Between Two Worlds Day 21 (of 40)
“I certainly do hope that your pursuit of adventures to the other world don’t hinder or harm your brothers and sisters who love you so.”
That was the ending line to the most interesting response to my blog yesterday where I asked, “How Can I Serve You?” The thoughtful response also included a reference to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Edmund’s attempt to maintain “dual citizenship” in two worlds later regretting his desire to have a foot in both worlds and hurting his siblings.
I have been aware of the very tricky nature of trying to live in two worlds–the world of our tried and true church institutions and the world of emerging spiritualities. In fact nearly a year ago when I interviewed for the interim position I currently hold the one question I pushed them on was, “Are you sure that my blog and writing won’t become a distraction to the congregation?” That was my biggest concern.
My concern and awareness comes from my work in dealing with both individual grief and organizational grief. I know that my blog is about stepping into a new world–uncertain, untested, and unchartered. I also know that when I enter a church as an interim most churches are looking to recover a once glorious past. From the pulpit I am easing people through the initial stages of grief. But my blog is for those who have completed the grief cycle and are ready for the new life unfolding before them.
I believe that this is where my reader is coming from–“Are the words in my blog going to undermine the faith of the congregation where I serve?” Believe me, I share the same concern.
As a pastor who genuinely cares for people I often struggle with how shocking some of my words and thoughts must be to some people in the church. Plus, I can have a bit of a mouth at times which surprises people that the Good Reverend isn’t so reverent!
But years ago I had to come to terms with whether I would spend the rest of my professional life helping churches cope with loss, decline and even potential closure. I have a background in hospice work as well as many years of teaching grief theory and practice in human services. In 2011, my 4,000-mile cycling pilgrimage through the western United States was specifically about that–facing the reality that the rest of my career would be some form of “congregational hospice work”. I knew then that although my livelihood would continue to be in an organization that is dissolving away like a sand castle on the beach that my soul wanted more.
So here is the rub. To my faithful reader it is not that I am trying to live in two worlds, as if I want to have my cake and eat it too. It’s that my soul longs to be in the emerging world where there is a hopeful future. At the same time my need for a livelihood continues to draw me back into the traditional church world where I have well-honed gifts. I do love the work of walking alongside congregations as they face the reality of losses, an uncertain future and the grief associated with the passing away of a church form that has been dear to these people for a lifetime.
In many ways I have been built for this. I lost my first mother at age three and my second mother severed our relationship in my 20’s. I have lived with grief and loss for most of my life and have done the hard work to face it, to embrace it, and to relish the gifts that come from abandonment and loss. I went on to work as a hospice counselor and then as a foster care director working with youth who had experienced deep trauma and loss. I am tailor-made to do this work–no doubt about it!
But I am also human. Loss has come to define my life and my career. So, is it any wonder that my soul also wants to get to other side of the bridge where new shoots are peeking through the ground promising a blanket of colorful wildflowers and a canopy of young trees. I love my work, but my heart also longs for that feeling that teachers get when working with children where the future is all dreams and promise. Most of my work is about helping people and organizations “let go.” I am good at, but there is a heaviness to the work.
I should also note that it isn’t as black and white as I portray it–that is, the church is one world and what is out there is another world, more promising and hopeful. I believe most congregations also have the potential of entering or inviting in the new world. But here is the deal. Until you let go of the past you won’t be able to enter the future. Until you are willing to die, resurrection is just a fancy window display.
I make it sound like the two worlds are those who are in the church and those who are not. I actually don’t believe that. What I do believe is that there are two worlds–those who are willing to die in order to embrace a new and re-imagined life and those who will hold on for dear life and will just die.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save one’s life will lose it and whoever loses one’s life for my sake will save it.” I think he just might have been onto something!
The truth is I don’t want to straddle two worlds. I am not psychologically flexible enough for it. What I do want is to help people and congregations move from one world to the other. It’s been my personal story. I want to help it become your story.