Hope is born of crisis

“Cathedral on Fire” — Part VI of a series

By Rev. Rick King

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”
–Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church

Hope is born in the pressurized conditions of crisis. On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, we are in the midst of a case surge due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 that has forced us to move worship completely online again for a few Sundays. Much of our creativity as a church is the product of our Pandemic Pivot of the last two years. We understand God differently, as well as what “church” looks like embodied, not to mention poverty, white supremacy, and the meaning of words like freedom and responsibility.

As we remember MLK, we remember how a theology of Black liberation was born out of the struggle, injuries and deaths of the civil rights movement. When he moved to Atlanta to begin as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, King noted how the civil rights movement had simply erupted because the time was right for it. “I came to Montgomery when the hour was here, and when the hour comes, nothing can stop it.”

Victor Hugo wrote that “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.” That’s the kind of time King was talking about: “kairos time.” There is simply a convergence of factors, a piling up of events and a willingness to act on a large scale that fits where we are with regard to global warming.

Brooks Berndt writes of how the theologian Paul Tillich’s theology was born out in the desolation of World War I, the first fully mechanized war with an unprecedented loss of life that gave birth to first lament, and then a sort of hope-against-hope.

Likewise in the mid-1980s in apartheid South Africa. The level of protest, revolt and pushback against apartheid led P. W. Botha to declare what’s called the First State of Emergency in 1985, in which hundreds of Black South Africans were killed by police.

A group of church representatives got together in Soweto that year to discuss what the churches should do in response. The result was “The Kairos Document,” a manifesto which organized people on a massive scale to take decisive action. It eventually led to the end of apartheid.

We are now at a similar kairos moment with global warming. The release in 2018 of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted how limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius might enable us to avoid adverse consequences. At the time, headlines read, we had 12 years to limit a climate-change catastrophe.

The lived realities of such a rise in global temperature, combined with the fact that the effects have a disparate impact on people of color, indigenous people, women, children, and people living in the Global South, make this a moment of crisis.

What does this mean for the church? What possibilities is God calling us toward, in the midst of this crisis?