What is the five-hundred-year question?

Dear Members and Friends,

Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing there’s a future.       

-Daphne Rose Kingma, 21st century

Artists Makoto Fujimura describes visiting the Fra Angelico (1395-1455) exhibit at the Met one December.  As he gazed at Angelico’s “Madonna and Child,” he says he had to close his eyes.  What he saw on the canvas was so powerful that he felt overwhelmed, so that he physically staggered.

Fujimura writes that as he gazed at the painting, the “five-hundred-year” question popped into his mind.  “What is the five-hundred-year question?” he writes.  “Well, it’s a long-term look at the reality of our cultures that asks, What ideas, what art, what vision in our current culture has the capacity to affect humanity for more than five hundred years? … If our decisions matter and make ripple effects in the world, then should we not weigh what we say and do in light of the five-hundred-year question?”

In our current social climate, with Andy Warhol’s idea of each of us getting our “15-minutes of fame” and the instant gratification attitude so prevalent and social media dominating the landscape, it is a good question to wonder what is being created or done today that will have any impact on humanity 500 years from now?  Is there great art, like that of Fra Angelico, or Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” or Van Gogh’s “Starry, starry Night” or Michelangelo’s statue of “David” being created now that will be admired, wondered at, and discussed in 500 years?  What music will stand the test of time as does Handel’s “The Messiah” and the pieces of Mozart and Beethoven and Bach?

As we close out 2017 and prepare to enter the New Year of 2018, this 500-year-question is a good one for us to contemplate as individuals and as a church.  Think back on your past year and ask “What from 2017 will have a lasting impact on me, my life, and (more importantly) on the lives of my family, friends, and other people in my circle of influence?”

Then shift your perspective from the past year and look into the future year, 2018.  Now ask “What could I do, create, engage in, embark upon in the coming year that has the potential to have a lasting impact on family, friends, and other people in my circle of influence beyond 2018?”

These are worthy questions to contemplate and meditate upon and pray over.  They are questions that might lead one to make significant changes in one’s life.  They are questions that might help one to have a more intentional and meaningful life.  These are especially important questions to ponder in the difficult days of violence, flood, fire, famine, political turmoil and anxiety in which we live.  They are questions which might help us find ways to convey the hope of the Christ child that keeps us alive despite the darkness that threatens to overwhelm us.

These are also excellent and important questions for us as a Church community to be asking and wrestling with.  They are questions that will help us move beyond just existing as a Sunday morning worship community to a mission-oriented, world-oriented community seeking to engage the world around us and to make a lasting impact on that world.  So, as we move from one year to the next, from 2017 to 2018, in my reflections on our ministry together I will be asking that five-hundred-year question about what I and we together have done this past year.  As we contemplate what we might be doing as a Church in 2018 I will again be asking that same five-hundred-year question.  It should be interesting to see where the Spirit of God might be leading us.

See you in church.

R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida