I don't think of myself as a nostalgic person. I usually like Today better than Yesterday and I certainly don't think "The good old days" ever existed except in hind sight. Who was it that wrote the song, "I'm going to stay right here for these are the 'good old days'...."? That sort of sums up one of philosophies of life--I've got dozens of them.
I remember going to my 10th high school reunion and Roger Rose said to me, "high school was the best years of my life." I wanted to say either: "adolescence is a nightmare" or "then I hope you don't live too long, I don't want you miserable." Instead, I inwardly wept for him. Imagine the best years of your life over at 18!
However, these old sermons and other writings I happened upon the other day have an allure to me I never imagined. For the most part, I don't have any memory of writing them so it's like reading something new. But, on the other hand, they put me back in touch in some way with the person I was then and with the circumstances I was experiencing.
I promise not to keep transcribing this stuff and to get back to pondering current things, but I do want to share one I wrote with you today.
I started my time at St. John's in Waterbury on July 1, 1989. I was 42 years old. Nine days later on July 10, some misplaced tornadoes tore across Connecticut from south to north (looking I imagine for Kansas or Oklahoma). Every tree on the campus of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven was uprooted and later in the day a stand of ancient trees in Litchfield County was leveled. In between, the storm hit two of the small spires around the central spire of St. John's. One fell onto the sidewalk and created an impressive crater. The other fell through the roof and smashed the impressive McManis organ to smithereens. (I have one of the small pipes mounted in our living room.) So a 12 foot by 12 foot hole in the roof let in a small lake of rain that ruined what the granite didn't. I drove home to New Haven (we hadn't yet moved to Cheshire) wondering why there were limbs all over the road.
As I look back, I realize it wasn't a bad way to start a ministry. Everyone's attention was instantly focused on the damage and we were, all of us, on the same page and with the same purpose. How can you get picky with your new Rector when a thousand slates blew off the roof, all the mortar fell out of the Rose Window, the organ is gone, there's a hole in the roof and three ton of granite in the balcony! (I also have one of those slates--some were found two blocks away--with a design created by Judith McManis, hanging on the wall. We made a killing selling artistic slates and organ pipes....)
Maybe I stayed so long because I didn't think I could go somewhere else and rely on a storm to pull the congregation together....
So, here's what I wrote in the newsletter on August 23, 1989--6 weeks after the tornado.
"Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind."
A friend of ours gave our children little clear glass globes to sit in the sunlight. Inside the globe are four squares of metal, black on one side, white on the other. They are attached to a central spoke in the globe. When the globe is in sunlight, the little squares react in such a way that they begin to spin. I have no idea how the thing works, it is a mystery of no small order to me. The brighter the sun, the faster the spinning. Set the globe in the shade and the spinning stops.
I have been sitting in the widow seat in my office watching the squares spin in the globe while the workers crawl around on the roof to my left, replacing slates. Work is underway to repain the damage caused by the July 10 storm. It is good to watch it. As the sun drives the squares in my son's globe, the desire for wholeness, for restoration, for healing drives our human efforts. We long to build up that which is thrown down, to make whole that which is broken, to replace slates, repair the tower, rebuild the organ...get on with life.
When the globe is sitting in bright sunlight, the squares spin so fast that they make an annoying little tinkling noise that drives me to distraction in about two minutes. So, I move the globe to the shade and enjoy the quiet.
There must be rhythm for life to be whole--movement and rest, work and play, singing and quiet, together and alone. I watch the workers sit perched like huge birds halfway up the slope of the church roof to rest and talk softly with each other. In a while they will be scampering again, defying gravity, shouting instructions to each other in gruff voices.
There is a point to this musing. It is the rhythm, the ebb and flow, the yin and yang of sunlight and shade, activity and rest, toil and quiet.
I am committed to a church that works with nobody left out. And that can only happen when we find the right pace, the right rhythm, the right way to hold our mouths....
(I love to play basketball. I would be heresy from someone who grew up in West Virginia not to love basketball! Basketball is art in West Virginia. Fred Schaus, Mark Workman, Hot Rod Hundley, Hal Greer, Jerry West, Rod Thorn, Gail Catlett, Ron Fritz...those are the names that moved me as I grew up. The names may mean nothing to you, but for me they were like gods. They were the basketball stars that lit the night sky of my childhood.)
Every day, I would shoot foul shots for an hour. And I came to believe to this day...that the secret of shooting foul shots is holding your mouth right. You dribble the same number of times for each shot. You spin the ball the same way each time. Rock three times, hold your mouth right and then shoot. And the ball goes in if you hold your mouth right.
What we need to do as a church, as a parish, is discover how it is we should hold our mouths. We need to discover the rhythm that is right for us. We need to find the balance between sunlight and shade, action and reflection, motion and quietness, dancing and standing still. We need to experiment with how we can be a church that works and...at the same time...a church that leaves nobody out.
And the way you do it is to "do it ". The only way to be a good foul shooter is to shoot foul shots. The only way to find out how to be a church that works and leaves nobody out is to practice doing and being that kind of church. How much sunshine is enough and not too much. How much shade is enough and not to much...that just depends on 'practice'.
I invite you to stand in the sun and the rain and the snow with me. I invite you to 'practice', in the months and years to come, being "a church that works and leaves nobody out". We'll be moving back and forth from sunshine to shade. We'll be scurrying around on the rooftops of our common life, patching the holes and then resting on the slope, speaking softly...or not at all.
And it will take time. Lots and lots of time. And patience too. And we'll sometimes make a dozen shots in a row and then miss five straight. It's like that. That's the way it will be. Quietness and toil will ebb and flow until it is natural and right. And still, even then, we'll occasionally miss five in a row.
That which is most NATURAL is well PRACTICED. A great dancer fools us into believing that her movement is natural, spontaneous, accomplished effortlessly. The truth is, a great dancer has practiced and practiced and practiced and, even more, practiced, and still sometimes falls, but the performance looks 'natural'.
I invite you to dance...to find the rhythm...to journey toward Go...to risk and to dream...in good weather and foul...in sunlight and shade...toil and quietness and striving after wind.
I invite you to be the Church of God, to be the Body of Christ...to see what it might mean to hold your mouth right.
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