Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Staying Put

The congregation at Ascension Memorial Church is a wonderful mix of members whose families have belonged for generations and members who have joined in the past few years. What I have sensed in the few weeks that I have been at Ascension is that there are not many pew-hoppers, people who are unable or unwilling to make a commitment to what the Benedictine tradition calls stability. When we are willing to stay put, to commit ourselves to belonging to a community even when it isn't comfortable, God has a better chance at transforming us.

Nearly fifty years ago I spoke to a wise friend about how unhappy I was in my current situation and said that I was thinking about moving. He cautioned me about using the "geographical cure," suggesting that I would take my problems with me because I would take with me the person at the core of those problems - me. I didn't move and over several months things got better as I began to face some truth about myself.

Years later, when I was fired from a job that I thought was the perfect one for me, I was ready to move from Buffalo home to Massachusetts. Our daughter changed that when she asked why I needed to look for the perfect job elsewhere when I could find a pretty good job in Buffalo and not have to uproot her and her brother from their friends and the schools they really liked. As we stayed put I realized that the community of clergy and lay people that I had been privileged to join in Buffalo was the community that would help me to grow. Stability in that community was the commitment that God was calling me to make.

If we keep running away when life in community become uncomfortable, when we hear a sermon that doesn't quite agree with our own understanding of the faith, or when people we don't like join the community, we put an obstacle in the way of God, making it just a bit more difficult for God to work to transform us. That won't stop God, but it might take quite a bit longer for us to discover and enjoy the blessings that God has for us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slowing Down

It certainly wasn't the boldest and most prophetic act to preach on slowing down on the second Sunday in July, but since my colleague Brad Clark had preached on showing up the previous Sunday, it seemed the right thing to do. The sermon wasn't only about slowing down, but about what we can get to do when we refuse to make hasty decisions. We get to ask an important question. Not "What would Jesus do?" but "What does Jesus want me to do?"

Of course we can never answer either question with absolute certainty, but we ought to be able to make a humble attempt at discerning what out faith requires of us in the many decisions we make every day, and, having discerned, act. Not only is there a chance that if we don't act no one else will, but there is the much more likely consequence of inaction, a missed opportunity to share in God's transforming work in the world.

Several years ago a parishioner asked me to help him discern whether or not he had done the right thing during an encounter in a supermarket. He had been in the checkout line and the customer in front of him was giving the young lady at the cash register a very hard time. The young lady was being very patient with the customer, but my parishioner could see that it was upsetting her. When it was his turn to check out with his cans of cat food, he asked the young lady, "Would you please gift wrap them?" For a moment the young lady looked confused, maybe even angry, and then she broke into a broad smile.

What does Jesus want us to do "to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us?" The Swiss philosopher Henri Amiel urges us to "be quick to love and make haste to be kind" and, I would add, be always ready to forgive.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Showing Up

Yesterday morning as he prepared to leave for his sabbatical, Brad Clark preached about the importance of showing up. He told me he would be posting the sermon on his blog, so I won't say more about it here. I have thought about the importance of showing up since hearing the sermon. The spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God is not about making God present, as if God were not already present, but about our showing up, our being present and attentive. Another term for this practice has been recollection, which I like because I think of it is as re-collecting the scattered parts of myself and recollecting that I am beloved of God. Not as often as I might like, in moments when things seem to be falling apart, I have experienced the grace of remembering who and Whose I am.