Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ashes to ashes

Ash Wednesday.

I got home last night around 10:30. Vestry went a little long, as we had to approve the budget and spend some time together as a new/renewed body getting to know each other a little better. We have a year of growth and change ahead of us, and this Lent looks to be a period to embrace the beginnings of that process.

This morning, as I was on my way in to the early liturgy, I had an experience that has thrown the day into a bit of welcome and holy chaos: Just as I was getting to the Sugan/Mechanicsville bridge (a little one-lane bit of transition that is usually quiet), I found a back up of cars, trucks and buses. I wasn't late, yet, but I could feel my own anxiety kick up: first, from the unexpected delay on a drive that has become almost unconsciously quiet and easy for me; and second, for the fact that there was a sudden and unexpected inconvenience blocking me from an easy passage.

I quickly threw on my turn signal and made a preparation to try to go around. Mind you, going around on that section of road means, in reality going longer. Realizing that, I decided on another course. I took a breath, eased my pulse and remembered that I am the rector of the parish I was heading to-that I was going to get there when I got there-and that if something awful happened...well, then, my Sunday associate could take the service.

My anxiety was all about me, not about the road. Not about the liturgy. Not about anything else but my own negative expectations of the commute.

Time to set that aside.

I got to the church on time. The liturgy went well. Ultimately, there was no cause for worry. Still, why worry?

I worked out a bit of that in my sermon: "God does not need us, God chooses us..."; to which a parishioner added, after "We need God, so we choose God." Ash Wednesday, for me, is becoming a day on which I am learning to get back to the basic understanding that if I expect God to do something "not negative," then I am giving the wrong signal. "Don't hurt me" is not a request for health and safety. It is a plea to be preserved from more harm, without addressing the deeper need to change our own posture of passivity into something more fierce: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace..."

That works its way throughout our common life in God. If we overwork and worry about anything, that worry becomes the focus, sometimes to the point that we miss God offering up a healing path to us.

Case in point in the macro: The Anglican Communion is spending a GREAT DEAL OF TIME on the issues of sexuality and biblical authority. We seem to be missing the reality that overfocus on that issue of difference is what is tearing at us, and is tearing us apart. What about what unites us? The Body and Blood of Christ were given to unite, not divide the people of the least that is what I have been given to believe. What does it mean when we spend more money on the opportunity to yell at each other instead of making sure that the sick are cared for, the hungry fed, the imprisoned visited...well, I hope you get the point.

Case in point in the micro: Vestry spent an hour and change last night on the budget. We are experiencing an incongruity, in that the expenses outstrip the income. How do we change that? Do we focus on cutting back? What does that mean to us? Do we reassert the need to express good stewardship? What is our standard of ministry? Are we meeting it? How might we exceed in meeting those needs? Instead, and I am as guilty of this as the next human being, we try to figure out the fix that will get us past the crisis...when the crisis is the thing we are in fact creating the very thing we are trying to avoid.

I, to my core, do not believe that God created us to become enmired in conflict and poverty. Heck, the lilies of the field neither spin nor toil, yet even Solomon was not arrayed as such as these!

So, time to hit the ctrl-alt-del buttons of my current state of mind. Time to live into an abundant and peaceful life. Time to hold that standard up to God and receive that gift, already given.

God does not need us; God chooses us. We need God; we choose God.

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