Sunday, August 27, 2006

Looking Back and Looking Forward

It is Sunday evening and I am sitting in my favorite chair with a long cold drink beside me. There is gentle music in the background, and my wife has gone to her small group so I have some time on my own. Each year on August 27th I try to take an hour or two to meditate, assess the last twelve months, and prayerfully wonder what the next twelve months will bring forth. This is the last day of my sixty-first year on this planet, tomorrow is my birthday and I begin voyaging into my sixty-second.

I have been doing something like this either on my birthday or the eve of my birthday for many years now. One birthday morning I rose early and climbed a mountain hillside in the rugged heart of Corsica to consider what lay ahead, as I watched the camp of teenagers who I was chaplaining as we trekked across that wilderness gradually awaken and come to life. There were many miles ahead for our blistered feet that day -- but I was only in my mid-twenties at that point and it seemed nothing. Now I'm moving rapidly into senior citizen territory and whereas in the early 1970s the hugest chunk of life stretched out before me, now the developmental tasks before me are somewhat different.

For us as a family the year past has been kind. My younger daughter's marriage was, perhaps, its highlight, but nothing can take away my delight at spending several mornings in the spring with my then not-yet-one-year-old granddaughter perched on my lap. Gone are the days when I could scramble up a rock face like a mountain goat, but I keep myself pretty fit and my mind seems in some ways to be in better shape than ever it was, while family means a huge amount.

It is amazing how time puts realities into perspective. Yes, it is true I am deeply anxious about the state of the church, especially our very own dysfunctional corner of it, but the focus of my concern is moving away from the pitiful fractiousness of ecclesiastical politics to a deepening sense that whatever label we put upon ourselves, we have to a greater or lesser extent missed the point of the Gospel. Would we really prefer to swim around on the surface and be nasty to one another, or are we prepared to consider the depths of discipleship to which we are called, and from which the endless wrangling seems to keep us?

Once sixty-one was considered old, and while today it is possible to pretend that this age is merely an apprenticeship before true eldership, it is impossible to reach this stage in life without giving serious (and persistent) thought to what comes next when this earthly journey ends. During the last year I have watched several friends and contemporaries leave time for eternity, and while I make my plans like everybody else, it is increasingly obvious that I must make all plans in the light of all eternity.

It is from within the context of my consciousness of this that I recognize how we in our time have become so caught up with the challenges of the here that we have overlooked the hope and expectation of the hereafter which puts this life into perspective. When I signed up for service in Christ's Kingdom it was not to endlessly fight over sexuality, but because not only had my life been transformed by Jesus Christ, but by coming as King he promised that we would be partners together in the transformation of the whole of creation - and that is huge.

Pondering the vastness of the Good News, then bickering over the husk of a once-great denomination seems a somewhat pathetic diversion. With so much of eternal and cosmic significance hanging on how I spend the remainder of my life on earth, do I really want to waste my time haggling over the ruins that have been created by what I perceive to be the consistent watering down of the church's message over the last forty, fifty, sixty years or so?

I guess that this has been turning over in the back of my mind as I have made decisions in the last few months that will profoundly influence the rest of my life. Today I said goodbye to the congregation in which I have ministered since early 2002, and next week I will become interim rector of a congregation on the other side of town for a year, as Rosemary and I explore a huge ministry opportunity that has borne down upon us during the last few months, and which could keep us busy for most (and perhaps all) of the rest of our active lives.

We certainly won't be material winners if we follow this course that seems to be opening up, but an eternity-shaped mindset puts material things in far clearer perspective. So, as this year ends for me I look forward to the next year with expectation and a certain degree of anxiety. It is hard to see where the Lord is leading, but what we do know is that he is leading -- and our responsibility is to follow, regardless of cost, for only in that way can we be faithful to the Kingdom into which we have been called.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Best wishes on Sneed road, or wherever your travels take you!