Weekend Digest 2021:3
Happy Friday, everyone!
I missed getting to write a Di·gest last week, but that’ll be the case every 3 weeks or so when work backs up and I just don’t have the time. Back on the horse today, though.
So, what have I been thinking about this week?
In a word: Movement.
Growing up, my family couldn’t travel a ton for pleasure, although we took work trips to buy goods for my dad’s store (he was a pharmacist and owned a gift shop complete with a small-town soda fountain where I worked after school and weekends until I went to college). Renee and I have tried to expose our own kids to a bit more of the world than I’d seen in my childhood. We had our tickets to Italy (!) when the pandemic shut the world down — I remember watching the pandemic move across Europe beginning from, tragically it seemed, right there in the country we’d planned to visit last spring. Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed not to get to see Italy and its churches (my kids allow me one church/religious site per day when we travel), or even to make our annual pilgrimage to New England for the holidays, so I’ve been dreaming about travel more and more as the months have dragged on. Indeed, no doubt I’m thinking about movement these days precisely because we can’t move about freely as we’d like.
Movement and travel were at the heart of one of my favorite books of 2020 — James K. A. Smith’s theological travelogue On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. The book starts with a simple premise: “We all leave.” We leave family. We leave our hometowns. Some of us leave the religion bequeathed to us by our parents, either finding a new configuration for our deconstructed faith or blowing right past that exit to continue down the road without God (or so we imagine ourselves). That’s why Smith wrote about St. Augustine: Our hero left his hometown for Carthage and Rome. He left his mother, Monica. Augustine’s was a life chasing freedom, a life “on the road.” Smith writes:
The road is iconic because it is the symbol of liberation. From On the Road to Easy Rider to Thelma and Louise, the road is a ribbon that wends away from convention, obligation, and the oppression of domesticity. Freedom looks like the top down, hair whipping brazenly in the wind, refusing to be constrained, en route to “Wide Open Spaces” (the [formerly Dixie] Chicks). It’s hitting the road and heading west, loading up the car and leaving for college, hopping on a bus to New York City, backpacking through Europe, or hitchhiking to Memphis. (p. 59)– James K. A. Smith
The book is part biography, part philosophy lecture, part playlist, and always — movement. The concluding chapter, called “Homecoming,” restates the reveal. The road calls us all, but it seldom, if ever, delivers on the promised freedom we dream will satisfy us. What we need (spoiler alert) is someone with a map. Someone who’s been down every road before but seems perfectly satisfied just piling into the passenger seat to keep us awake and provide conversation on a trip to where we’ve never been.
This is the God who runs down the road to meet prodigals. Grace isn’t high-speed transport all the way to the end but the gift of his presence the rest of the way. And it is the remarkable promise of his Son, who meets us in this distance: “My Father’s house has many rooms” (John 14.2). There is room for you in the Father’s house. His home is your end. He is with you every step of the way there. (p. 222)
I loved this book — recommended my oldest daughter read it, if only as a philosophy primer! But I was pondering movement even before I picked it up months ago. See, I’m not just thinking about physical movement down a highway, but metaphorical movement, as well — our collective movement toward wherever God is calling us as a parish family. (I really hope you’re praying about that with me, by the way!) I’ll confess that the first couple years here, I was a little afraid to move because of the risk we’d get it wrong; too timid and afraid of sailing our ship in a wrong direction. Felt like I had to thread the needle to get a clearly-marked “vision from God” for where we’re supposed to go next. It was the same crippling feeling I had years ago about finding “God’s will for my life” about whom to marry and which vocation to pursue. It was paralyzing, looking for what I call “the dot” — the single soul-mate, the college, the single “For I know the plans I have for you” career.
Frederick Buechner famously said about vocation:
By and large a good rule for finding out [your vocation or “calling”] is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done . . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, p. 118-19
That’s a pretty phrase, a lovely sentiment. But I’ve come to believe it’s totally untrue. Thpffttt. Whoever even thought to look for “calling” at the juncture of our “passion” and the world’s “deep hunger” until the last 100 years in the West? Time was, you just did what your mama or your daddy did. You worked the family farm. Or you raised a family upon said farm. Looking for Buechner’s magical nexus was paralyzing. I couldn’t figure out where to move. Designer and author Liz Bohannon said as much in a piece for RELEVANT Magazine called “Stop Trying to ‘Find Your Passion'”
I am here to tell you: You will never find your passion and purpose. There. I said it. You’re probably in shock and maybe a little bit angry . . . but it’s true. Because your passion and purpose isn’t out there, buried like treasure or hiding behind a tree. It’s not waiting for you to open the right door or peek under the right rock before it jumps out at you like you’re playing some cosmically cruel game of hide-and-seek . . . . Passion isn’t a preexisting condition. A life of purpose and passion can’t be found. It is the result of being brave, curious, and dare I say, plucky?Liz Bohannon
. . .
There is no secret. There is no silver bullet. You just have to be brave enough to listen to the whisper that says, “Keep going.”
When we gather for our Annual Parish Meeting this Sunday (don’t forget to vote for vestry!!), I’ll give my “State of the Parish” address, and I’ll talk more about what I think I’ve heard God whisper for us. But we build that purpose together by trying things out, seeing what works, course correcting, and sailing on. Waiting for “the Dot” is just wasting time — God calls us out into the deep, and he promises to go with us to the end of the road we choose. Why would we think we had to have the directions committed to memory before we can start moving?
One last thing about movement, by the way — Assuming we’ll be getting back to normal sometime in the month to come, who wants to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? I’m hankering to lead one, so if you’d be interested in going with, let me know!
Finally — here are some tidbits if you find yourself with time on your hands this weekend:
- While the Tennessee virus numbers have improved, thanks be to God, we are still in the “active outbreak” category. We’re extending the 10-person cap on public, in-person worship through the beginning of Lent, at which time we will reevaluate. In the meantime — although we aren’t meeting for in-person worship, we are preparingfor in-person worship, and I could use a favor. We’ve never had a bigger need for well-trained, capable ushers to welcome worshipers into our space and orient them to our Covid protocols. If you’re interested — whether you’re an individual adult, a student, a couple, or a family that could serve together as a team — please email Bill Bowlby for more information.
- During last Sunday’s Rector’s Forum about Episcopal Church polity, someone asked whether and how we’re connected to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Here’s an interesting piece from last year in The Living Church that touches on that issue.
- For a brief but fascinating podcast on the Origins of Anglicanism, listen >>>here.
- Next Wednesday, Feb. 3 is St. Blase’s day when churches traditionally bless throats. I plan to do throat blessings at the midday Eucharist at 12.15 p.m. on Wednesday (complete with a new liturgical contraption crafted specifically for that blessing) if you’d like to join me!
One last thing — who hasn’t got one minute for a sea shanty? Hear here. With all the talk of Barques and going to sea, I’m delighted to learn the #shantytok trend is a thing and to read this from the Bruderhof:
Shanties are “songs with simple, blunt rhythms, meant to be easy to learn and easy to sing along with while doing the hard physical work of sailing a large fishing vessel…. They are unifying, survivalist songs, designed to transform a huge group of people into one collective body, all working together to keep the ship afloat.
Read more >>>here.
Unifying . . . designed to transform a group into a collective body . . . working together to keep the ship afloat? Sounds like a Barque-worthy enterprise to me!
Oh, and stick around for the best version of Amazing Grace you’ll hear all week.
Have a great weekend — and thanks for reading. Let’s get moving!