There are certain creatures (like sharks, for instance) that die if they don’t keep moving. I think that organizations, including congregations, are the same. A congregation that stops being propelled by its mission (Share God’s Love) toward embracing its vision (to be the open arms of Jesus Christ) soon settles into a death spiral, weighed down by traditions, anxiety, fear. To keep moving spiritually, an individual must constantly be open to reflection – being honest about who we are and what is keeping us from living the Divine image of God; repentance – turning away from the fear and brokenness of our lives back to God; renewal – making the changes necessary to grow more fully into our life.
Lately I find myself reflecting on the changes we have experienced over the past 18 months. As we move out of the heights of the pandemic, the future looks hopeful. I am seeing life the way I have not seen it for what seems like quite a while. Ferris Bueller’s famous words come to mind, “Life moves pretty fast. If you do not stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned that several pastors I know and love have either left a congregation or retired from ministry far earlier than planned because they have no more to give. The pandemic and all the other cultural forces that make our society uncivil and adversarial have left them, as one colleague put it, unable to keep turning the other cheek.
When people are asked, “Do you pray?” the majority say, “Of course.” Surprisingly, this holds true even among those who say they really don’t believe in any god. Prayer seems to be a rather ubiquitous part of human experience. On the other hand, what people mean by “prayer” is much harder to pin down.
Recently I have been re-reading the book, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” by Rachel Held Evans. It is an easy read but filled with thoughtfulness as she reflects on her own faith journey and where it has taken her. She breaks down, chapter by chapter, various aspects of the Church that make the Church the Church. It is a book filled with grace.
I want to thank all the folks who have dropped a note or said a kind word about the sermon I preached last weekend. Some of you asked for a copy of the sermon, but I don’t write a manuscript. I share here a synopsis of the sermon.
In some small way, I think that the pandemic feels like a "diaspora" of a sort. We feel scattered, or at least disconnected, from the communal relationships that define us. Nowhere has this been more evident than in church.
One of the phrases heard frequently when traveling by train in Europe is “Mind the Gap.” It is a phrase that is repeated every time the train door is opened. “Mind the Gap,” in other words pay attention to what you are doing so that you do not fall or trip as you maneuver the steps to the landing outside the train. There is an open space, a gap, between the outside of the train and the sidewalk. “Mind the Gap.”
Maybe it is an illusion, perhaps a response to fatigue, but the number of questions that seem to demand answers is increasing geometrically. As the approach of fall brings a new school year, a new season of learning in the church, and a thousand other “new” things marinated in the odyssey known as the pandemic, every moment demands answers and spawns more questions. Speaking as one who is supposed to know stuff and provide answers, I am going to make a confession – and I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t know how to keep everyone safe, nor how to keep folks satisfied and connected to a congregation that is still mostly scattered. I don’t know when this will end, nor how the weeks and months ahead will unfold. I don’t know.
The Book of Revelation is a source of much conversation and speculation. Its wild images and often terrifying beasts and battles can make it hard to find hope, love, or grace in its pages. Martin Luther found the whole of John’s Apocalypse to be so unhelpful to faith that he thought it should be plucked from the canon of scripture.