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June 1, 2021 by Pastor Chip Freed

The movie U-571 is a fictional war story based on the events of WWII. Matthew McConaughey stars as an executive officer named Andrew Tyler on a US submarine with hopes of being a captain. He is repeatedly turned down in his quest, as naval superiors are uncertain that he has the mettle to sit in the “first chair.” In a tragic military encounter with the enemy at sea, Tyler ends up serving as captain on a vital mission after the actual captain of his boat is killed. After the panic of the battle, the surviving crew members assemble under now “Captain Tyler.” When the disconcerted seamen ask Captain Tyler what they were going to do, he responds, “I don’t know.” At that point the “old salt” veteran and Chief of the Boat, played by Harvey Keitel, pulls him aside and says, “Mr. Tyler, a captain never says, ‘I don’t know.’ A captain always knows!”

Years ago, William Ernest Henley wrote the poem Invictus, which famously states:

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

I read a glowing commentary on this poem dubbed “The Art of Manliness” on a website listed as (I’m dead serious!) that states, “When life kicks you in the gut, get back up and kick life’s butt.” It sure sounds good, I guess. The only problem is the poem is probably the furthest thing written from the gospel, of Jesus Christ that I can think of; and the even bigger problem is that far too many of us have bought into it. “I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul…” … and captains “always know,” right?

2020 brought me to my knees as a faith leader. If any faith leader tells you differently, they are either flat out lying or they have read Invictus too many times. I have learned the power again of saying, “I don’t know.” During 2020 and beyond, far too many people are sure that they “know.” Everybody “knew” everything about COVID… whether or not it was an overblown hoax or the greatest plague to hit the planet, people were just sure that they “knew.”  If you doubted it, you just needed to ask them or read their social media. Everyone was sure that they “knew” whether or not to wear face masks or face coverings. Everyone was sure that they “knew” what their Constitutional rights were or weren’t (Many “Christians” seemed more sure of that than they even did Biblical passages!). In the midst of heightened racial anxiety, everyone was sure they “knew” everything about race, racism and the existence or non-existence of systemic racism. I mean in a world where we are all masters of our fates and captains of our souls, we all have to know… just ask the Chief of the Boat in U-571.

They once asked Jesus, (yes, Jesus with a capital J), when the end of the world would come, and he replied, “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Wait, the ultimate captain of all of our souls said he didn’t know?! He better not apply for any naval captain positions anytime soon! Friends, as one of your officers here at GMUMC, when asked if we have handled everything perfectly the past fourteen months in light of COVID-19? I answer, ‘I don’t know.’ Are we doing everything correctly as we emerge from this global pandemic? I don’t know. What I do know is that we were and are doing everything we possibly know how to fulfill one of John Wesley’s tenants to “Do No Harm” and keep everyone as safe as possible, while still being the Church together. Friends, I don’t know all the right answers as we continue to navigate unprecedented times. I continue to ask for your prayers and patience as we figure it out together with the Holy Spirit as our guide. If you “know” exactly what we should do, what I should do, and the best way to be the Church right now and into the future… well captain, I know I am asking the impossible. But for those of you willing to live with nuance and in a world where we don’t always know, but where God most certainly does, then I invite you to join me in a journey of discovery of what the Church might become as we live out our ten year vision to ignite a Renaissance of Reconciliation. 

What I did know then and I do know even more keenly now is that the Church Is not a building and that the Church that Jesus sought to build was never meant to be a one hour event that you showed up for in a specific place once a week. My friend, Dr. Leonard Sweet once wrote a book entitled, “Out of the Answer and Into the Question.” Let’s walk together asking good questions, knowing that the world’s true Answer continues to walk with us daily! Humming the old gospel tune as I close, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, he’s the One that holds my hand.”