Monday, April 20, 2009

Interim Ethics

I am in between times, right now: by definition, I am living an interim life.

Which is not to say the "present" is not full unto bursting with blessings and challenges, opportunities and aggravations. It is just that I am well aware, and somewhat painfully, that I am, as it were, in the wilderness. Not there or there. Only "here," but here is not a place, really, as much as a gap. Between there and there.

When Israel had Egypt in the rear view mirror, the Promised Land was still a long ways off. They were not there or there. And how do you live--what are the ethics--of the in-between places, of the wilderness times?

A metaphor: here we are, barely into Easter's Great Fifty Days, and I am trying to finish Advent essays for a preaching journal. Maybe that is always the case for preachers--our planning carries us away from a given moment toward another moment altogether. A crisis, an emergency, the drudgery or routine of any given day may call us back for a while to this day. Indeed there are some days when we must obey Jesus command, are forced by circumstance to "take no thought for the morrow, for sufficient to each day is the evil thereof."

And still it seems to be a truism that we live, move and have our being in the next season after this, or two seasons, find it hard to stay where we actually are. Budget and calendar, sermon and worship-planning--many days we have to take thought of tomorrow, its demands and deadlines.

Sometimes that same dynamic is evident in preachers who look at their present place of service as a kind of stepping stone, find their energies distracted by imaginations of ministry to come. One way or the other, most preachers--if I am any indication--will find that most of their "out of season" ruminations concern the future. That said, for one preacher I know--actually two--no, make that three--that "other time" is in the past.

One of the guys is getting ready to retire. In most every conversation he is revisiting his places of service and the services he planned or implemented in those places--and the people there among and with whom he did his work.

One fellow is recovering, incrementally, from a traumatic brain injury. On leave for ten years, he drifts back to his days, and his work, before his accident. Like another buddy, who suffers from OCD and crippling depression and was (more or less) recently forced-out of his pulpit, the trips down memory lane are self-defense, I think: a way to manage the loss with the memory. Hope dims, but memory shimmers... like Grizabella, all alone in the moonlight, as the withered leaves collect at their feet, they can smile at the old days--they were beautiful then.

Indeed they were. And in God's eyes, still are, though their lives each in their own way are frayed and stained.

I cannot smile at the old days. Not all of them, anyway. Some handful of them cast me into a time of exile, and after that into a long season of recovery and rehabilitation. I have never since entirely regained my career footing or standing. I am, by my calculations, 20 years behind. Still, my vocational sensibilities have never been clearer.

And so I wait. I journey. I wait. I write. I wait. I pray. I look, and I look ahead. I try to forget what lies behind and strain forward. I press on toward the goal I will never reach, but which indeed has already reached me, has reached for me and taken me. Indeed, Christ Jesus has made me his own. What I cannot achieve by work, and never will; what I cannot regain by repentance and remorse, is given me by grace alone.

Faithfulness--that is the ethics of this and every other interim. Memory and Hope, yes, those are brackets. But faithfulness: that is the heart of the in-between days.

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