The Common Good

To the Dying Church: Pass the Thread?

It’s interesting how we tend to think of birth and death as opposites, two bookends with life in the middle. But we also know from experience that birth and death really are two different words for the same thing. They involve change, a moving from one phase of life to another.

Needles and thread, NikDonetsk / Shutterstock.com
Needles and thread, NikDonetsk / Shutterstock.com

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Birth and death and rebirth are parts of the very fabric of life.

This moment, countless cells inside our bodies are dying and being replaced by new ones just like them. New ideas are being hatched in our heads, replacing old ones. Stars throughout the universe are using up their final fuel and imploding, sowing seeds for rebirth throughout the universe.

All around us and within us, there’s a constant birth and death and newness.

It’s what life is about.

The same is true of our human institutions. Whether they’ll acknowledge it or not, they’re constantly going through the birth-and-death-and-rebirth cycle. It’s certainly that way with our religions and our churches.

We see the dying part. If we look closely, we also see the rebirth. And we recognize an invitation to be partners in this birthing process.

One of my favorite stories is when Jesus talks about the need to make new wineskins. It prompted me to do some research. Back in those times, a new batch of wine was sometimes poured into animal skins. The fermentation process involved a release of gasses that stretched and weakened the skin. For that reason, you could only use it once.

The batch turns into an exquisite wine. The next batch needs an entirely new skin.

When that idea was applied to religion back then, it wasn’t popular. People wanted to cling to past ways of doing things and seeing things and expressing things. They fought anything different. It's the same now.

Many people within religions try to use the old wineskins over and over. They refuse to change and adapt. Clearly, the wineskins have broken. The wine is gushing out. The pews are emptying. And those in charge keep trying to sew the skins back together even as more wine drips out.

Others accept the invitation and the challenge to start making new wineskins. New ways to live the Spirit in new times. Strong, new containers that will securely hold the wine as it ferments into something spectacular. Places where people can grow in wisdom and age and favor. Places of love and compassion and acceptance.

New wineskins sewn together with the thread of grace.

We can lament that the old skins have burst and keep trying to sew them back together again, even as they keep bursting all over again. The wine will just keep dribbling out.

Or we can do the hard work of making new skins. Just like 2,000 years ago, it’s a messy process. A challenging process. A frustrating process. A very involved process. An unpopular process in many corners.

But a necessary process.

The wine is dribbling out. We can sew new skins to catch and contain and shelter it. We can do this while working with a God who is passionate about making all things new all the time.

Would you like to pass the thread?

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

Image: Needles and thread, NikDonetsk / Shutterstock.com

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