Thursday, June 19, 2008

Memory and Hope

I forget who it was that said it--maybe Ken Callahan--that in a church memory and hope are both crucial, and the greater of the two is hope.

I can understand, I think, what he is saying. It is important to look back, to remember who and whose you are. It is paramount to recall "the rock from whence we are hewn" and to see ourselves as chips out of that old block. But all the more important to look ahead, to anticipate (without applying restrictions) who we are called to be and will be, by God, which is to say by God's grace and activity. Where there is no vision, the people perish, and vision is a by-product of hope.

I would assume that the same might be said for ministry. But what if one has lost hope? Or is losing hope?

Today I stood in a place thick with memory. Painful memory. The wounding was some thirty years ago and still it felt fresh today, a jagged knife to my heart, a spurt of anger and a flood of grief, a raw and irregular gash in my spirit. Tiger played with a double stress fracture over five days; over three decades I have been limping with double-breaks to my heart and torn ligaments in my spirit. I ache, still, I groan for old injury. Some days I can barely get off the couch.

The person I was with is privy to the story, said, "I keep hoping God will wipe your memory of those things..." I said, in words I have never used before, "All God seems to have wiped away is my hope." Which is not to say I am completely hopeless; just hopeless about many things and most of them related to the church. To my church. To my feckless and faltering ministry.

And what shape does ministry take if the minister has lost hope, despairs about whether sermons or lessons or buildings or activities have the power to effect transformation? What if nothing seems to matter, that all hearts remain hard and unresponsive, if all heads remain unconverted, and the preacher's least of all? What if preaching becomes a burden instead of a joy, the desire for new members a kind of artificial buttress against the inevitable.

Wesley said something to the effect that he never worried about whether the Methodist church would cease to exist, either in Europe or America, but he was very worried that Methodism would exist "only as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power." His fears may be founded, after all, and what's more: many Methodist ministers, I fear, have form and no power, which is to say they have memory and no real hope, no real conviction, nothing much other than despair.

Another friend says I seem to be more "serene" than I used to be. More resigned is more nearly the truth. Unwilling and, more to the point, less interested to kick against the goads of my situation.

Terry Holmes once observed the irony of current Christianity--that we want to be "winners," successful, etc (and just today I saw a sign for a new church, a church, whose motto proclaims, "Prepare to be a CHAMPION!"), when we follow one who was an abject failure, the symbol of whose failure graces the top of most every steeple. But we have taken the failure and turned it into strategy for success... idolatry is like that, I think.

On the cross Jesus lost hope. Right now I need to remember that crucial lesson.

No comments: