Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year after a Rude Awakening

Our New Year's Eve began at 1.30 a.m. with flashing blue lights, sirens, and emergency vehicles crowding the road outside our house. Usually at that time of the night Lewisburg Pike is totally deserted, but as we peered out of the window we became aware of a small red pick-up truck in the middle of the hillside that slopes down to our house with a police spotlight being trained upon it.

Rosemary said, "We ought to go out and see what's going on!" This is precisely what we did.

This morning I have been surveying the damage, and it is a miracle that the young man driving the vehicle was not killed for he must have been traveling. He left the road some twenty feet before reaching the unpaved lane that leads to our neighbors and is the boundary of our property. He had jumped over a ditch, then flown through the fence onto our property barely missing a huge sycamore tree that would surely have killed him. The wheels of the truck did not touch the ground until he had gone over a small cedar tree some twenty-five feet from the lane. The little Toyota ended up facing the direction it had come, its back broken, leaking gasoline over the hillside.

The driver is very fortunate to be alive today to tell the tale. His stepfather, a local cop and horse farmer who lives just round the corner from us, told me as we shouted greetings across the battered fence that his stepson had a broken nose, possible internal injuries, but seemed able to get himself onto the ambulance. I didn't expect to be spending the wee small hours of New Year's Eve wearing clothes pulled over my pajamas directing a tow truck across what will in few months be a riot of Tennessee wild flowers.

From then on all I could manage was that fitful, dozing sleep which leaves you wondering where all these strange thoughts and dreams come from. These thoughts and dreams were intertwined with situations with which I had been involved during the week.

Most clergy try to take a few days off after Christmas, and I certainly have nothing against pastors grabbing some time with their family after what is for most a busy season. However, it has been my experience that while the week after Christmas should be a time to slow down a bit, it also ought to be a time to be available because this is the decompression period from one of the most stressful periods of the year for families. Every year for the last few years I have been glad that I have been around and "on call" because things have happened that needed pastoral care.

Believing, as I do, that the family is one of the basic building blocks of a stable and healthy society, and that families are under pressure today from everything under the sun, the priority that we give to pastoring husbands, wives, and children has to be high -- whether we are good at it or not. It is not easy being married today, neither is it easy to stay married and provide a stable, happy home, but quite frankly, the alternatives are far worse.

Throughout my ministry I have dealt with people on all parts of the marriage journey, from courtship to divorce court and beyond, and as painful as keeping a partnership afloat might be at times, there is longer and greater agony of picking up the pieces after a failed marriage -- especially when children are involved. I also have to say that adult children are often hurt as badly as little ones. To the couple struggling with a relationship that seems to be failing, divorce looks like an oh, so attractive escape, but the reality is in most of the cases I have seen, far different from the promise.

One of the things that makes marriage so difficult is that we have swallowed the notion that marriage is about happiness or having particular needs met, when it is in fact a lifelong union "established by God in creation" (Book of Common Prayer, Page 423)that takes a lifetime for a couple to meld together -- and there are always going to be times when one, other, or both, don't want to do it. That, however, is why we make vows before the Most High God to love and to cherish through all the vissicitudes of life, until we are parted by death. Even when there is failure in the marriage, forgiveness has to be part of the mix and the importance of the vows remains.

Just in the last few years I have watched couples who were at daggers drawn, marriages in which there was the worst kind of betrayal, do the necessary work that has led to something far better than they ever imagined possible before. The hard work has not been easy, but the fruit is delicious beyond measure. This leads me to believe that in almost any circumstance it is possible to put back together what has been broken. I would also suggest that those prepared to do the work are the ones who have gone further along the pathway of human maturity.

Thus, as the present crisis is forcing us to remake the church for a postmodern world, one of the areas of concern has to be the manner in which we make lasting, healthy relationships that will stand the test of time and the pressures of a destructive environment. This is a world in which the self is now considered to be something fluid and maliable so that I will all the time be responding differently to the question, "Who am I going to be today?", and where I am constantly adapting myself and adjusting myself to present a new image, or where we can trade in old (and perhaps tired) relationships in favor of exciting new ones. What do we have to say to this world by word and example?

The time has come to set the bar high, perhaps higher than is comfortable for almost all of us. Scripture does this, so Scripture has to be the model we seek to live into. It is only as we aspire for the heights that we will begin to live the kind of life that God Almighty and his Son, Jesus Christ, require of us.

And with those words, a bit preachy, perhaps, I say to you Happy New Year, and may God protect us in the months ahead.

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