Last night was the longest night (and shortest day) of the year… the winter solstice. From this moment the days lengthen until the summer solstice when the longest day of the year and consequently the shortest night occurs.
Events of late seem to make the dark darker and the light dimmer. On Saturday afternoon two police officers sitting in their car were slain by a man who then killed himself. This latest tragedy caps months of unrest in our land. I am unsure that I remember a time when there has been more division and less common feeling. I feel and share the frustration of many around these sad events that continue to unfold. When we are reduced to arguing about whose lives matter more we are indeed living in a long night.
On Friday, my best friend’s mother died rather unexpectedly although she had been ill for some time. For him the longest night was darkened by this personal loss. And my own sense of grief is deepened by sharing in his.
Several times I have awakened in the early morning and could not return to sleep. The creeping hours before dawn finally arrives. The interminable night that finally yields to day. We are living in a kind of longest night. My faith says we are waiting for a Second Advent – not only the return of Christ but also the return of Paradise. One day the darkness will yield to light. The long night of sin and pain and grief will give way to morning eternal.
But not yet. Advent reminds us that we live in the long night before the dawn. That we must wait. That morning will come even if it seems to be so distant as to be unreal. That we have been promised and we hold fast to what has been said.
Nothing we do can hasten the dawn. It will come when it is time. But we can light our night until day comes. We can wait knowing the day will dawn however complete the darkness.
In The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers film, Sam (Frodo’s companion) sums it up well:
‘It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.’
This long night too shall pass and the end will be happy. But not yet.
Last post I staked out space squarely but somewhat vaguely in the middle of the road. I was thinking and praying and preparing for the first meeting of The United Methodist Centrist Movement (http://umcm.today). For those of you not United Methodist Christians you might not find the link all that interesting. If you are United Methodist I hope you will give it a read and prayerfully consider if it resonates with you as it does with me. I found the event that my earlier post anticipated a day that brought me hope and a renewed optimism about what might be.
In the debate underway in my tribe words like “split” and “schism” are tossed about quite freely. Many of the proposals for The United Methodist Church’s future have some element of schism at their core. This schismatic element ranges from outright divorce to de facto separation while remaining in the same house (but sleeping in separate bedrooms). Most see no other possibility and assume some separation is both inevitable and necessary.
We may have missed the rather startling news that the schism of 1054 (when Eastern and Western Christianity formally and finally split) is under attack. Specifically, Pope Francis and his Eastern Orthodox counterpart have begun healing this split (http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/30/world/europe/turkey-pope-visit/). Can you imagine? A nearly 1,000 year-old division of the Christian church might be in the beginning stages of healing? The journey from where each side now resides to the kind of unity expressed in the news coverage is long and fraught with risk. But the commitment to unity and to a different future seems real enough.
What leaves me hopeful is that if the Holy Spirit can blow into that rift with its long history perhaps God can also bring something different, something new into my United Methodist Church? If a given in the church world can be undermined so radically what else might be possible? I keep returning to David Watson’s post on November 9 about the need to take seriously the call to prayer for our denomination. We are fond of quoting Jesus who said in Luke’s Gospel: “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NIV)
I hope we don’t require a 1,000 year split to learn about God’s possibilities in the face of overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable barriers to a different future.
It is hard sometimes in the middle-of-the-road. The traffic in both lanes can more easily hit you! And those who are securely in one lane or the other, or who are on the edges of the road, are unsure what to do about you. Most don’t want to hit you. But I think they also wish you would get in one lane or the other or just get out of their way. Seldom is being called “middle-of-the-road” a complement. It often carries connotations of being lukewarm or ambivalent.
For much of my life I called myself a conservative. I am conservative in many ways. But on most of the pressing issues facing our church (The United Methodist Church) I am in the middle because neither end gives me a place where I can stand. Sometimes it is the complexity of the issue. Sometimes it is the contradictory beliefs I hold in my mind. It would be easier to be sure about every question. I am not. I could say much the same thing about the political climate in our country as well.
II hold firmly to my core faith in Jesus Christ, in my conviction of the necessity and centrality of the church in being a faithful disciple. I am not ambivalent or wishy-washy about a great many things.
But I am staking out my place in the middle and have been in recent weeks searching out others who are standing in the same place. It can be dangerous here. Even confusing. But it’s the center where I plan to stay.
William Willimon wrote “That most people meet Jesus on the road is no coincidence.” (Why Jesus?) I hope to meet Jesus there myself in the days ahead… in the middle of the road.