The Decade from Hell

“The Decade From Hell … and how the next one can be better.”  I did a double take when I saw the cover of the Dec. 7 issue of Time magazine.  My first reaction was, “Wow!  Are we really at the end of a decade?  How did the last ten years fly by so quickly?”  My next thought was, “Wait a minute!  What was so bad about the last 10 years?”  The author, Andy Serwer, wrote, “This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history.”

9/11 started off the first decade of the 21st century, and an economic meltdown is closing it out.  In between we’ve experienced our nation’s struggle with radical Islamic militants and a war inAfghanistan, thenIraq and back toAfghanistan.  There was Hurricane Katrina, the fall of the Big Three automakers, concerns about climate change, and the remaking ofAmerica to compete in a burgeoning global economy where BRIC (Brazil,Russia,India, andChina) will lead the way.  The Internet has forever changed the fabric of the way we live, resulting in the closing of countless small businesses that were unable to compete with huge conglomerates.  Unemployment, corporate scandals, personal bankruptcies, foreclosures, and loss of health care have crossed societal boundaries.  The median household income is lower now than it was in 2000.

To top it off, General Motors announced last week the replacement of yet another CEO, the third in one year.  And Tiger Woods, the richest and most well known athlete in history, raking in $900 million of his 1$ billion career earnings from endorsements, admitted to “transgressions” and has been implicated in more than one extramarital affair.

Of course, we ourselves have contributed our share toward the making of this decade from hell.  We’ve forgotten that the world no longer bows down to us simply because we are Americans.  We’ve lost our competitive edge because of our unwillingness to change old patterns of doing things and our refusal to share and be partners with other countries.  We have become preoccupied with our image, neglected our infrastructure, ignored the poor, and succumbed to plain old greed.  To sum it up: having been inattentive to our collective soul, we suddenly awoke from our national stupor and asked, “What happened?”

Hmm.  This sounds disturbingly familiar.  Has this been the decade from hell for the church as well?  The institutional church, including The United Methodist Church, has been in crisis for the past decade.  Membership, attendance, and finances continue a slow decline, not to mention slippage in the church’s respect and influence in our culture.  In addition, internal conflict over issues such as homosexuality, has diverted energy away from the church’s vision and mission.  A friend emailed me last week, “I think the institutional church is in huge turmoil right now – dying in many ways, in fact – and we don’t know what will be birthed in the process.  The old is dying, and the new has not yet been born.  We are living in a pregnant moment!”

All of this is terribly disappointing for church folks.  We’ve finally realized that we’re not leading the way but are lagging behind.  We don’t have a vision for who God is calling us to be.  We’re not acting proactively but always seem to be reactive.  We’ve been unable to engage the culture in ways that touch, inspire, and invite others into relationship with Christ.  We’ve gotten stuck in old guard/new guard battles that siphon away Holy Spirit energy.  We simply don’t understand our changing world.  Almost sounds like hell. 

John the Baptist would probably agree.  In the lectionary passage for this coming Sunday, he says to the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to him for baptism, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance…  Every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matthew 3:7-10). 

Could this be the heart of our “issues” in the church?  We are not bearing fruit.  Jesus, the true vine, calls us, the branches, to “bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:8)  Faith is inherently fruit-bearing, not just verbal assent to doctrines.  Faith is a process of transformation which leads to concrete expressions of love.  The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means turning “from” something “to” something else.  To be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection means that we move from simply wanting to love to developing new ways of acting, listening and being attentive to the holy in our midst.

  • What will it take for theUnited Statesto bear fruit so that the next decade will be the decade of peace, justice and charity rather than another decade from hell? 
  • What will it take for The United Methodist Church to bear fruit so that the next decade will be the decade from heaven rather than another decade of slow death? 
  • What will it take for your local church to bear fruit so that the next decade can be a decade of health and vitality instead of mere survival and hanging on?

How will you bear fruit worthy of repentance this Advent season?  How will you turn from consuming to self-giving?  The choice we face is as clear as the inescapable holiday advertising that surrounds us. 

Consider the contrast.  Since 1959 the “last word in luxury” department store, Neiman Marcus, has published a holiday catalog filled with outrageous gifts.  Unlike the $20 million submarine offered in 2000 and the $10 million stable of racehorses in 2008,  the most expensive fantasy item advertised in this year’s toned down catalog is a $250,000 “his and hers” two-seater Icon aircraft, which comes with pilot training for two.  If that’s too much, how about the $25,000 cupcake car or the $8,500 African Flower Beetle insect lab specimen transfixed in glass? 

The UnitedMethodistChurchhas another shopping option, a countercultural and prophetic way to give.  Our denominational Rethink media campaign is currently airing Christmas commercials on CNN Headline News, one of which shows a homeless person.  The caption is, “This Christmas, remember those who are shopping for hope, acceptance, and love.  Find out how you can give of your self.  Rethink Church this Christmas.”  (http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=2454759&ct=7682757)

As a new decade begins, we are, indeed, living in a pregnant moment.  It’s a moment filled with incredible possibility and opportunity to bear fruit worthy of the transformation which must take place if we are to grow in grace and hope. 10 years from now, I hope we will say,

  • This is the decade that the church reclaimed leadership in the world by doing justice, showing mercy, making peace, and saving the environment. 
  • This is the decade when our decision to share and live out the good news of Jesus Christ in our communities made 3 million new disciples of Jesus Christ in our country.
  • This is the decade when we were able to partner with schools, universities, businesses, non-profits, and foundations to eradicate disease, poverty and hunger around the world. 

I don’t think for a minute that the last decade was the decade from hell for The United Methodist Church.  Rather, I see it as the decade of awakening, preparation and seed planting for the fruit that we will bear in the next 10 years.  What needs to die in your local church in order for the new to be born?  How will you tell – and live out – the old, old story in new and compelling ways this Christmas and into a new decade?  I am convinced that, 10 years from now, I’ll be writing about a decade of hope, acceptance, love and fruit-bearing. 

Will you join me on the journey?  I encourage you to share your hopes for the next decade by visiting the blog.

Blessings, Laurie

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