Need A Break from the Heat?
If the summer heat gets you down, I recommend Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.
Alfred Lansing wrote the bone-chilling account of Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914. Their ship, the Endurance, became stuck in the ice pack. After 10 immovable months on board, Shackleton was forced to give the order to abandon the ship.
“She was being crushed. Not all at once, but slowly, a little at a time. The pressure of ten million tons of ice was driving in against her sides … She cried in agony. Her frames and planking, her immense timbers, many of them almost a foot thick, screamed as the killing pressure mounted. And when her timbers could longer stand this strain, they broke with a report like artillery fire.”
That’s the beginning of the harrowing and heroic story of the 28-member crew’s survival on the ice. It’s more than enough to make you grateful for the summer sun!
The story came back to our attention on March 22, 2022, when researchers found the hull of the Endurance resting 9,842 feet below the surface, having been preserved by the frigid temperatures of the ice pack that had sealed her fate.
The “Old Ship of Zion”
Sadly, Lansing’s words feel like a disturbing metaphor for The United Methodist Church today. What some folks called “the old ship of Zion” is being squeezed by the same frigid, relentless political and social forces that are pressing against every institution in our cultural.
Slowly, not all at once, a little at a time, intransigent powers are crushing against her sides. The immense timbers of the strength and influence the church once had in our culture and, closer to home, the frames and planking of the church in which I’ve lived and served, are all feeling the pressure. The timbers of our instructional structure can’t stand the strain.
For United Methodists, the opposing forces are defined by conflicting convictions on the inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our ministry. Magrey DeVega, my successor at Hyde Park UMC, offered an insightful word about this in his Pentecost sermon last Sunday. He underscored the way the book of Acts narratives the ongoing story of the Spirit of God constantly stretching the boundaries that we put up to exclude people from experiencing and sharing the love of God in Christ.
Unfortunately, we Methodists have been here before.
Back to the Future in 1844
American Methodism was frozen in a similar impasse in 1844. The question was slavery. Here is one historian’s description of the General Conference that divided the church.
“Preachers of both sections were caught in the toils of their own principles and no committee would be able to disengage them. As Olin went on to say, ‘If we push our principles so far to break up the connection, this may be the last time we meet. I fear it! I fear it! I see no way of escape’…
“Having disposed of the subject of slavery after a fashion and having cut the Church asunder in the process, the General Conference moved on in its ponderous businesslike way to other items on the open agenda.” (Organizing to Beat the Devil, p. 222-223, 230)
We’ll be caught in the same ice pack of differing convictions when the clergy and lay delegates to the Florida Annual Conference meet later this week. There will be other items on the agenda. There is amazing, life-transforming work being done in and through “the people called Methodist” in Florida and around the world, for example, our massive support for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. But how we deal with the question of LGBT inclusion could be decisive. I’d be the last to predict how it will come out. I only know that I will be among those who stick with the church that nurtured my faith, called me to ministry, and gave me a place to serve. Only time will tell what future generations find beneath the ice pack in which we are stuck right now.
For my own part, I’m living with the words of one of Charles Wesley’s least known hymns, “Forgive My Foes? It Cannot Be.”
Come, Lord, and tame the tiger’s force,
Arrest the whirlwind in my will,
Turn back the torrent’s rapid course,
And bid the headlong sun stand still,
The rock dissolve, the mountain move,
And melt my hatred into love.
Root out the wrath thou dost retain;
And when I have my Savior’s mind,
I cannot render pain for pain,
I cannot speak a word unkind,
An angry thought I cannot know,
Or count mine injurer my foe.
I hope we discover a way to break through the ice and find new life with each other on the other side.
Grace and peace,