Deathly Ill, Suicidal… what’s next?

So the latest PC(USA) doomsday article/essay making the rounds comes courtesy of Bob Burney on  Burney traces the long slow demise of the denomination and sees the vote for Amendment 10A as a final self-inflicted injury on its way to death.   Whether or not he was familiar with the “deathly ill” description assigned by the organizers of the Fellowship, it certainly folds nicely into the morbid metaphor.

Part of me wants to argue against these pronouncements.  As I talk with friends across the country, I hear about churches that are finding new energy and life in renewal efforts.  There are new ministries and new churches being birthed, including outreaches into minority contexts.

But it’s hard to argue against the other facts: churches going from multi-staff to solo pastorates.  Full time to part time or designated pastors.  Or just plain closing down.    Certainly there are plenty of congregations that are struggling or maintaining…as is supported by the oft-quoted statistics regarding membership decline for the past several decades.

I know I’m not the first to go here, but today as I read Burney’s words a series of images came to mind.  Perhaps because it’s summer and I’ve had a chance to catch up on my movies and TV…

  • I thought about Thor, who knows that the only way to keep his friends and a town full of innocent bystanders from utter destruction is to offer is own life to the destroyer.
  • I thought about the scene in a recent episode of Doctor Who in which Amy and the Doctor had to offer up themselves to what seemed like death in the form of a siren in order to attempt to rescue Rory and others.
  • I thought about the many times that Frodo, Aragorn and others in the Fellowship of the Ring faced death and yet they went on, knowing that their lives were worthless if their quest was unsuccessful.
  • Gandalf the White…
  • Fawkes the Phoenix…

I could go on…  But the thing is that we celebrate every Easter (and every Sunday if we claim the Reformed tradition of each one being a “little Easter”) life that comes after death and from death.  We ask, “Death, where is your sting?” We sing of victory over death.

Paul tells us we must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ.  And we make honest efforts to do so,  confessing when we miss the mark.  Is this where we are as a denomination?  Dying so that we might rise again?  Are we being set free from what has been to pursue what could be?

> Thor’s death signals a release of hubris and arrogance toward humility and submission

> Amy and the Doctor gain clarity of mission and location, so that they can tend to Rory and others

> While Frodo eventually returns the ring to the fire and Aragorn earns his rightful place as King, the Fellowship experiences loss and pain.  The stories of their sacrifice and steadfastness become inspiration for all of Middle Earth (and generations of readers and movie-goers).

I can’t help but go back to Ephesians and the cosmic nature of the mission God calls the church to pursue.  This generation of believers is part of that.  Perhaps in the death of how we’ve been pursuing our part of that mission, we will become clearer on who we are, who God is and what we are meant to be doing…


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