An amusing moment happened several years ago during a community theater production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”
For those unfamiliar, a production of “Into the Woods” usually runs a little over 2.5 hours. It’s a long show, and the plot is tremendously complicated.
The first act runs long, maybe 90 minutes, and at this point in the show, the initial plot is beginning to resolve. The song at the end of the act is a reprise, and it feels like the curtain may fall at any moment. That’s when the narrator loudly proclaims, “To be continued!”
A man in the row in front of us held his car keys in his hand and looked at his wife aghast, and he loudly questioned, “There’s an Act 2?!”
This is a good reminder for us in life — all may seem lost, but there’s usually more to the story.
I had a recent disappointment, and the end result left me feeling a bit shaken. As advised, I called a trusted mentor for some advice.
In processing with this wise guide, he heard me out but also responded with hopeful optimism for what might happen in Act 2. His wisdom reminded me that disappointment is real, but he also drew back the curtain to show the stage still set for the second act.
Isn’t that how a story is defined after all? Act 1 sets the stage and introduces the characters, while Act 2 shows the universal truth of the story.
From the opening number, life is dynamic, and sometimes things go awry. Relationships take sour turns. A planned project doesn’t pan out. Things go off course, but what comes next? What does the second act look like?
This philosophy doesn’t intend to place a silver lining where one doesn’t belong, and it doesn’t intend to prolong a period of trauma or pain into an encore. Instead, as life takes turns or things look bleak, this perspective encourages us to ask, “How might we find hope as the story continues?”
This is a good reminder for us in the life of the church. In conversations with church leaders, problems and challenges abound. Yet, I still feel bullish on the potential for Christian witness alive in the church.
Things will have to change in Act 2 though. Things may look bleak for the life of the church, but where is hope in Act 2?
Here’s a humble attempt:
- Attendance numbers in the life of the church have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Act 2 should be about engagement and outreach, all the while mindful of the challenges ahead. The second act might see new ministry leaders exercising creative efforts to engage the local community previously unconsidered.
- Congregational turmoil and disagreement may have reached a fever pitch that resulted in some serious conflict. Act 2 might have cooler heads prevailing in decision-making roles that act cautiously, seeking to respond thoughtfully and not repeat previous errors from before.
- The social influence of the church is nearly erased. Act 2 likely reveals some of the inherent flaws of Christendom and possibly creates new inroads with marginalized groups in the life of the church.
The second act of resurrection is only possible when death happens in act one. Resurrection people should know that joy comes in the morning, and Act 2 doesn’t seek to erase the conflict of Act 1. Instead, the arc of the story moves a character and a people from one place to a new reality previously unavailable.
If your Act 1 is coming to a close and it’s looking grim, keep your head up, knowing that Act 2 might be on its way.