Saturday, March 14, 2009

New Chapters.

I tend to see life, organizations, and relationships as books. With different chapters. The pages are always being turned. Things never stay the same.

As you might expect, I have a fair number of friends who are pastors. Being a pastor or priest or rabbi or imam is an interesting way to spend your life for God. You get a chance to shepherd souls, see God at work, and hang out with people who love you better than you deserve to be loved.

Then, of course, there are heartbreaking parts of it. When people get ugly in the church, it isn't a pretty picture. Bumping into meanness in a place where you expect to find grace is a shock.

Many pastors finally go on to do other things not because they have been exhausted by the big challenges of kingdom building (fighting for justice, making peace, teaching God's truth to a new generation, mission trips to tough places, watching people you love get knocked down by cancer, etc.), but because of the "paper cuts" we get along the way. The Easter Sunday someone growls at you because the altar flowers weren't properly centered. The Bible expert who keeps chipping at you because you don't preach in the style he enjoys best. The donor who demands her gift back because the leaders of the church didn't choose the carpet color she wanted. Little stuff. Worn down by little stuff, some pastors say, "That's it. I'm going to go sell insurance or teach or mow yards or drive a truck."

I've got some friends who have been run out of their churches by a small group of cranky Christians. My buddies were tempted to hang in there...try to work through things. But the cranky folks wouldn't let go of the fight. They didn't want things to get better...they wanted their preacher gone so they could get an improved model with higher horsepower and better mileage.

Jesus, in the 9th chapter of Luke, sends his disciples out to do God's work and he says, "When someone welcomes you, stay there. If someone shuts the door in your face, wants nothing to do with you or my Good News, then move on. Shake the dust from your feet."

It's a wonderful thing for Jesus to say. It gives us permission to move on when people insist on saying "no." I tell my friends, "Life is too short to stay where people don't want you. There is another place...go!" What a blessing to know that God loves us enough that the Lord doesn't want us to stay around and get beat up by cranky people! New chapters...

Recently a friend, who runs a small restaurant, told me she is giving up. The economic slowdown is taking her business down. It's not just that, though. She has found that the retail food business -like dairy farming or pastoring a small church- means you don't have much of a life away from your work. She's exhausted. My friend told me she is closing her business, and I told her what a great job she has done. How it has been a good place...a welcoming place. Folks in that neck of South Bend are going to miss it. "I hope you feel good about what you have done," I said. "You've blessed us all. Given us a place. And God has another chapter ahead for you..." She began to cry. I hugged her. New chapters...

My sisters and I have been talking in ways we haven't talked in years. Some of it is easy. Some of it is really hard. Between the words there is healing. Movement where some things have been frozen for a long time. There are moments when it is exhilirating. Fun. And there are moments in our changing relationships that are scary...exhausting. (Healing, by the way, isn't a painless phenomenon.) New chapters...

I know Ecclesiastes 1:09 tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Got it. Every generation likes to think they are breaking new ground, but the truth is the human condition is sort of what it has always been. Ecclesiastes says what it does, and yet Psalm 96:1 says to "sing to the Lord a new song" and Jeremiah 31:31 exclaims "I will make a new covenant with them." In Revelation 21:05, Christ declares, "Behold, I make all things new."

New chapters. Some chapters -that may feel like a curse, a blessing, or a mixture of the two- come to a close. There are tears. There is pain. There is healing. There is gladness. Then, God has something else for us...

We are always stepping into a new chapter with God. I like that.

1 comment:

hoolie said...

sometimes we see God's biggest design for our lives when we move out of one chapter and into another. It's scarey, exciting and sometimes allows us those little glimmers of God's grace.