This past weekend, Laura and I noticed that the new member of the menagerie, Oscar Wilde, was dragging at his ears...and that our other male, the ever-sensitive Charlie Chaplin, was noting and paying attention to those Mephistophelean wings Oscar carries around. A quick inspection on Laura's part produced some dark, organic matter at the end of a swab. That precipitated Oscar's second trip to the vet with us as adoptive parents. Ten minutes later we were on our way home with vials of ear mite medicine.
When I was a teen, we had a cat that was horribly receptive of those irritating little parasites. Poor Lancelot (my mother the English major named him), was a white haired American "majestic." Except, that is, when he had ear mites. Then, he was a sad, miserable beast with weepy ears and a bad attitude. Ear mites, therefore, freaked me out. I was the sad little kid who had to hold the crazed "don't put that goop in my ear" cat down while my mom dosed him repeatedly for days on end.
Grace itself manifested when we learned that mite mitigation is a one-dose deal now.
Yet another sad right of passage dies in light of the power of pharmaceuticals and the grace of better living through better medicine.
So, after dosing on Friday, we had a relatively quiet Saturday.
It was needed. Sunday was a LOONNNGGG day, with four liturgies instead of three, layered up with a TIGHT schedule in the morning because we had our first vestry/rector/parish Open Table gathering. The idea behind the Open Table is to create an effective forum for the parish to speak to itself in the presence of God. We gathered in the sanctuary, sat in something as close to a circle as we could manage (with over 100 people present) and shared time together. No agenda other than to listen to each other. Dick and I opened the meeting with prayer, and then I went over to the side with my pen and paper to listen, note and pray for this parish that I love as it opines, discerns and seeks its way forward into its life in Christ.
I am always moved and motivated by what is presented when we take time to speak as a body. One of the sad things about Episcopal polity is that we are not really constructed for the sort of democratic discernment that most would like to see. Structures of authority, according to canon and practice, are pretty clear. The rector is in charge of worship, education/formation and has control of access to church property. Vestry is charged with the fiduciary care and support of the ministrations of the parish, from heating oil to staff salaries to outreach grants. That is it, period. If you have an opinion, then share it...but vestry has to enact it in order for it to become policy. Want a favorite hymn? Ask the rector...but realize that she/he does not work for any one person, and is charged to seek the way forward with his/her sense of the whole community in mind. Some hymns might not represent the culture/mission of the parish. Others might not fit into the parish's accepted canon of music. Get the idea? It makes feelings of negative reaction a bit too easy to access. Giving groups or people that sort of absolute authority is all right as long as those groups spend a good deal of their time in reflection and discernment. Once that time set aside gets compromised, though, or the rank and file get the sense that they are not being heard...well, no good comes of it.
Still, great good can come of that structure when you have people who are sacrificially and prayerfully invested in the greater good of the community. Not its comfort, mind you, but its greater good.
My organist said it best: when you exercise...say, if you lift weights, the objective is to tear the muscle down in order to allow it to heal and build up into something that is greater and stronger than it was when you started that particular set. Sounds great from a hypothetical point of view. What happens, though, when one world view that does NOT share that ideal as being inherent to church life, confronts the tearing down?
What happens when someone who sees church life solely for the purpose of comfort, or reassurance, or affirmation, comes to the rail to find challenge, or discomfort, or perhaps even a loving assault?
Some of you reading this might have just recoiled from what I wrote immediately above, no? Still, look back at the Oxford Movement of the 19th century. When those scholars set out to revitalize worship, they took forms to the extreme. Vestments, ornaments and stained glass were taken "over the top." Not to aggrandize the church, but to make it qualitatively different from the grey, sad, industrial world that many workers were emerging from in that day. Incense, choir music, all of that was meant to create an impact on the human soul...to wake up the sleeping sentiments of the holy that dwell in all. They called it "liturgical assault." In a world that is polarized by words of violence, I regret the impact of that word...but it bears weight on the life of Church if we allow it to truly unhinge our sense of routine, of expectation of predictability, etc.
I was reading an article today about a new book on Christian ethics. The author takes issue with most ethicists, who spend an incredible amount of time parsing language in an effort to hold the things we say to account, over and against the actions we take. He posits another way of looking at ethics. Imagine instead spending our time wondering how to make choices in a church life that is inherently threatening to overwhelm us...not with oblivion, but with certainty. God is not so much like a whispered platitude. God is a tsunami of love that overtakes us and consumes us with light, with healing, with rightness and truth. God is a passion that causes us to explode, erode, elide, excite and excel beyond our wildest dreams.
NOT an easy place to live, or to try to live from. I watch my parishioners, I watch myself, trying to step out and beyond from the workaday worries and cares of our lives...and I watch us fail to catch that wave of love again and again. The thing is, that wave isn't waiting for us...and in the life of Christ, I am convinced, we get little choice. It expects us, whether we are willing to accept it or not.
Sometimes that love feels like a warm sunset breeze. Sometimes it howls like a tornado. Always it brings God's creative power to bear and to light. I wish it were always welcome...but even the most spiritual, awake, alive people I have met in my short life can only nod their heads when they hear those winds getting ready to blow...they know what we are in store for, and know that the only thing we can do is open our arms and let God take us where God intends.
Weird, I got all that from a simple case of ear mites and one meeting. Go figure.