I am NOT in charge...

The other day I was cutting the front lawn when this question passed through my head:  How do people expect their deepest values to be passed on to their children and/or loved ones if they can't/won't make time for consistent worship, prayer and study? I was a bit startled by the intensity of what I was feeling as this thought took up residence within me for the rest of the afternoon.  And I am still deeply concerned because while I broadly celebrate the disestablishment of civil religion in contemporary American culture, I can't help but fret over some of the consequences.

For example, there is wide spread confusion about the difference between church and a personal refuge or sanctuary - and the two are not interchangeable.  A church - ekklesia - is a group of people called out of their private homes into a public community.  A sanctuary or refuge is a quiet place for the self to both rest and experience renewal.  A church is public while a home is private, the community is engaged in shared worship and service while the refuge is dedicated to the self. Public people, of course, need retreat and I celebrate and honor taking private time as part of a healthy and sane rhythm of life.  But the distinction I'm talking about is all too often obscured in a culture addicted to personal satisfaction so that the whole notion of being connected strikes many as challenging.

It reminds me of the time a woman in Arizona scolded me for not allowing enough "quiet and personal time" for her in worship.  I asked, "How much time during your week do you give to quiet reflection and meditation?"  To which she replied:  "I don't have time for that during the week. I am a very busy person."  Hmmm... so I said, "I can appreciate the challenge of being busy but there is a deep difference between public prayer and private prayer.  One is for rest and renewal and the other is shared in community.  And whether you like it or not, when you are in church, you are part of the community." So she quit attending.  That wasn't my goal - and I wasn't trying to be a smart ass - but that's what happened in a culture geared to customer satisfaction and narrowly defined market driven outcomes.

You see, it is counter-cultural for us to realize that we are not the center of the universe. When St. John the Baptist said of Jesus, "The time has come to realize that I must decrease so that He might increase (John 3: 30)" he was on to a key spiritual truth. The Zen masters say much the same thing: when we are certain we know how life and faith works - and when we are too busy to sit in quiet community - we are too full of ourselves for the Spirit to lead us in any way that matters.  Consequently, we are invited to be emptied over and over again in order that the Spirit might fill us with life, grace and joy. In Peterson's reworking of the Beatitudes, Jesus says: 

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought... You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

One of the truths I wrestle with in my current work as a pastor committed to the renewal of a struggling congregation has to do with accepting that all I can do is strive to be faithful and leave the rest to the Lord.  I can't fix things.  I may say stupid things from time to time - and do - and I may even get the message right from time to time (and that's been known to happen, too.) But I have precious little control over what individuals and families choose to do with their time, resources, expectations or commitments.  Indeed, as humbling as it is to me (and sometimes frustrating, too) all I can do is invite them to the feast and know that the rest is up to their openness and the guidance of the Spirit. 

Now I confess that I hate it when people choose to sleep in - or go to the movies - or play golf or soccer or whatever on a Sunday morning. I really hate it because I believe this is a bad choice for a person who is interested in going deeper.  And I know it is a bad choice for those who say they are committed to strengthening the church. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with movies or sleeping or sports.  It just gets back to my opening question set in the context of church renewal: how can we nourish faith and commitment without practice? How can families help their children learn about prayer? Or radical trust?  Or counter-cultural hospitality? Or waiting?  How can adults learn to share in the spirit of Jesus?  Or let their wounds rest in God's grace long enough that they discover they can also celebrate a love that is even greater than our pain?  How can we ever cultivate a capacity for awe and reverence without practice?

At a bare minimum, one hour a week isn't enough for faith formation - but it is more than many seem able to muster given competing schedules.  One hour a week isn't enough time to learn how to play an instrument - or exercise the body - or even read a book of any depth.  It really is frustrating to me because these same folk will act with incredulity when a church closes and a community is forced to quit.  "What happened?" they wonder. (I can't tell you how many times I've seen this take place over the past six years as the Roman Catholic diocese has closed 20+ churches in our region and people who haven't been to mass in 15 years act shocked.)

So  apparently one of the things I have to keep learning over and again here is my need to let go and trust in the Lord in all things. Clearly I don't do this very well because I keep having to learn it over and over again.  It is both frustrating and humbling to be such a slow student.  But it is a fact.  I really can't change people - I can't change their habits or reactions - why I can barely change myself. So I really should grow up enough to quit trying because God is Lord and I am not.  Today I sense that I can affirm the truth that St. Paul grasped when he wrote:

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Lord, please help me to draw closer to trusting this as my vacation time unfolds. (Can you tell this pastor needs a vacation?  We leave on Wednesday!)


celestine said…
jesus is the truth and life.unn.edu.ng

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