Thanks, Pat. I was starting to come back around to posting again, but had been stranded in the “fixin’ to” zone, until your comment yesterday.
In the last 6 months, my life has changed in some big ways.
Six months ago, I was walking with a dying congregation toward its own death. My daughter was getting ready to graduate high school and then head off to a small college on the other side of the continent. I was also feeling stuck in another dying situation, in a seemingly open-ended death to a long-term, significant relationship. I was living in a place that didn’t make sense for me, but my living there was convenient for others. Perhaps worst of all, I’d arrived at a place where it seemed as though the church had lost all Spirit and all purpose, except to keep older folks comfortable in a hospice sort of way. That, and to throw the occasional sop toward compassionate justice. I found it increasingly less significant to offer a bag of food to a hungry person when it seemed that there was little or no concern about changing the systems that brought this person to our door. Meanwhile, the surrounding community seemed perfectly willing to take all that the dying church had to offer, with little concern about whether the church lived or died. An enduring memory sums it up: a woman came from the apartment complex across the street to ask me for rental assistance to the tune of 700 bucks. She had come to plead and beg her case while we were in the midst of hosting a funeral luncheon, held following the service for a much-loved member of the church, who had died after a tragically long and painful illness. The distraught woman had little regard for any of this, however, since her husband (who had a drinking problem, of course) somehow “lost” the SSI check he had gone out to cash. “We’ll pay you back,” the woman said. I’d heard that line about 60 times in 6 years from an assortment of folks who came our way from the neighborhood. It’s so sad when the pathetic becomes that typical.
Then there was the issue of hosting a small, Spanish-speaking church that had arrived about the time I came. Good people, with a good spirit; but their pastor was one of those folks who’d rather ask forgiveness rather than permission. The issues surrounding this relationship alone might well involve a number of reflections with the working series title being something like, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” This latino group seemed to do some good things in the community. But they were also Rapture Pentecostals, and such theology is among the most unhealthy and damaging theologies you’ll find on the American landscape. Negotiating life with them as they used all places in the church, sometimes with permission, sometimes without, was another experience that drained the life from the church.
In short, life sucked. Or maybe I should say I found myself caught up in a life-sucking experience.
Now, at the end of October, I find that there is in fact life beyond this season of death, and so far this life is pretty good. I no longer live in an uncomfortable place for the sake of others. I’m closer to the mountains, which is what you want when you live in the Rockies. The seemingly never-ending dead relationship is about to end. And I’ve received a new call to a very different sort of congregation, where the average age is about 21, and the predominate energy is geared by change and for change.
It’s not without its challenges. Even this unique congregation is experiencing the same sort of collapse that is affecting the larger church. Basically what is happening across the rest of American society is also touching the church: namely, that the institutions and organizations planted in the early-to-mid 20th century are being abandoned and are dying along with the folks who founded them. We’re talking Lions Club. We’re talking Rotary Club. We’re talking all the other animal clubs, from Elk to Moose to Penguin. (BTW, I’d be interested to find out what the Masons’ numbers are these days.) The church–Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise–is part of the overall societal deconstruction. And as I think about it, such deconstruction is essential if the church that says it is the Spirit-filled place for welcoming and gracious love is going to offer any sort of relevance in the violent tumult of the 21st century. The truth of the matter is that the church that I’ve experienced has become far too polluted with the “club mentality,” so that for too many, church on Sunday isn’t all that much different from the Rotary gathering on Tuesday, or a Scout meeting on Thursday. Then, of course, there’s that other expression of church, the Exclusive Club of the Saved and the Righteous, hunkered down amongst the damned and depraved, which would pretty much be the rest of us. Ah, but more on this another time……
This new ministry I’m in has felt the effects of the deconstruction of their model. It’s an unsettling place, since the model’s demise is on the near horizon. But at least with this bunch the fear of death is more than offset by that youthful insistence upon life lived in a vivacious sort of way. To me that is the gospel at its core. And the larger church is realizing the importance of these young people, who have tended to be forgotten as they’ve left their churches to continue their education. We’re also looking at the implications of what it means to be the church at a place of higher learning. Doesn’t such a unique parish include the educator as well as the one being educated? How does that work? How could that work?
I’ve been at it a bit over a month, and I’m still figuring out what I’m doing. This isn’t a bad thing, however; if I were steeped in the existing model, would I be of any help in imagining a new one?
Meanwhile, my daughter has graduated high school, and at the last minute, ditched the faraway college for one closer to home. While the last-minute timing of her decision put a fair amount of stress on everyone involved, it seems to be working out for the best. She’s coming home this weekend for her birthday, and I can’t wait to see her and help her celebrate it.
I’d just about given up on finding any sort of happiness in relationship. Lo and behold, out of the ashes of one relationship, another has suddenly bloomed. Loneliness and isolation are no longer my constant companions. Instead, there is warmth, laughter, companionship and an enjoyable partner I figured I’d never meet. The most amazing turn of circumstances finds me in a relationship where there is mutual support and encouragement. Mostly I enjoy the way we make each other laugh, something I hadn’t experienced since I was about the age of the young folks in this new congregation.
I don’t know exactly where this tumbleweed life will lead me next. For now, it’s enough to say that in the past six months I’ve made a journey through the valley of the shadow of death, and now find little bursts of Easter blooming around me. Right now, it’s pretty good place to be.