retreat, reflection and the arrival of holy week 2017...

Part of last week was given to retreat: reading, writing and reflecting on our observance of Holy Week to come as well as my sabbatical of exactly two years ago in Montreal. I wrote up my review/conclusion as required by the Lilly Foundation grant and will share it with them after Easter Sunday. There were three surprises for me as I took the time to carefully reflect upon this journey:

+ First, while I knew I was growing weary of the day-to-day politics of
parish ministry, I had no idea that during this sabbatical I would discern that God was calling me out of the grind just as clearly as God had called me into it in 1968. Moving into a part-time ministry has been soul food for me - and I would not have gained the clarity to make this change had it not been for the four months away. The bone-rattling grief I experienced while facing the reality of re-entering public ministry was palpable in the closing days of my sabbatical. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was grabbing me by the soul - and throat - and screaming: "For Christ's sake (and your own) will you please take stock of all of this? Just as I called you by name to serve me in one manner, that is now ending. But know this, too: my claim to your life does not mean ministry is over. It is just changing." Knowing the exact form of this shift takes time - and is still emerging.

+ Second, during the first year after the sabbatical, much of my ministry was shaped by music.  We worked long and hard on our presentation of Paul Winter's marvelous "Missa Gaia" (Earth Mass) for November 2015. We also created two fascinating jazz improvisational liturgies for Christmas Eve 2015 and 2016. And then celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" by fashioning another improvisational liturgy for Good Friday 2015. Oddly, the following year saw precious little musical innovation or collaboration. I was startled and sobered by this reality and have still not fully grasped all the reasons for this reality. Suffice it to say that when we wound up spending the second half of 2016 in an obsession with budgets, an ugly, wet blanket was thrown upon our collective creativity. This experience not only necessitated but exacerbated my move towards part-time ministry. It also continues to have a impact upon us all. Which is not to say that we haven't shared some incredible music or that individuals haven't been faithful or creative, but there has been precious little energy for collaboration this year. And we'll have to see where this leads as spring moves into summer and fall.

+ Third, as a result of my sabbatical - and last week's retreat - I am truly ready to get on with the call to use my musical gifts in the work of community building. I was speaking with a young waitress last week in Ottawa during a break in John Carroll's set who told me that from time to time she sometimes still goes to worship but feels she can't be her full and honest self in that community. "I like parts of church," she said with some embarrassment, "but if they knew I liked to go out to bars - or dressed like this (crop top t-shirt was part of uniform) and worked in a bar, they would be horrified. They'd judge me without knowing me and life is too short for that. So mostly I don't go any more." My reply was that all too often the church is full of shit and bars are more accepting and supportive. "This would have made Jesus crazy" I concluded, "but there you go..." 

I listened to a lot of music while on sabbatical - and a fair share last week in Ottawa, too - and know that there is a link between making certain types of music and feeding our need for community in service of the Spirit. Sadly, turning Sunday worship into entertainment is a lousy solution. So over the next few months I'm going to put together some alternatives that blend earthy music, poetry, silence, food and drink with helping others make the connections I hear so many people of all ages, races and genders talking about. 

Small wonder that I'm moving in this direction given that I experienced a call to ministry in the Potter's House (Church of the Savior.) It was (and is) an experimental coffee house born after WWII as an outreach to artists who had tons to say about a lonely and alienated world when the churches were not interested in listening to what they had to say. Like Paul Tillich learned after WWI when abstract expressionism came to light, it is often our artists who confront, name and challenge the hard issues of the day. The dominant church tends to keep its head buried in the sand while artists wrestle with the ugly pain of war, race hatred, sexual exploitation and the growing divide between the rich and the poor. The Potter's House brought artists together with people of faith (some of whom had just returned from WW II) for conversation, creativity and compassion. I heard the call two months after Dr. King's assassination in that hallowed place and it still reverberates in my soul all these years later.

The Spirit continues to be right:  one door closes on ministry even as another starts to open.  So onwards to Holy Week - and then a time for more reflection and music in Montreal.

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