Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A beautiful mess

I realized earlier this week yet another way that five years in Georgia has influenced more than just my path in ministry. As I rushed around from meeting to meeting, energized by each conversation, scattered yet grateful, a song came to mind. A country song came to mind. Yes, while living in Atlanta, I had gotten into the habit of listening to some good 'ole country music, and on this day of running late and feeling only half prepared, I began singing Diamond Rio's Beautiful Mess. While the romance-centered mess re-told in the song did not really match the story of my day, the idea of a beautiful mess did. I realized that in moments like these, as uncomfortable as they were for me, I was part of something beautiful.

For the last month on Sunday nights, The Well has been discussing what a spiritual community would look like if it practiced caring for its neighbors, not with charity, but with friendship and economic redistribution. Toward the end of our discussion, one participant commented, "If we do this, if we really practice the stuff we're talking about, it's going to be messy." I wish in retrospect I had let that thought settle for longer and had not moved on so quickly. Her reflection was heartfelt and seemed full of both confession and warning. Are we really serious about getting involved in this kind of work? Are we ready for what might happen? Are we willing to move away from our neat, well-defined and strategic projects and into new, more tangled and vulnerable ways of being in relationship with one another?

On numerous occasions described in scripture, Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is like...". Compared to a seed, a child, a feast, a pearl, a wedding, the kingdom seems something to be grasped, yet something difficult to define. The kingdom, the work of God, is not easily defined, it does not provide a quick fix, it does not keep us isolated and disconnected from pain and suffering. When we dare to venture into the work of participating in God's work in the world, yes, it is messy and it is beautiful.

I've mentioned before that I do not like mess. I am learning, though, that you can't have the beauty without getting into the unsettled, tangled, often chaotic web of activity and connectivity that can make us feel crazy at times. This particular day involved creating a first budget for our church, sharing in grief over the sudden death of a family member, and planning a Christmas store for low-income families. It involved too many schedules, too many changes, too much pain and too little time.

A couple of questions come to mind: How do we handle the mess? Can we become obsessed with making things neat and manageable? Instead, are there ways we can begin blessing it, calling it beautiful, and recognizing that it just might be the kingdom of God unfolding before us?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stop and celebrate

A couple of weeks ago, I took both of our girls to the pediatrician for their annual check-ups. I always get a little nostalgic when we go because I realize another year has passed, and they are growing up too quickly! This time, as I sat looking at my daughters in their paper gowns preparing for the doctor to arrive, I felt more than a sentimental stirring. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude at the fact that they are healthy. It suddenly dawned on me that there was so much to celebrate about that moment - we have health-care, insurance, have not been sick much, have access to immunizations (which my daughters might argue is nothing to celebrate!), and the list goes on. I felt gratitude, and yes, I also felt a tinge of guilt. While I can be pretty good at noticing when things are not going my way, I can be pretty bad a pausing to celebrate the good things.

I have a long list of things to celebrate, but instead of boring you with the list, I'll share one beautiful example. Two years ago this month, I was considering accepting an associate pastor staff position in a wonderful church in rural Georgia. I was thrilled to have this opportunity, and it was a good one. The role would involve many of the things I love to do. I thought and prayed and listened as people urged me to seriously consider accepting the call. Despite their advice, I just could not do it. Something told me no. About that same time, I began paying more attention to this opportunity I had heard about that involved starting new CBF churches in Florida. I did some reading on new ways of being church and church starting and attended a conference with others involved in "missional community formation." While I was drawn to the idea of church planting, it also seemed too risky, overwhelming, and was not something I could really see myself doing.

This Sunday, as The Well at Springfield celebrated the start of monthly worship, I celebrated my calling into this risky and at times overwhelming work. Admittedly, there have been many days when I have wondered when and how this new faith community was going to take shape; however, this was not one of them. As I looked around the room, I realized that a church had formed and I felt such affirmation. The stirring not to move into a traditional ministry position was what I needed to listen to, even as difficult and crazy as it seemed at the time. The stirring to be part of something new led us to this beautiful day, and for that I want to stop and celebrate.

After Sunday came Monday which brought another work and school week, a car breakdown, and an array of activity. I was about to move on too quickly until I remembered the visit to the pediatrician. I remembered to stop, and to soak in the goodness of Sunday. I need to stop and celebrate, and not forget how wonderful it is to sense the affirmation. I need to stop and celebrate the privelege of serving a God who still shapes and stirs, and to see the evidence of God's love and care through friends who gathered for worship. I'm sure I'll need it to look back upon in the days ahead.