Friday, March 28, 2008

Pilgrimage ... the next chapter

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
But we know within.
And we'll be there, heaven knows how we will get there,
But we know we will.

It will be hard, we know,
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we'll get there, heaven knows when we will get there,
But we know we will.
These words are from a song called Woyaya. They capture the essence of being on a pilgrimage.

Our little mission congregation is on a pilgrimage. If you've followed this blog, you know we've been on a discernment journey which began in Lent (and it was very Lent-y!). I came to this congregation in June 2007 after some serious internal crises which caused great injury to the members. We had few in numbers when I began and a couple of families intentionally left after my arrival. Our average Sunday attendance is down to 18 and our current location isn't conducive to attracting new members. So it was time to lay down our agendas and listen to God's call to us.

As we listened, we considered all options and looked at the whole picture of our life together. We could not ignore that illness, age and injuries were part of the constellation of our lives. It became clear that the call of being "church planters" was no longer the call felt by the members. It was time to do something else.

But what? That's where the song comes in. Our members are now embarking on "field trips" to visit other Episcopal Churches in our county and listen for where God may be calling them to be. There is movement ...
We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
But we know within.
On Maundy Thursday, our Hebrew Scripture text was the story of the Passover from Exodus 12. In it, God gives Moses the instructions for the Passover. Part of the instructions are:
"This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly."
This made so much sense to me in light of the fact our regular worship as a congregation was coming to a close (Good Friday was our last scheduled service). We were being told through this Scripture to get ready - be ready to go! For us, it meant the beginning of a pilgrimage to discern where God is calling us next.

Some call this "church shopping" but I don't like that term at all. It plays into our worst consumerist attitudes. It turns Church into a commodity and places the emphasis on what we want rather than where God is calling us. Putting ourselves at the center of this process instead of God isn't faithful.

The Church is not a commodity - it is the Body of Christ. We are called to particular congregations to live fully into our discipleship, not because of some passing want or whim we have. We may be called to congregations we'd never consider if it were up to our own desires. I have no doubt that I was called to work with this congregation, even though I do not generally feel called to work in family sized congregations or as a mission church planter. God had a different idea and needed me to do some particular work here ... and now that work is changing and will likely come to an end within the next month or so.

And so, rather than "church shopping," I told them they were on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are intentional journeys and they are on a very intentional journey to seek a community where they can live fully into their call to be God's people. They will get there ... heaven knows when they will get there ... but I don't think it will take very long. With God at the center of this intentional process, they will be just fine.

As for me ... well, my journey may be hard and the road will likely be muddy and rough. Beloved Husband has just accepted his call to be Director of Operations for Bishop Claggett Center and we are both very excited about this new chapter in his life. Making this move will be a financial challenge as he is taking a 50% cut in salary to go there. This makes my having a full-time (or close to full-time) call a necessity. It also places a geographical limitation on any future call ... and right now, there are really no openings in this area. An old friend of ours, Lee Weber, said, "Well you guys are either completely faithful or completely nuts." I'm hoping it's the former and not the latter. I suppose time will tell.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My own peace I leave with you

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage. (John 14.27)
On the final night of Jesus' earthly life, he blesses his friends with these words of peace. In the Church, we speak of God's peace as that "which passes all understanding." It doesn't make sense.

We are very rational people steeped in a culture grounded in scientific facts and knowledge. We have trouble with things which are not rational. Somehow, we've mistaken rational for real. If something doesn't make rational sense, it must not be real, right?


I tell folks I've tried rationality and found it's overrated. Truth is, there are many things irrational which are very, very real. The most obvious one is love. Anyone who has been in love can tell you there is a lot about love which is irrational. It isn't logical and doesn't always make sense.

Grace is irrational too. Why would God pour out grace on us? More specifically, why would God pour out grace on sinners ... especially the "really bad sinners" (of course I don't believe in gradations of sin so that makes us all "really bad sinners" ... but that's another post for another time).

Peace isn't rational either. Most people define peace is an absence of conflict. I'm not sure that's truly what peace is. Conflict is a means for change and transformation, so the absence of conflict is stagnation. I think peace is when we can be in the midst of conflict, but do it in such a way that allows us to see Christ in another with whom we disagree ... and in such a way as to honor their humanity which, in turn, honors God.

This week is Holy Week. It's the "high water mark" of the Christian year. It's not rational at all. The idea of a crucified God is pretty weird ... not at all rational. But God doesn't have to be rational to be real ... and neither to we.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-22)
This is the passage from Leviticus from which we get the term "scapegoat." The goat bore the guilt, shame and sins of the people on their behalf and it was driven into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It was a cleansing ritual so that the people could go on with their lives with a sense of wholeness and a burden being lifted.

But what about the goat? Live long enough, and you'll end up being a symbolic scapegoat for something. Anyone who has been a change agent in their workplace often finds themselves playing the role of the scapegoat! The sins of past inactions, poor policies, and bad decisions get heaped on the one who is trying to make a difference until they are driven out of the group. It is certainly much easier to dump our sins onto another and then drive that person out when they begin to shed light on our sins. But, does this ever cause us to repent of the underlying sin and return to a wholeness of relationship?

One way to understand Jesus' death on the cross was as an atoning death. On him was the sin of all humanity laid and for our sins he died. We still hear language like this in the Church. Jesus was certainly a change agent and, in his ministry, he shed light on the systemic sins of his culture. "... it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed," said Caiaphas (John 11:50). This certainly bears the marks of a scapegoat.

Jesus' death was more than this because of his resurrection. The scapegoat returned! Jesus' resurrection reminds us that we cannot run away from our sins or heap them onto someone else and hope they just go away. Jesus' resurrection is God's reconciling love in action. There are no scapegoats in reconciliation - nobody is driven into the wilderness to die. Even in the midst of our sinfulness (and yeah, there's plenty of that for all of us), we are promised through the resurrection that we will be reconciled back to God ... and to each other.