Monday, April 07, 2008


I recently saw an acquaintance whom I have met perhaps three times in the past ten years. He and I share something of a common bond, in that he was once an ordained member of my denomination. He now works in a different field, after being called in an entirely different direction. As you would expect, pastoral ministry comes up in our conversations whenever we cross paths.

This time, he said a few things that have stayed with me. First, he commented that the work he does now (which I would not consider low stress) is nothing compared to the stress of pastoral ministry. His words were "I have never done anything harder in my life." The second was that he said "it's amazing how nobody has any problems once you stop being a pastor....everybody is doing just fine." Then he commented that he misses the sense of connection that he shared with church folks when he was a pastor. (I did wonder later what his current church community life is like; I didn't ask.)

His words have stayed with me for a few weeks. The underlying premise of them is this: the bonds between people in a community of faith are rooted in soil that is heavily fertilized by shared pain. As much as I rail against this truth, as much as I really don't like this truth because pain is just so painful, the premise rings true.

These past few weeks have been especially pain filled. Some who are reading this blog will think immediately of a painful situation we are facing in our community. That is a big part of what is on my heart, but that is not the only pain to which I am referring.

Part of what it means to be an active part of a community of faith, is sharing life together... the joys, celebrations, love, peace, hope, and shared purpose....and the pain, grief, sorrow, anger, doubt, and fear. There is a seldom a week that goes by that my heart does not break with someone as they share something that is happening or has happened in their lives. I think the most difficult pain is the old pain that has been nursed and nurtured for years, even decades, for this means that God's healing grace and forgiveness has not penetrated the pain, and it has been allowed to have transforming effects on the person's whole life.

Of all of the people whose lives I have been given the privilege of sharing in large or small ways, I have yet to find someone who has not experienced emotional pain. It is a part of being alive.

I have to say that right now, today, I am feeling worn out by it. I wish with every fiber of my being I could be free from experiencing my own pain, and free from feeling the pain of others. Sometimes I think that the spiritual gift of compassion is just exhausting. Yet I know that God uses it.

I am thinking of two passages of Scripture. The first is from the beatitudes in Matthew, which Jesus preached during the sermon on the mount. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:3-4). Also my favorite verse from 2Cor.12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

I know that God is working through the pain to bring redemption. I keep reminding myself there is no resurrection without a crucifixion; that Christ is most powerful when I am weak and depending upon him.

So I am holding onto hope, onto God's promises, and God's presence. I am grateful for God's care for me in the form of my family, and my church family. I have no idea how people survive without a community of faith....yet I can understand the urge to try to lead a less painful, less complicated life by steering clear of such relationships. I suppose that is the irony; although more relationships in the form of a community of faith certainly bring more opportunities for pain, they are also the only source I know of the path toward healing and wholeness. That seems to be a part of the mystery of God.

As I was preparing for my sermon last week, I came across a Wendell Barry poem that ends with the line "practice resurrection."

One of the lines says "expect the end of the world." I read today a line in a magazine that said "look at life as a terminal illness and live it to the fullest." Grim as those words may sound, they are also ringing true to me. I am going to enjoy myself as much as humanly possible today.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head.
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.