. Every day brings some fresh outrage.

But if we think sitting still in despair is an option, we’ve not only forgotten how change works, we’ve also forgotten the promises of the gospel. The Body of Christ is not called to minister in a perfect world, but to serve one that is broken. The work of loving and healing that world didn’t start with us, nor will it end with us. We’ve stepped into the midst of a long-running stream. It began with a baptism, long ago, and it just keeps going.

Remember that civilization has been evolving forever. The world was flat … then it wasn’t. The King of England was considered God—until he wasn’t. Black people sat in the balcony, until they didn’t anymore. Women couldn’t preach, but you know what? We did anyway. We could go on. Point is: in every generation, the most difficult, most painful changes seemed impossible. Until they weren’t. Remember that the work begun a year, a decade, a century or millennia ago is still moving forward, as long as we move it.

The edge of a great change is a terribly uncomfortable place in which to live. Ask anybody who lived through abolition, or women’s suffrage, or the civil rights movement. Ask anybody who marched for education last month, or anybody who rallied for families yesterday. Change is not easy. But its beat is a holy rhythm, the drum of unsettling power that Christians have been marching to forever.

Remember the words of Martin Luther King … “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We just have to keep bending. We get stronger, we get more flexible, we sing louder … we bend some more. But we do not break.

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