“The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows” is the title of a “gripping, contemporary opera” recently performed by the Pittsburgh Opera Company on the stage of the theater of CAPA High School. “Gripping” only hints at the intense emotion and drama we experienced for over two hours with the others in the sold-out auditorium. The opera is a deeply personal exploration of a soldier’s return from Iraq where he served as an officer in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit and his battle with what he calls “the Crazy” as he tries to reintegrate into his family life. The opera is Based on the novel by the same title written by Brian Castner. (go to
https://www.pittsburghopera.org/show/the-long-walk if you want to view an exemplary three-minute clip from the opera).
As the opera comes to a close, the shattered Castner family determinedly sings a piece that demonstrates the resolve and resiliency of the human spirit – “we have to begin again.”
Brothers, sisters, and friends of FPCE, those words could be sung by us, and mainline congregations across this country. The elderly, wise theologian Walter Brueggemann says something I have been attempting to talk about, preach, and teach for the past four years; Everyone now agrees that we are at a new season in the life of the North American church, a new season that is starkly different from what was but that has almost taken us by surprise. That new season of dislocation is surely to be seen as a profound challenge to the church.”
There are many explanations for how we got to this stage in American church life, but the dislocation is unmistakable.
At times, I sit on my back-porch rocking chair and consider all these tectonic shifts across the American landscape. I recall what I thought my ministry would be like when I started seminary in 1980 and what has emerged here in 2017. There are times when I am discouraged, disheartened, and lost.
But, as the Castner family learned, we have to begin again. In some ways, we do, too. I turn once again to Richard Rohr, an author, retreat leader, and teacher who has worked with the mainline church for longer than I have. He writes, “There is something the church has learned throughout its history that gives me hope. The word ‘change’ normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart – disruption and chaos – invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore.”
In other words, we have to begin again. The season of Lent is a good time to do just that. An exciting adventure lies ahead of us.
In Christ’s service,