March 2, 2021
One of the things that has troubled me most in the midst of the pandemic is postponing events and hitting the pause button on plans. Graduations,celebrations, gatherings, even school/work plans have been postponed indefinitely countless times in the last 12 months. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. I would be much more comfortable if I could schedule all those times and purposes on my calendar.
But that is not really the way life works. It wasn't the way life worked before we ever heard of COVID-19, and it certainly is not the way life works now. I suspect life will not work that way once we can say the danger of COVID-19 is behind us. Instead, all those purposes under heaven appear to hop around on our calendars these days, begging the question of just what purpose each one plays in our lives. We still finish high school and college whether or not we graduate. Weddings over zoom or in the presence of 10 people are still weddings. Birthday parties via zoom or drive-by-greetings still celebrate birth and life.
So what is it that bothers me so much?
I started to uncover the answer to this question last week when I read that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church which was postponed from 2020 to August of 2021 has been rescheduled again. (You can read more about this here: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/general-conference-postponed-until-2022) United Methodists around the world are anxious for this particular General Conference to take place. This gathering of elected clergy and lay delegates from around the world meets every four years to address the global nature and work of the church and to make any changes to our polity (the way we organize ourselves) that are necessary. For the last few meetings of the General Conference. United Methodist Christians around the world have been waiting for a definitive answer to the question of whether or not we would split into two or more denominations, over several theological issues. One of those is the debate over the full inclusion (or not) of all people for the purposes of marriage and ordination regardless of their sexuality. Some argue that the real issue is biblical authority. Others say it is the abuse and disregard of church law by clergy and laity throughout the church as regards weddings and ordination. Whatever the reason, it feels like that can is rolling a little farther down the road.
I need for all those purposes under heaven to have their day and time so that I can deal with whatever comes from them and move on to the inevitable next thing. Tom Petty once wrote, "The waiting is the hardest part / Every day you see one more card / You take it on faith, you take it to the heart / The waiting is the hardest part." The song is called "The Waiting." After explaining in an interview that it took a long time to write this song, he said this about it: "It's about waiting for your dreams and not knowing if they will come true." Then he added (to my surprise), "I've always felt it was an optimistic song."
I have not felt a lot of optimism in our waiting. Waiting for a decision on schools has been long and painful as I have watched the community divide over the best course of action for our students and teachers. Waiting for family gatherings for important events like weddings and funerals has been hard as I have seen and experienced the anxiety related to making decisions for groups of people that not everyone understands. Waiting for the safe return to in-person worship has been hard because we need each other for our faith to grow and develop. Waiting for a final, declarative decision on what the future of the United Methodist Church will look like is, at this point, exhausting and frustrating.
But it took Tom Petty a long time to write his song about waiting. So maybe it just takes a long time for all the purposes under heaven to have their day. And I do believe there is something to be learned in the waiting. I am learning that my calendar is just a tool and not a captor. I'm learning how much I need contact with my friends, and right now I'm settling (begrudgingly so) for phone and video contact. I'm learning that relationships take work, so I'm working on mine. I'm learning that knowing whether or not our dreams will come true is not on my to-do list for today. Those dreams will either come to pass, or they won't. The time in between is real, and maybe it is teaching us something.
What are you learning? What is the seemingly never-ending cycle of postponements teaching you about life and faith? I'd love to hear from you.