‘When the Well Is Dry…’

What do you do when the well is dry, when there’s no water left to draw?

That’s how I’ve been feeling.

A number of things have happened recently, personal and professional (i.e., my teaching career), which have sapped all the good out of me. I don’t wish to go into detail, because ‘soul-baring’ is not something I think is appropriate for me to do. However, I find myself looking at a computer screen and asking myself, ‘What do I write?’

The Dark Night of the Soul, the Dry Spell, Writers’ Block, the Blue Funk, Depression, whatever you want to call it – it’s not a nice place to be, and all the platitudes in the world about how it’s all going to get better don’t really help me deal with where I am RIGHT NOW.

However, there’s something in me which says, ‘Write something! Prove you’re not dead yet! Just share some of the things you’ve seen and experienced since you last wrote.’ So, I’ll do an Elie Wisel here (see ‘The Stories of Women’, March 18, 2016) and tell some stories.

I went to two vigils held by the Seoul LGBT+ community to mourn for the victims of the Lifepulse shootings in Orlando, Florida. It was amazing to see the whole range of sexual minorities, as well as friends and allies, come together to remember those who had been gunned down simply for being who they were, for celebrating who they were, for celebrating who their friends and children were. The solidarity which this community showed with Orlando was truly moving. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of the verbal violence which occasionally emerged from the protests which surrounded the KQCF festival. My wife heard one (presumably good Christian) protestor screaming at the top of her voice in City Hall metro station, ‘Where is (Seoul mayor) Park Won-soon? I’ll tear him to pieces for letting this happen!!’ A woman volunteering in a booth next to ours was spat at by a protestor. Let us not be fooled – there are those within the anti-LGBT protest movement who would like to see our destruction, and where there is verbal violence, physical violence is never far behind.

I went to General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria BC, Canada. This assembly was unable to elect a new Moderator. There were lingering questions about process, about how the list of nominees was arrived at, about conflicts of interests, and apparently (though I was not directly aware of this) accusations of racism, classism, and misogyny leveled at people and groups throughout the Conference. This has resulted in a lot of hurt feelings which the Elders (our ‘Bishops’, in essence) of MCC felt the need to address in a pastoral letter to the denomination[1], acknowledging the hurt and the expressed feelings from some members that ‘there’s no room for me in MCC’.

One thing that left me questioning what room there was for me in General Conference was the worship experiences. As a progressive Christian, I found myself at odds with what I saw as a number of US-, conservative evangelical-, megachurch-, and rally/concert-centric experiences. By the time Wednesday evening worship was finished, I was beginning to think, ‘This must be what sitting through Vogon poetry is like!’[2]

I found the whole experience to be US-centric, as this is where the majority of the attendees and delegates were from, and the rest of us (myself included) were to varying degrees dependent on the generosity and largesse of US congregations to just be there. I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Is this a just situation?’ and ‘How much energy and finance is spent by US local churches raising funds for at least part of the expenses of non-US attendees and delegates?’ Then I asked, ‘Wait a minute! Why is an international denomination like MCC trying to run on basically a congregational model?’ I don’t know of another international denomination or organization that even attempts to do that. This was fodder for me in my MCC History and Polity class, where I put together a Bylaw proposal (a lengthy one – could be the basis of a blog entry itself! Hmmm…) where every congregation does not have the automatic right to go to General Conference, but that delegates to General Conference, nominees for Moderator and Governing Council, and proposals for changes to Bylaws go through the meetings of a series of Regional Networks. If this denomination is going to transcend its US-centrism, this seems to be the way to go.

I watched the world turn over the summer on TV: the terror attacks claimed by ISIL/Daesh, half of them committed in France and Germany, the other half in Muslin-majority countries, including some committed during Ramadan;  the law enforcement officers who were shot dead and injured by African-American individuals who concluded that the only answer to violence is more violence (they do not, I repeat, DO NOT, represent Black Lives Matter); the attempted coup in Turkey; the heartbreaking news about Gordon Downie and the (likely) farewell tour of the Tragically Hip (if you’re not Canadian, read up on them! All these things put together can be downright overwhelming.

And, to borrow the words of Steve Miller, ‘Well I’ve been lookin’ real hard / And I’m trying to find a job / But it just gets getting’ tougher ev’ry day!

