Tough words from Ecclesiasticus.
I have had a tough week, though, and for some reason I have found an incredible resonance in this week's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. The rest of the passage's gist reads like a treatise in just how far short we all fall in responding to God's mercy at the end of the day. We are forgiven, and yet we continually place conditions on ourselves and on others as forgiveness is sought from us.
Trinity has had a rough passage from summer to fall, and we haven't even begun the program year, yet. The operating account, the money we have to make ministry happen at this church, is nearly empty. Not for any reason other than that we simply haven't had the income we need to respond to the essentials of the budget. The staff has not been extravagant. We have kept expenses low, actually. The money has just not come in, for any number of reasons. It is as if the whole of the projected budget deficit has come home to roost in a moment.
There is income down the road. People will return to the pews for the fall program season. The Church is still growing. Fall fundraisers follow in quick succession. Still, I have had a faith-quake over where our communal priorities in mission rest. If we have to struggle to meet the basic demands of survival, how will this church be able to reach beyond itself to the "world without" in hopes of manifesting the kingdom of God as we experience it here on our little acre of sunshine?
Right now, people need us. They need our strength. They need the wealth of our not inconsiderable resources. We have the chance to do GREAT things in the name of God...And yet the leadership is limited to wondering if we will have enough cash on hand to pay for heating oil for the winter.
Some of what I am feeling is anger. We have gotten to a place as a parish that makes it hard to see a way forward. If we are all able to set aside our need for an individual solution, we might weather the storm of scarcity that threatens us. I might find peace of mind as a rector in that light. Sadly, instead of being a beacon on the hill for all to see the light of Christ in this community, we worry about the price of lamp oil.
I am not asking for too much of myself and others. That is the other problem. We are at a point right now as a parish that lead me to conclude that we are beyond individuals being able to change the course of our fiscal and missional reality. There is, literally, no ONE who can solve the issue. If we are going to be able to grow and evolve as a parish, it will mean that we will experience a revival of being a community in Christ.
Before I arrived, there were several events that qualified this parish's sense of itself as community. It has been growing and changing for years, and has been "bumped" in some pretty significant ways. Chief among them was the fire that reduced the church building itself to ashes. There was nothing left, really, to claim beyond salvage...And then they rebuilt. Treasures were lost, and others were rescued. But in the end, this parish learned that what it was at the close of day was vested in the relationships it possessed among its members and with the wider community of the county and the diocese.
On the negative was the parish experiencing the departure of its former rector, the marriage of a gay couple in the church in the wake of that transition and penultimately the election and consecration of an openly gay bishop in the diocese of New Hampshire.
Finally, as to one untimely born, I was called as rector.
And now, in so many ways, we begin again for the fourth or fifth time in as many years. Change is always hard to embrace. Transition is not easy, and yet if we are to become in Christ; we have to be willing to leave where we were and embrace where we are called by God to journey to as the days come to pass.
That is where anger and wrath come in to play. In holding on to old angers, hurts, griefs, pains, losses, resentments, fears, etc., we enter into a form of paralysis. We are cut off from being able to adapt to where we are in the present moment. In dwelling on things of the past, we can lose perspective on where we could go.
I am a student of history and culture. I love the past, believe me, but I am also aware that I cannot live within it without giving up on life as it will be.
As I watch the events of the past week, both abroad from Solebury and within these parish environs, I am impressed that survival is not just found in resisting death. It comes from embracing life. So much was lost on the Gulf Coast that it might seem that what was will never rise again. That is true, really. Memories cannot be restored to flesh. Still, what was can become what might be. Buildings can be rebuilt. New life will supersede old. Nothing is lost for long. It will never be the same, but in the wake of the destruction and death of Katrina, I don't think anyone would want that...It would mean that what we have gone through hadn't happened.
When I was an associate rector in Madison, NJ, in the wake of 9/11 I had my youth group gather to talk about what had happened in NY, PA and DC. One young woman clarified and qualified my experience of those tragedies when asked if she could undo it what happened, would she?
She said no.
She explained that if what happened, hadn't, then she would never understand who she is now. The event so qualified her sense of her self that she couldn't imagine being whole without the knowledge and grief of the tragedy in her existence. This goes beyond the aphorism of "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" in that I don't believe she felt particularly strong in that moment. She was speaking from a point of deepest wisdom and humility. If I can't accept this experience, she was saying, then who am I? Certainly, I am not whole.
God is willing to embrace us in all our messiness. In that blessing, we are given...GIVEN...Life and forgiveness. How can we retain resentments and suffering in the face of that? Sure, there will be pain, grief...Even death. But if God does exist; if God does love us; then we have a high calling to attain to as a community.
In that reality, I am sure, is the answer to our current woes. It makes getting on with the work of the kingdom something that is easy to address, because in embracing that we are called on to set down all the crap that separates us from God. All those petty resentments. All that anger. All that wrath.
Then, comes life!