Monday, September 26, 2016

Embraces, Part 2

Last week, I named the three ways that re-entry into the life of a parish after a sabbatical can be characterized.  In short they are: "hit the ground running," "honor what has passed," "accept what's new and emerging."

Each one of these responses have a particular action that in one way or another embraces the new reality.  Whether in seizing the moment, or laying to rest, or announcing the birth, each action institutionalizes the reality and identifies each party's role.

My return -- made unique by the unfortunate events of September 1 -- elicited another set of actions that qualify for the title, "Embraces."  So many people that I cannot count helped with my getting situated in Madison and perhaps even more importantly out of Athens.

From the crew that ripped up carpet, began emptying a garage, repaired a fence, trimmed and edged, swept and mopped to those who saw to the repair of the heat pump and moving of a piano and more; each was an embrace.  And I best not forget the casseroles!

I am humbled by how much was done and how much love came along with the doing.  Humbled.

I am also awakened to a greater truth about our lives together, especially our lives from this point forward.  Our embrace of each other has more to it that an expression of deep and soaring gratitude that I'm back, that my sabbatical goals were met, and especially that my life was spared.  It has in it the rest of each and all of our individual lives.

That is, we have embraced a future with each other.  Especially in how my leaving Athens has been incorporated in the process I see us together saying Madison is the address for our future.  Especially as several parishioners have offered housing options for me to consider.  Especially as I am being asked to consider participation in community fund-raising events.

Yes, I've agreed to try my hands (and feet) at the Boy's and Girl's Club's "Dancing with the Stars." At this point I think prayers are more important than donations.

But more importantly I want to say how much I intend to embrace a life with Advent in Madison that has No More burning a candle "at both ends."

I have done what I had hoped and let go of several encumbrances through my time away.  Now I hope to take hold and sustain my embrace of this new life with you.

This trimmed down, focused, singular view is new to me, new to us.  Let's embrace it as a gift and let it hold us into the future of God's embracing us all.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Embraces

I read several articles about how to reenter the life of a community at the end of a sabbatical.  All of them, one way or another described a similar set of realities the returnee would likely face.

The first reality mentioned is found in those situations that require immediate attention.  Either something new has just happened or something has been waiting to be noticed by the "right" person -- one bad version is described as festering -- and cannot wait any longer.

A second category are those things that have faded or died while the priest was gone.  The priest was perhaps overly involved and was eventually the main or only reason a particular practice persisted as long as it did.  This often shows up in parts of the worship life of the congregation.

A third category includes those things that were born in the priest's absence.  A new committee is formed, new volunteers step up to serve, or trees are trimmed, for instance.

In each case the returning priest must meet the reality with an embrace.

To the acute health crisis or the festering hurt the priest must say in word and action: I'm here. There is little else the priest must first do.  No magic tricks, for sure.  But also no easy or glib remarks. Instead a new moment of listening to the players and their parts.

Not all crises are immediately evident, some will require the hurt parties to say, "I'm hurt."  But the embrace of the returning priest needs to be ready to reply, "Thanks for waiting, for hanging in there so that we can be together in whatever happens next."

When the new thing is the loss of some previously priest-born reality the embrace is one of a proper farewell.  There may even be mourning but more importantly there needs to be a placement of a marker into the memory of all involved that says "thank you" and that begins an instruction toward whatever may need to come next.

When the new thing is just that, a new thing the embrace is like a baptism where all share in the naming and reception of this emergent necessity.

In every case the embrace of the one returning is important, even necessary and one hopes, life-giving.

So I ask for our first steps forward together to be where we make room, take time, and care for the moments of embrace as each reality requires. I can't wrap my arms and battered ribs around everything at once.

But I'm back, I'm glad to be back and before I can do any new work myself -- work that guarantees our engagement into the future -- I must manage these particular realities and embrace with love as each one calls out to me.  

The important piece in all of this returning is an embrace that we hope reflects our understanding of God's already evident and graceful embrace of each of us. That is how we together can and should move forward, first embraced then sharing that embrace.