In the article Jaynan Clark Egland, WordAlone Network president, wrote for this space two weeks ago, she talked about her running. I also run, but, unlike Jaynan, I am not a runner. That is, I don't run for the love of it or because I have any natural athletic ability (whatsoever!) or because I find any great joy in it. I run only because I must for my health.
So, even on my short three-mile runs, I often have to encourage myself to keep going and not to give up, because, honestly, I would really rather give up. I find it especially hard in the middle of the run, when I'm too far from home simply to quit, but it seems so far yet to get back.
I was reminded of that dispiriting middle-of-the-run feeling at the WordAlone theological conference two weeks ago--not because of the conference itself, which was wonderful--but by a question I heard many times in the workshops I led. "What can we DO?" people asked again and again in one way or another. "Where is the best place to invest our time and energy? Working on resolutions? Writing letters? Chapter meetings? We just don't know what to DO to make a difference."
I think there are a couple of reasons for the frustration that lies behind those questions. One is that, from the time WordAlone formed, one crisis after another has presented itself in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. For almost its entire existence, WordAlone has had one, burning issue to address. That isn't as true right now. Nearly all of the issues the movement has addressed are still simmering, still needing attention, but none of them are front and center ahead of the rest. That makes it harder to focus, to get motivated, to feel like we know what battle we're fighting.
Another reason for the frustration is that it is becoming clearer every day that the real problem in the ELCA is not whatever issue is currently getting attention. Those are only symptoms of a deeper, systemic, theological problem, one which is powerfully exposed in Dr. Dennis Bielfeldt's article on the fundamentals of WordAlone. That was the subject of the conference two weeks ago and many people who attended were surprised and disturbed to see just how deep and profound a problem it is.
Together, those realities create that middle-of-the-run feeling, because we in WordAlone are increasingly aware that we are in the middle of a race, and it's no sprint. It is a marathon. Although WordAlone has an impressive record of prompting constructive change in the ELCA, there is so much more to do, so much further to run.
So, what can we all do at this time? Do the same things we have been doing--inform ourselves, pray, support WordAlone with financial gifts, pray, attend chapter meetings or organize a new chapter, pray, talk to friends, relatives and neighbors, pray, offer to serve on your church council, or at the synod or churchwide levels and did I mention praying?
And as we faithfully pursue those efforts, we must remind ourselves that this is a marathon, not a sprint, that we are engaged in this struggle not so much for ourselves as for our children and grandchildren. We are in those middle miles, where we have to encourage ourselves to keep going, because the end is not yet in sight.
But we can keep going, because, as we plod along in our little steps, we serve the one who fed 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. We cling to the one whose greatest triumph was utterly concealed in an agonizing crucifixion. We trust the one who used 12 ragtag disciples to change the world. Jesus, "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith," already has run the race ahead of us and has won the prize for us. The race depends on him and, whether because of our efforts or in spite of them, he will accomplish his good and gracious will for his people. So, keep running and don't lose heart. The race is on, but Jesus is leading the way!