I watched a couple of movies recently which have given me some solace in my dark space. They were the Robert Besson adaptation of the Georges Bernanos novel Diary of Country Priest (Journal d’un Curé de Campagne) and the ‘tour de force’ of Robert Duvall, The Apostle. The main character in one movie is a newly-ordained priest sent to a desolate northern village named Ambricourt, in which he is coolly received; maligned by young, old, rich, poor, male, and female alike; and just can’t seem to ‘win for losing’, as we might say. The other is a Pentecostal preacher who loses his wife and family, and then his church through the political machinations of his ex-wife and the church’s youth pastor. After fatally assaulting his former colleague in an alcohol-fuelled fit of rage, he erases his former identity, leaves Texas for Louisiana, re-baptizes himself with a new name, and (before the law catches up with him) re-establishes himself as pastor of a small but lively church in a bayou village.

The main characters do not triumph over their tormentors in the end, but they do find peace. The young priest of Ambricourt eventually succumbs to stomach cancer, but his final words are ‘What does it matter? All is grace.’ Meanwhile, Duvall’s character, E F Apostle / ‘Sonny’ Dewey, preaches a sermon of fiery passion and grace while the police wait outside his church, and he manages to bring a young mechanic friend to Christ. He rejoices, saying, ‘I may be going to jail tonight, but you’re going to glory!’ In the final scene, he’s back in Texas, leader of a prison chain gang, keeping the rhythm of their work by sing-preaching the praises of Jesus.

And, being Canadian, of course I watched the passionate yet grace-filled performance of Gord Downie and the rest of the Tragically Hip in the final show of what could very well be the last time they tour and play together. He expressed his gratitude to his fans for keeping him pushing, and he did not let the Prime Minister, who was in attendance, forget that true justice still awaits so many of the First Nations peoples of Canada. If this is his ‘going out party’, he went out on top, the personification of passion, creativity, patriotism, and yes, love.

And then, I remembered the experiences of John Wesley when he met a visiting group of German pastors, among them Peter Böhler. This was in 1738, just after he returned from the American colonies on what was ultimately a failed mission. One evening, when he was visiting with his brother Charles, recovering from pleurisy, John confided in Peter Böhler that he was undergoing a faith crisis. I’ll let John Wesley tell the story in his own words:

Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”[3]

And so, in the midst of my ‘dangers, toils, and snares’, I still wish to share something of the life of faith with somebody. As one classmate in a preaching class helped me to day one time, it’s not what I’m sure of or doubt; what magnificent feats of church work I may or not be able to do; whether I feel the strength of the Holy Spirit coursing through my very being, or I’m left crying, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ Pastor or not, it doesn’t matter what I’m able to believe or not believe on any given day that matters! It is the witness of a community throughout the ages, that has a vision of a world in which all have what they need, where true justice reigns, and where love is the modus operandi of all action. It is this community as a whole, not any one particular person within it, which has been gripped by the vision of the Βασιλεία τῶ Θεοῦ (‘Basileia tou Theou’, ‘Kingdom/Reign of God’), the Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν (‘Basileia tōn Ouranōn’, ‘The Kingdom/Riegn of Heaven’), the sense that ‘this is what the world would look like if God/Love/Ultimate Concern for the Other were in charge’. It’s a lot greater than me, but there are moments when I’m caught up in its whirlwind, and I can speak and act on behalf of this vision.

In the midst of whatever darkness may envelop my life, in the midst of whatever challenges I face, I am grateful that moments of hope and grace emerge, for they remind me that ‘With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’[4]

AMEN.

[1] Wilson, N W; Johnson, D; et al (2016, 20 July); A Letter from the Council of Elders. In Metropolitan Community Churches: Transforming Ourselves As We Transform the World [online]. Accessed 22 July 2016 at http://mccchurch.org/a-letter-from-the-council-of-elders/.

[2] Don’t know where that comes from? Refer to Adams, D (1979) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1995 reissue edition):Del Rey/Penguin Random House.

[3] Wesley, J, ‘Wesley’s Four Resolutions’. In Parker, P L (1951) The Journal of John Welsey (Chicago: Moody Press) [online]. Accessed from the Christian Classics Etheral Library, Calvin College (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.ii.xi.html), 24 August 2016.

[4] From Ehrman, M (1927), the Desiderata.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s