Friday, September 8, 2017

becoming smaller so that...

When it comes to the realm of false equivalencies, while 45 is a master, he is not alone. Context, experience and living from the heart trump so-called objectivity every time. Every person is unique, every soul is both wounded and beautiful. Applying a one-size-fits-all solution upon any one is arrogant, foolish and often unintentionally mean-spirited. A volume I purchased while away in Quebec, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning through Storytelling, makes this point precisely. It is the follow-up to A Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham first published in 1992. I cherished that book - and 22 years later they were ready to add their unique life experiences for our consideration. The story that spoke to me involves the mystical fool of Islam, Nasrudin:

Hussein told the Mullah, "I have terrible pain in my eye. What do you advise?" Nasrudin though for a moment and then said, "Pull it out." With shock and bewilderment, Hussein said, "You can't be serious." To which the Mullah replied, "Well, last month my tooth hurt horribly for weeks, until I couldn't bear the pain anymore. So I had the tooth pulled ouot - and then I felt much better. So, if it worked for my tooth, it should work for your eye, too, right?"

I've been there and done that - maybe you have, too?  Assuming my experience entitles me to share what amounts to wisdom without context, I've offered up solutions, commentary and even moral judgment when listening carefully and quiet reflection was in order. Robert Bly and others have suggested that men tend to do this more than women - given our mono-minded nature and a socialization geared toward problem-solving - we often hear people in general (and women in particular) asking us for an answer. In a bottom-line culture, addicted to market place metaphors, we're all too willing to share what we think will "fix" things before moving on to something else. Truth be told, however, most of the time what another needs from us is not answers, but space to be heard. Listening, I continue to learn, is far more precious than commentary without context. 

This past week, returning from a week away in quiet reflection and rest, I became aware once again of all the different ways my full-time colleagues are engaged in ministry. In broken times such as these, there is so much to be done. And they are responding powerfully with creativity, compassion and verve. Not so for me given my part-time context: there is only so much I can accomplish in 20 hours.  I can listen. I can be present and prayerful in hard times. I can celebrate Eucharist and teach the faithful about the time-tested tools of contemplation and spiritual commitment. I can write (on my own time) and even use social media to connect people to public acts of justice. But long term programming?  Not so much any more.

Candidly, there is some grieving for me as I practice accepting this new reality. It goes with the territory.  And I suspect that it means at least these two truths:

+First, with age and change, I am being called to practice what John the Baptist once said in the gospel according to St. John.  When Jesus came upon the scene, the man of the desert confessed, "I must be less so that he can become more." It is time for others to be bold and engaged in social transformation. I have had 35 years of ordained ministry and nearly 40 years of service to the church given my internships at seminary. They were all full-time. They were all action oriented. They were all a combination of grace and feet of clay. Now, as my old way of serving comes to a close, letting go is my charism. I can be supportive. I can be collaborative. I can even listen carefully and, if asked, share my experiences. But now is the season where I am to become less so that others can become greater.

+ Second, this change in pastoral leadership necessitates a profound shift in the way our congregation works, too.  Will it be as complicated for them as it is for me? I don't know. We'll see. My hunch is that learning to be a community of collaboration and solidarity rather than a fount of leadership will likely be a real challenge for our community.  For over 250 years we have been first - and now we're not.  Such a change makes sense for us. It is modeled on Christ's call to live as loving servants in a downward trajectory. And suggests finding new ways to partner with others as allies in supporting the beloved community. Without full-time pastoral leadership, this more humble path is a necessity - and none of us are well-practiced in it. And I can't offer a whole lot of insight about how to do this as a congregation because my grieving and practices as a retiring pastor are different from their world as a church engaged in the world.  I am becoming less but they remain a vibrant albeit different community of faith in a small community.     

These next few months leading up to Advent/Christmas will be fascinating. As Jesus says to Peter after the Resurrection:  "When you were young, you went where you wanted and did what you desired. But now that you are older, you must let another lead you and gird your waist as you are led into those places where you do not want to go."  And so the journey continues and away we go...

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