what he had suffered longest and needed most...

Today I was asked by a friend, parishioner and colleague, "Why did you choose to move into part-time work - or semi-retirement - in February when many of us would have suggested a later date?" I was genuinely moved by that question. It was tender. It was honest. And it reflected the deep love and affection I share with many in my congregation. So my answer tried to be equally real: "Emotionally and spiritually I have sensed that I need to make a change. Not only do I want to devote some serious time to writing and study, but I need some space so that I can also concentrate on what is life-giving to me at this late stage in ministry." 

I think that is exactly right. The things that I cherish the most in ministry are worship, one-on-one spiritual counsel, sharing music and beauty in pursuit of compassion, and encouraging people to live into the radical hospitality of Jesus in public. These are strange and potentially ugly days. Every night as I watch the PBS News Hour and wonder, "how in God's name can THIS Trump 
cabinet nominations advance anything but discord and disaster?" I am also aware that this is also the hour for the church of Jesus Christ to stand tall, humble and clear on behalf of love and justice. This is NOT, as Toni Morrison says, a time to retreat. Rather, artists and people of faith must be more bold and out there than ever before.

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. 
Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

So moving into a 20 hour a week ministry in February will give me time to write and study, play and practice music, create new initiatives for the expression of compassion and creativity, and do so with people I love. Already Dianne has raised all the necessary funds for her CELTA study course to teach English as a second language to refugees - and we are making progress on funding the Canadian intensive, too. And some of my musical colleagues and I are now planning a January 15th concert: "Songs of Solidarity" with local musicians and poets of all stripes, hues and styles. More than ever before, a tender witness for peace is needed that embraces inter-faith initiatives as well as cross-culture collaboration.

As this Advent continues to ripen, the quiet and the darkness become ever more clarifying to me. Wendell Berry communicates this to me in one of his most recent Sabbath poems.

When our first grandchild came
to be with us, my father held back, unable
to bring himself again to give his heart
to another child, another who would
call forth his love, no matter the cost.
And then, knowing her smallness, her helplessness,
her inheritance of this world's sorrow,
he gave his heart, and so was given
what he had suffered longest and needed most.


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