By Bishop Jonathan Holston
“Thomas said to him...so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life.” —John 14:5-6 (NRSV)
Before Carowinds, Disney World and Six Flags, the county fair was the highlight of most of our towns.
Whether in a small city, metropolitan area or a rural county, children and adults waited for the fair. It had all the exciting things of its time—games, prizes, rides, as well as cotton candy and candy apples. When the fair came to town, it was a thrill. One of the events I feared the most was the House of Mirrors. I believe it was a fear of not being able to find a way out; a feeling of being trapped and entangled.
In an article penned by renowned sociologist and Christian speaker Tony Campolo, he described a course in Chinese philosophy taken as a student. His professor said to him, “Most children are taught to pray, ‘If I should die before I wake.’ It would be better to teach them to pray, ‘If I should WAKE before I die.’”
His premise was that Christians are sleepwalking through life. No one seems to be alive and in tune to what is going on around them. Sometimes, it seems all of us can attest to sleepwalking through life: life on autopilot, faith on cruise control or career by the numbers. Often, many feel trapped in a life with no upside, entangled in relationships with no intentions to grow or caught in a downward spiral of self-deception.
Just think for a moment. Is that your witness? Like Thomas, your question speaks loudly: “So how can we know the way?”
Bogive Gambu, a freelance writer, states in the article “Growing up under Apartheid” (Ebony, February 2014), “After Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994, we told ourselves that we were free and things would automatically change ... we spoke of reconciliation ... we were moving toward a better, stronger nation ... but we should have remembered there was more work to do.”
He shared further: “We need to have a summit because we’re an angry country ... we’re not processing the racism that still exists.” Like Thomas, his statement speaks loudly: “So how can we know the way?”
In light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, these words are a haunting reminder of the unresolved racism that still lurks beneath the surface. If you removed the references to South Africa, these same phrases would ring true for many of us. In the midst of this tragedy, Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference has shared with us The United Methodist Church’s witness as a community of compassion and hope. This response is available in the Advocate and on the conference website at www.umcsc.org. Yet the question of Thomas echoes loudly: “So how can we know the way?”
Well, at the 2014 South Carolina Annual Conference, the delegates representing our congregations charged our conference to forthrightly address the issue of racial reconciliation in our churches and communities. I am appreciative of the proactive leadership exhibited that has the capacity to make a difference where we live, work and worship. To that end, Connectional Ministries has begun its work and will soon engage us in challenging conversation around the theological and missional imperatives of racial reconciliation. Truly, I believe we can discover a more excellent way.
As I remember that House of Mirrors, there was always an attendant waiting for the lost and scared folk. He was the assurance that there was a way out.
I believe Jesus is the testimony to our faith that not only is there a way out but a way forward, as well. His answer to Thomas still resonates today: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
By Bishop Jonathan Holston