“Who are you really wanderer?”
“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.”
-- William Stafford
I have been blessed to serve in Nevada these seven years now. (Consecrated January 5, 2008). It may not have been quite as dramatic as Heinrich Harrer’s time in Tibet, but it has been quite a ride. I have seen a lot, heard a lot, and learned a lot. To quote President Nixon’s Press Secretary, Ron Zeigler, “Mistakes were made” – in this case, by me. But the mistakes were part of my learning.
It would be ego gratifying if I could say the diocese was in shambles then but thanks to my heroic virtues we are now flourishing. The truth is the diocese was in pretty good shape in those days, even though it had some struggles. Today, we are still in good shape and we still have some struggles, just different struggles.
There are some positive signs. When I first arrived, a number of congregations were in the midst of rather destructive conflicts – clergy vs. laity; clergy vs. clergy; laity vs. laity – depending on the congregation. We still have conflicts. We always will if there is enough life in us to care about things. But I rarely see conflicts being that destructive these days. Note: that has nothing to do with me. I have not intervened episcopos ex machina to resolve anyone’s disputes. The people just worked them through and got back to business. I am not claiming credit, just comparing then with now.
In a similar vein, congregations in conflict with the diocese were usually in conflict internally and vice versa. So as relationships within congregations have gotten better, their relationship with the diocese has gotten more trusting and cooperative.
As we have feuded less, we have engaged more actively in mission to the world outside our walls. We have particularly connected with schools. Last year most of our congregations gave generously to provide solar lanterns to our companion diocese in Kenya. Some congregations that formerly made a principle of not giving anything to their communities are now leaders in local ministries.
I won’t do a tedious assessment of the diocese. Rather I’ll just say that Nevada’s been good to me and I am beginning to figure a few things out. It is an axiom of church life that a new rector needs to spend five years in a parish getting the lay of the land before launching off in any new directions. I’d say it takes a bishop at least seven years to get the lay of the land. I am not sure I have it yet, but I’m closer than I was a few years ago.
I still don’t aspire to launch off in any new directions. I am still looking for where our heart actually lies. Like the poet William Stafford, I think my job is to “find out what the world wants to be.” Part of that is sorting out what the church here is trying to be. Part of it is figuring out what the people outside our walls need us to be. Discerning all of that will take some ongoing trial and error.
My sense is that the stewardship programs we have been running for a couple of years have struck a chord. They have touched our felt need for a spirituality of faith, gratitude, and generosity that run quite against the grain to secular society’s prevailing fear-based modus operandi. Time will tell whether a meme of faith, gratitude, and generosity will spread thorugh our people blessing their lives and making them blessings to others. It is possible. Something like that appears to be beginning even now.
I see so much alienation, futility, and despair in the secular world around us. I feel like Jesus looking on the crowd who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9: 36 And I wonder if the Church (the Body of Christ, the continuing Incarnation, the hands and feet of Jesus in Nevada AD 2015) might have something to offer them. We feel competent to feed the physically hungry. But do we feel that we have anything to offer to the spiritually hungry? That is a fresh question I am asking these days. If we have life within us, if we have something that stills the mind, refreshes the heart, and ennobles the soul, then we might consider how to go about sharing it with those who do not yet have it. If we do not have these spiritual treasures, that is a much deeper question.
There is an adage in spiritual practice: you can’t give what you don’t have. So if we don’t have a rich soulful life in the practice of our faith, we cannot do much for the despairing folks outside our walls. But there’s another adage equally true in Christianity: you don’t really have it until you’ve shared it with someone else. I wonder if really opening wide the doors of our churches will allow us to breathe.