“Hope Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again”
Mark A. Fowler, Lead Pastor
I have been writing this blog for many days. If you write, perhaps you have had days that turn to a week when you stare at a blank screen hoping the words will clearly emerge already composed in a worthy offering. Nothing, but a stretched deadline for posting was clear to me. Nothing.
Until this morning.
I woke with an imprecise fragment of a phrase often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the struggle for freedom and civil rights. My waking rendering was “hope crushed to earth shall rise again!” It played over and over until I had to type it onto the screen and find what would become composed.
In the uncertain days when disparaging and deadly words and actions marked the path toward freedom, King coupled this scrap of poetry with the assurance that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Words of hope in the midst of despair.
I realize that in the chaos and cacophony that has beset The United Methodist Church since the General Conference there has been in me a nagging pall of grief. I am comforted in that grief by the groundswell of resistance and rejection of the punitive measures, exclusionary vision of divine grace and willingness to divide the denomination evidenced by so many letters and statements across the church over thousands of signatures. Cherished personal relationships across the church have been deepened and more vital; both new and old. We are not alone.
The grief, perhaps, came over me because I sense that the church that has baptized me, nurtured me, forgave me, ordained me, invited me to pastor and teach its seminarians had been willingly divided, diminished, co-opted and wounded unto death. Crushed to earth.
But, that institutional expression is not the actual church that has been a blessing, an accountable challenge and a re-assuring presence to me. The true church of blessing has distinguished itself from the agents of diminishment, degradation and division. The wounds will heal.
“Wake up and wash your face” the scripture says. Pay attention to the signs of the rising all around. Danger and death tend to help clarify what is most important and what is essential about the life we live. Wake up and pay attention to the connexion of pastors and laity who refuse to be undone in living out the grace-filled mission of transformation and love that is the ministry of God. Wake up and pay attention to the witness of those who have been on the target of “incompatibility” and their courageous leadership and witness through it all. Wake up and pay attention to the love and grace to which we have pledged ourselves that will not let us go.
Wake up and pay attention to the words spoken at our newcomer’s brunch yesterday. More than a dozen new folks gathered for a welcoming meal. When they were asked what drew them to First Church, it emerged that the strong mission and clear witness of our congregation was what they wanted to join! Wake up and pay attention that in the midst of grief hope will rise again! Pay attention.
I washed my face and went to check the reference. It was not fully accurate. King had quoted the early American poet, William Cullen Bryant. The exact words King quoted from Cullen were:
Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers.
Truth, hope, the divine calling to love and a vision of justice are gathered up and shall rise. Or, have been rising and one day will fully blossom.
William Cullen Bryant, it turns out, is a distant cousin. He shares ancestry dating to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the Mayflower. He attended Williams College in the Berkshires and a house named in his honor was not far from my first appointment at the Williamstown United Methodist Church.
What drew this all together for me is a bit of Bryant family lore. His aunt Charity was a seamstress in Vermont. Rachel Hope Cleve’s 2014 book Charity and Sylvia: a same-sex marriage in early America captured William Cullen Bryant’s description of their relationship:
"If I were permitted to draw the veil of private life, I would briefly give you the singular, and to me interesting, story of two maiden ladies who dwell in this valley. I would tell you how, in their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life, and how this union, no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage, has subsisted, in uninterrupted harmony, for more than forty years."
Charity and Sylvia Drake are buried together at Weybridge Hill Cemetery, Vermont.