Thank you for the kind and encouraging words you have recently shared with me as we get ready to mark the 30th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry. I am going to use the outline of that reflection for the essence of this Sunday's message - amplified by a few stories - and, of course, the music that informed and even shaped those distinct times in ministry.
This week, mostly as a way for me to sort through my feelings about having a celebration - I mostly am uncomfortable with them - I thought I might reflect on some of my inner rumblings and see what pops up. For years I hated public birthday parties - anticipation of them sent me into a week long funk - and I tried to always take a "personal day" on my actual birthday because I hated being the center of attention. Or more honestly, I hated being the center of THAT kind of attention. It was ok to be the leader of a class - or worship - or a political campaign; in those leadership roles I was acting as a servant. Sure, I was often the focus (even if it should have been on God) but at least I was doing something for the greater good. At a birthday party, however, it was just me - as me - and my role was to receive - and I hated it.
But by about the time I turned 50, that started to change. To be sure, a lot of other things had shaken out inside me, too so by the time my birthday came around it was just a little bit of fun to receive gifts and be embraced by those I love. I was still a little uneasy, but I've learned to enter those kinds of celebrations with open hands - receptive - rather than clenched fists. Now I don't think this resistance and hatred of these kind of celebrations was false modesty. No, my suspicion is that it was related to both shame and an inability to receive blessings. Thankfully, some of that has been healed - some of it has simply been acknowledged - and some of it I will probably carry to my grave. But I now have a measure of peace born of the "unforced rhythms of grace"."
Practicing letting go - surrendering to God's grace - learning how to be graceful in those times and events that are beyond my control is at the heart of my Christian spirituality. It is at the core of what I preach and how I try to live. Imagine my surprise, then, when those old "birthday demons" started to make their presence known last night as I pondered what I was feeling about this up-coming anniversary celebration. "I don't want ANY of it" I kept hearing a small child-like voice intent upon a temper tantrum saying. "I haven't earned it with these people yet," was just below the surface, too. "After all, it has only been five years and we still have a lot of work to do." Truth told, I was feeling surly and antagonistic and very resistant to anything gentle.
But the voices of two old friends were also part of this inner conversation. One is pastor M. Craig Barns of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I don't know Craig but I have become a fan of his writing. And in an older book, When God Interrupts, I read the following:
I have become convinced that Christianity is fundamentally an experience of losing the lives of our dreams (or wounds) in order to receive the lives Jesus died to give us... we have a name for this process in the Christian church: we call it conversion.
WTF? But it is true - letting go and surrender - is about giving up one part of life to experience the deeper life of God more fully. That has been true before - and there's no reason to think it isn't so now. Especially when the second old friend, from the gospel of John, reminded me of this post-resurrection story:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’
Those last words have been essential to my spirituality over the past 15 years, too. So, like Siddhartha, I now find myself back at the same damn river again. I've changed, the river has changed and time has passed; and yet the old demon returns albeit in a new form. And I am asked to practice what I preach and rest into the unforced rhythms of grace. I feel like an idiot - maybe child-like too - but now I have a clue about what's going on. So, here I go again:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I
and wisdom to know the difference.
Monday, September 24, 2012
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