Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Dickensian Moment

Years ago, in A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I would venture that that much of the quotation is familiar to most, if not all, of us. But it reads more fully: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”[1]

I believe we find ourselves in the midst of a Dickensian moment in American Lutheranism, where we experience simultaneously the best and the worst, and great wisdom as well as inexplainable foolishness. To steal a line from another author, Thomas Paine, we also might say that “these are the times that try men’s souls.”[2] Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I am no great fan of Thomas Paine. However, his words do capture the very human sense of frustration with the realities of historical circumstances that present themselves to humankind. No doubt words like them have escaped our own lips from time to time.

Should be despair? Should we be surprised?

Actually, I think Dickens' words above help point us in the right direction. In an appropriately paradoxical way, they underscore the fact that we live in a Dickensian moment--of simultaneously trying and gratifying circumstances. Frankly, I am convinced that that is just the way things always have been and always will be in the church, until the Lord returns. Perhaps this is something to ponder, particuarly as The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod opens its convention this weekend.

[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), cited at, June 18, 2007.

[2] Thomas Paine, The Crisis (1776), cited at, June 18, 2007.