You can take the pastor out of the church, but you can’t take the Church out of the pastor.
What I would preach after Paris and Beirut
The birth pangs of a new world
by Derrick L. Weston
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. —Mark 13:1-8
I’ve heard a lot of female friends’ birthing stories. It immediately elevates them to hero status in my eyes. Both of my kids were planned C-sections, and my ex is no less heroic. I had a front row seat to her insides becoming her outsides for a moment, but our story lacks the drama of water breaking, pushing, and dilation. We did have a pretty harrowing experience on my 30th birthday. It involved a Thai restaurant and false contractions brought on by their lack of specificity with how spicy a 3 on a scale of 1 to 9 might be.
I hear the stories of women who have gone through the birthing process, and I am in awe. I’m also dumbfounded that so many of my friends chose to go through that process a second time. Or third. Or fourth! What could be worth the pain? As I look at my two kids, the answer here is clear: new life is worth it all.
This is a problematic passage, as apocalyptic passages always are to 21st-century minds. We have to remember that the Gospel writer is trying to make meaning of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Mark justifies the violence of his world with the explanation “Jesus predicted this would happen.”
‘I can see the pain; I can hear the cries. And all I can say is new life is coming. Keep pushing.’
I look at this past week: 129 dead in Paris, 43 dead in Beirut, 67 dead in Baghdad, countless in Syria, 300 for the year in Baltimore, unrest on college campuses, earthquakes, school shootings, rampant violence in the name of God. . . . “Jesus predicted this would happen” doesn’t take the sting out of these present day happenings, nor do I think it was meant to in Mark’s time. Stories of apocalypse are not to deflect from the pain of the present. They highlight the pains, give them context, and attempt to infuse them with meaning. They are meant to be words of hope.
Please don’t hear me skipping over the grieving. For folks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Japan, Baltimore, and elsewhere the wounds might be far too fresh. Friday was only a week ago . . . but then again, I’m part of a tradition that grieves death on Friday and celebrates new life on Sunday. Forgive me for being hopeful.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr.
I take hope in the interconnectedness of this world. I take hope that within hours we were all connected to the Parisian tragedy as if it were our own. I take hope in hearing the voices of those who would not let us forget the victims of other tragedies while we honored the fallen. I take hope in the critical analysis that takes place that says we can’t ignore the lives of black and brown people while remembering those of white Europeans. I take hope in the Parisians who would not let their recently welcomed refugees take the blame for this tragedy, marching against Islamophobes in their country and speaking out against those in ours. I take hope in college students gathering around the country to speak against the inherent racism of educational institutions built off of histories of privilege. I take hope in conversations on institutional racism being brought to the public consciousness in a way it never has before. I take hope in the men of Baltimore who patrol the streets, making peace. I take hope in the men and women who are working to build up economic and educational opportunities in communities long neglected.
The unrest and dis-ease we feel in our world is coming from two different sides. It comes from those who see a new world coming and long for its day to dawn, and it comes from those who have benefitted so greatly from the old world that they don’t see the beauty in the new. Both sides recognize the truth. The new day is here. There is a world of equality longing to be born. There is a world of dignity, of opportunity, of peace, of love, longing to be born. And our role is to midwife this new world’s existence.
Yes, the world is violent. Keep pushing! Yes there is inequality. Keep pushing! Yes, there is corruption and greed; keep pushing! Yes, it feels like we’re sliding backwards at times; keep pushing! Yes, those who choose division often seem to speak the loudest; keep pushing! Yes, it is often hard to see the way forward through all the tears . . . keep pushing!
I grieve with brothers and sisters around the world. I’m tired of grieving. I don’t want to keep turning on my computer and seeing these things scroll across my timeline. I get depressed. I feel powerless. I feel hopeless. But something inside of me tells me to keep on. It tells me that what is happening now is crowning. It tells me that we can’t give up, not now, not ever. I can see the pain; I can hear the cries. And all I can say is new life is coming.
Derrick L. Weston is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a community builder for the 29th Street Community Center, and cohost of the podcast God Complex Radio.