Over the recent long days of snow and extreme cold in northern Indiana, Chanticleer’s “In the bleak mid-winter” held me in its grip. Not sure why. I turned to it over and over again for solace as I read through several dark chapters of our church’s history—files that have been off limits because they tell a story we would rather not have to remember.
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long, long ago.
There is much about our history, whether personal, familial, congregational, institutional or denominational, that any one of us wishes would be different. Reading through dark chapters of things we regret about our story is anguishing work, but I did it as a labor of hope. I long for us as a people to learn to be more honestly transparent with each other, to name our fears, confess our failures, and awaken to the gift of grace freely given.
“The truth will set you free…but not before it’s done with you.” That’s what Nadia Bolz-Weber says in Pastrix: The cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner & saint. “Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit.” And she continues, “The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.”
The stories I was reading tell of seminary and church leaders’ painful, costly effort to work with integrity amid enormous pressures. There is much that witnesses to their faithful commitment and firm resolve. And there is much to lament with deep sorrow for how we as a people failed each other. Why were we blind to the true nature of the evil being perpetrated and deaf to those who knew the Body was being seriously harmed? Why? Why? Why?
The more I’ve read about others from years gone by, the more I am drawn to reflect on our own times. How open to scrutiny am I? What are our blind spots as a learning community? As a church? In what ways will our children and grandchildren look back and wonder why we couldn’t see what will seem so obvious to them in hindsight? The conflicts that threaten to tear us apart now—whether about sexuality, economic disparity, environmental justice, race, biblical interpretation, will no doubt look starkly different when held up in the light of painfully learned historical perspective.
Tears of lament give way amid Chanticleer’s exquisite harmonies to renewed confidence that the truth when spoken may crush us, but will also put us back together.
In the hours before dawn, the prayer of the psalmist became my prayer for all of us: “Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us. Do not cast us away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and sustain in us a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:8-12, adapted).