I was walking as the sun set watching the leaves fall. Each has a season like us. Some fall quickly and some fall later, but each has a time to fall and gather with the others in the drifting ruach of the breeze.
I have been working through some books lately on spiritual formation. One of them is “Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life” by Henri Nouwen. I am finding it a rich feast of a book which is written to people of all sorts. I highly recommend it if you enjoy a good deep book!
I found myself pumping my fist to one particular passage on the ninth page. Henri Nouwen writes:
“Those who live lives worthy of their calling have been ‘reborn from above’ and are able to see with the eyes of faith and hear with spiritual ears. Their lives of discernment are characterized by single-mindedness: they have but one true desire—to know God’s heart and do God’s will in all things. In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, they live the truth and seek to ‘come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God’ (John 3:21 NRSV). Such persons are so caught up in God’s love that everything else can only receive its meaning and purpose in the context of that love. They ask only what questions: ‘What is pleasing to the Spirit of God?’ And as soon as they have heard the sound of the Spirit in the silence and solitude of their hearts, they follow its promptings even if it upsets their friends, disrupts their environment, and confuses their admirers.
People reborn in the Holy Spirit with spiritual understanding come across as very independent, not because of psychological training or individuation but because of the fruit of the Spirit which ‘blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’ (John 3:8). Spiritual rebirth is an evergreen openness to let the spirit of Jesus blow us where it pleases.”
At various times in my career I have been accused of being too quick to bolt out the door to situations beyond my understanding. There’s some truth to the accusation, but I have to admit that sometimes people love that I have this tendency. I will be praying and I will feel a need to call someone and I will call at just the right moment. I once felt the urge to pull into a hospital and went into the wrong entrance where I met a colleague whose wife had just been admitted in need of a prayer and a hug. The Spirit definitely blows where it pleases and I find nothing so exhilarating as coming across the Spirit at work! I have come to embrace that part of my spirit that loves hearing that quiet voice.
Of course, this tendency to be always on the move is a very Methodist kind of tendency. Read the Book of Discipline of the UMC and you will eventually find the historic examination put before every Elder before full admittance into ministry. In ¶336 of 2016 Book of Discipline you will find the 19th examination to be in the hard-coding of ministry for United Methodist pastors. That examination asks
: “Will you observe the following instructions? Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary…do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.”
I believe Nouwen’s evergreen openness to the Spirit works very well with the historic nature of the Methodist circuit riders. When the road and the circuit used to be before you there was a world of possibility with infinite opportunities. Encouraging circuit riders to never idle away the time made sense. Again, this was not meant to be done in fear of God’s anger but instead to aid an easy conscience in the minds and souls of those called to ministry.
Nowadays, I think that these words are often lost in our culture. To believe that we should never trifle away time is something this is bucked against even within religious circles and the idea of never spending more time than necessary someplace is beyond most of us in the ministry world. Between office hours, worship slide creation, bulletins, and other things that tie us to a desk it can be easy to see why such thoughts of intentional movement are beyond most of us. We are often ensnared by the very things meant to help us accomplish ministry!
There is a part of me that misses the idea of intentionally seeking that disruptive still small voice of God. Let’s be honest—I long for that voice on a regular basis. Do you long for that voice? Do you thirst to know what pleases God and feel passionate about joining into that great ministry? If so, my friends, I invite you to listen, to seek, to discern, and then to follow.
I was gardening a few minutes before it happened. I spent the majority of the day getting the tomato patch ready for a good season. I pulled weeds, I measured space, I marked holes, I prepped the area, and finally planted the tomatoes. We planted 3 cherry tomato plants, 2 slicing tomato plants, and 3 paste tomato varieties for sauces. It had been a really productive day. I even planted flowers. I came inside and this is who I was…
I was this guy from the circus. I was climbing on life’s cannon. I avoided the news all day, avoided Facebook most of the day, and was ready to climb into the cannon of life. I was totally ready for what life had for me, because if life gave me lemons, I could use them to add a certain amount of acidity to my tomato sauces.
Then I read the Judicial Council’s decision on the election of Bishop Oliveto. I immediately felt like the man from the circus in the following picture…
Do you see that blur? That’s a person being fired out of a cannon. I know this because my phone took a continuous stream of photos and that’s the guy! You’d better hope that pad is in place when this happens, because that is really fast.
I felt like this man being shot across an arena when I read that article not because I am a member of the LGBTQI community–I am pretty much as heterosexual as people come. I did not feel like a man being shot across an arena because I have any relatives that are out of the closet–they’re all heterosexual as far as I can tell. I have no familial investment in the LGBTQI community as far as I know.
I felt like a person being shot out of a cannon because these actions come across to me as neither right nor righteous. We live in a world where there are children being driven from homes by war, greed, and hatred. We live in a world where children are forced into exploitive circumstances where they are taken advantage of in the most criminal of fashions. We live in a world where we are regularly discussing the possibility of nuclear war between North Korea and the United States on a nearly daily basis. We live in a messed up world and THIS is where we are spending our time and energy. If you’re reading frustration into my words, congratulations. You are correct. I am totally and completely frustrated by what has happened.
We act as if God is losing sleep over what two consenting adults do in a loving relationship but is okay with the effects that our personal investments and privileges have on people around the globe. Continuing to waste time and resources on the oppression of a community that has individuals who exemplify and exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit is simply and completely confounding to me.
Let me put this another way. If I call the pizzeria down the street and ask for them to send me the best pizza they have, the pizzeria might make any of a number of pizzas. They might send a black olive pizza, a cheeseburger pizza, a pepperoni pizza… The possibilities are endless, but I know this: if I ask them to make me a great pizza I’ll probably get a great pizza.
We ask God to send us leaders and then we get upset when God sends us leaders who don’t fit our conceptions of what is acceptable. We ask for God to help lead us forward into this new millennia and new century and then we get frustrated that God continually asks us to accept who we are sent instead of who we would prefer. We’re given talented leaders like Bishop Oliveto and we respond by threatening any group of clergy with punishment that would even consider electing another person like her.
Is it any wonder that someone who was ordained to help care for the body of Christ feels like he has been shot out of a cannon? I just wanted to worry about my tomatoes and now I’m worried about my church bleeding out over the massive wounding we just gave ourselves. I think we’ve all just been launched into the sky. I pray we have a soft landing.