The Only Way Out is Through

By Annie Gonzalez Milliken

Our Self-Wrought Epic Disaster

“Would you stop yelling about how we’re all screwed?” my supervisor politely asked.

Oh. Right. Not exactly the type of thing to yell when you work in an open office like I do at the Unitarian Universalist Association. Especially when perhaps you are using slightly less polite language than “screwed.”

We were talking about climate change, of course in light of the new UU-led coalition effort Commit2Respond. And we are screwed. However you express it, we humans are really in trouble. Other life forms on this planet are really in trouble. And as I feel the first flutters of movement from the tiny human-in-progress I’m harboring in my uterus, I wonder what in the world I’m doing. I wonder if it was insanely reckless or only a little bit reckless for my partner and me to create yet another person to inhabit this sinking ship, knowing the challenges we’re facing will only worsen as she grows.

This wondering is one small part of what it means to reckon with the epic disaster we have brought upon ourselves. This epic disaster that reveals the deep irony of global capitalism: those who did the most harm will have the easiest time escaping the effects while those who are least responsible for the negative impact will suffer the most.

I know, because I live here in Boston where we had record-breaking snowfall and low temperatures all winter. We all complained. Nobody liked it. But I had enough money to pay my heating bill, a job that allowed me to work from home if need be and still get paid, housemates with dug-out cars. I was inconvenienced but ok.

Others would get fired if they missed work, and since the under-funded public transit couldn’t cope with the snow, they had no way to get to work but to hike through the snowbanks. Others had broken heating systems they couldn’t afford to replace. Others truly suffered.

When the sea levels rise millionaires with beachfront property will move. It will be inconvenient. But what will the inhabitants of Vanuatu do, now that 90% of its crops have been destroyed by a cyclone in March? How will they survive the increased storms and rising seas?

When California goes dry the wealthy elite will feel the economic collapse. It will be inconvenient. But what will agricultural workers and already vulnerable migrant farm workers do when their jobs are gone and there’s nothing to eat or drink? How will they survive the economic collapse coupled with food and water shortage?

We must reckon. With the broken economic and political systems and with the specific effects these systems have caused. With racism and classism and poverty. With our own guilt, anger and fear. We reckon.

Liturgically speaking it is a good time for reckoning if you are part of the Christian tradition. It is a good time for grief, anger, fear and trembling. I went to a Christian seminary for my theological education and it was there that I learned to put some good news in each sermon. To ask, once it was written “and where’s the good news here?” Except on Good Friday. On Good Friday, you stop. You stay at the cross with God’s radical act of solidarity. You reckon.

As this week is Holy Week and this Friday is Good Friday I’ve had that reckoning on my mind. In the story of Good Friday, Empire wins and God loses. In the story of Good Friday a poor man from an occupied people who preaches of voluntary poverty, inclusive hospitality and non-violence is executed by the state, a brutal empire that extracted resources from its territories so that the elite in Rome could enjoy the finer things. In the story of Good Friday the most powerful force in the universe, the source of creation itself is murdered by greed and fear and wanton unfettered growth.

And yes, we know that Easter is only days away. We know the end of the story, anyone who is familiar at all with the Christian tradition knows death and greed and destruction do not get the final say.

But the suffering and the death are a crucial part of this Christian story. You can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday. The only way to resurrection is through death, embodied and real. Jesus rises again, but he doesn't stick around and keep teaching. Good Friday changes everything. And the disciples are left to reckon with this and figure out what do do next.

So whether you find meaning in Christian story or not, whether you spend this time of year honoring the spring equinoxand fertility, eating ritually from the Seder plate, or simply being grateful for changing weather and longer days, there is reckoning to be done.

Let us look at death. Let us tremble. Let us see and feel and know what is true in our planetary story of destruction and injustice. Indeed we may have our own resurrection. We may yet come together and shift these death dealing systems. We may harness that creative force I call God and show Empire that it doesn't get the final say. We may commit2respond, and actually respond fully with multi-faceted movement toward justice. And yet, our planet will never be the same. Climate change is here; it changes everything. And we are left to reckon with it, to figure out what we do next.


The Tuolumne River in California at 53% of its usual level in 2014.
Boston Snow, Again

A Boston snowbank in February 2015.

Destruction in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam.

Stained glass depiction of followers mourning Jesus death.