Wow. It’s been over three months since my last post. I have to admit that my hands are shaking ever so slightly as I make an attempt to step back into this.
I never imagined how complicated and tricky this thing would be–trying to step into a new emerging world. When I took my first pilgrimage four years ago I did so saying publicly and teasingly, “I feel like I have spiritual schizophrenia.” I have spent much of my life professionally serving the Church and its traditional worldview and liturgical rhythm. I am well-suited to the work. Yet, my own spiritual appetites are often more fed while cycling over a mountain, getting lost in a well-crafted movie narrative, and discussing religion, politics and culture over a beer (or two or three) with friends who range from the spiritual but not religious, agnostic, and intellectually curious.
One year ago I had built what I thought was a bridge from this traditional religious world to the emerging spiritual world of my friends and contemporaries. I had planned a spiritual pilgrimage that I had called “From Rome to Rumi,” mirroring the shift from institutional religion to religious mysticism (as reflected by the Sufi mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi). I had secured what I thought was a half time pastoral position to return to. After downsizing to RV-sized living I had built the log (shaky and thin though it was) across the stream that I thought would be needed to cross from one world to another.
In an unexpected turn of events the position fell through just before I flew to Rome. As it turned out it was both a blessing and a curse. It gave me complete freedom to explore my heart and soul while biking through Italy, Greece and Turkey. I had no timeline that I had to follow. Most of all I was free to think, write and explore without the threat of losing a job back home (that had already happened!).
It’s strange to look back now at the moment on my pilgrimage when, in complete freedom, I exclaimed, “I have found my voice. I can never go back now. I won’t let my need for a livelihood threaten the truth of my own voice.” In that post I promised that I would work in a bike shop, drive a truck, or return to hospice work–anything but pastor a church if it meant that my emerging voice would have to go underground again.
So how did I find myself back in the old world? Truck driving wasn’t the answer. Hospice wasn’t interested. And non-profits said I was over-qualified. A few months on food stamps and free health care pushed me back into work that I am good at, work that is desperately needed, and work that puts food on my table, tires on my bike, gas in my car, and beer in my fridge. For that I am incredibly thankful!
For three months I wasn’t willing to do anything that would once again put my livelihood at risk. The thought of writing something that would jeopardize a job that took six months to find nearly paralyzed me. I had experienced life at the very edge and I needed a period where things felt more solid and secure.
So why do I finally write now? It’s time to once again explore these themes of living between two worlds–one that is rapidly dissolving away and one that is just emerging. As difficult as it was to live close to the edge as I tried to cross that bridge into the new world, it is still more hopeful than this world that adopted me nearly five decades ago.
I am the right person for this interim pastor position in Grants Pass, Oregon. And they are the right church for me for this small two year-ish window. Yet, even here we live close to the edge. The church had dropped 40% in Sunday attendance in the two years before I got here. The budget has been cut by more than 10% each of the last two years. I work in a denomination that has fewer full time positions and churches every year. My best work has come in closing one church and taking a 13% cut in another church to help them adopt a more realistic budget. My work is largely about walking with congregations in a time of grief and loss. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to do that is to model the graceful acceptance of loss myself.
I write now because the longer I remain paralyzed the closer to the edge I will become again by virtue of a religious world that is like a house built on a cliff that is slowly eroding away. It is still more solid than the food stamp world I fell into this past year. But both worlds are fragile. The church world is fragile like the 85 year old grandfather who fears tripping over the carpet and breaking his hip. The emerging spiritual world is fragile like the one year old first learning to walk and taking lots of bumps and bruises.
I write now because the Grants Pass church knows that that their world is dying. They know that a new world is emerging. They know that at some point they will need to decide whether to enjoy the comforts of the old world for as long as it remains or whether to step into the uncertain, unpredictable new world that is knocking at their doors.
I write now because I have to start teasing out that hopeful new world that exists on the other side of that shaky log crossing the rushing stream below. I write now because I think Grants Pass is ready to peek into that new world. At least that is my belief and my hope.
My hands are still shaking, but my soul feels calm.