This Tuesday morning started off as any other I have had in recent weeks. After seeing my wife off to work I sluggishly moved back to bed to get an extra hour or two of sleep before I had to get ready and leave for Starbucks. Tuesdays are the days I meet with my internship supervisor and those meetings have been a real highlight for me. While its obvious that there are some differences in our approaches to things, I have never once doubted his care and support for me and for his congregation. Also at our meetings is another person integral to my internship and she as well has been nothing but supportive and kind to me as I continue my journey through seminary.
As we sat down this morning with our coffee in hand we began to discuss the suggested topic for the day, faith. I was taken aback by my inability to answer the question about my own faith. I certainly have the vocabulary. I know the text book answer but so often, as was the case today, I find it lacking. I can’t really find the right words to explain my faith and the role it plays in my life apart from tying it to specific experiences. I wonder though if thats the point. If faith can only be understood through experience. It’s easy to sit back and codify an answer based on varying texts. It’s easy to rely on the words of others to describe the concept of faith. But when it comes to painting the picture the only colors I can really use are the ones I have found in the experiences of my own life.
Personal experience is a powerful and authoritative source in life. It can build up or it can tear down. It doesn’t matter what it is actually building up or tearing down only that experience, perhaps more than anything else, does just that. While it would be nice to insert an example here sans any sort of actual application I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about why this Tuesday, although starting out the same as any other with that meeting, didn’t end the same. But in order to go further I must first go further back beyond today to over a year ago.
In July of 2010 my wife and I were newly married and wondering where it was life was going to take us. I hadn’t begun working for either Whole Foods or Apple and had not even entertained the idea of going to sem. Instead we were hoping that my wife would get a call to be a teacher at a school and we would move to wherever it was she received the call. Well in July as we vacationed with her family in New Hampshire my wife received a phone call from a pastor letting her know that the committee had decided to extend to her a call to be a teacher at St. Namehasbeenchanged Lutheran Church and School. After much deliberation and with sadness in her heart we actually turned that call down and in doing so our lives took on another direction. While we can look back and say that the direction it took is a fantastic one full of opportunities and joy we never thought that church and school would ever come back into the forefront of our thought. But today it did just that.
During my meeting my internship supervisor told me a story he had read about a pastor being caught in a prostitution sting. He was arrested and released and has since been removed from his position as pastor of that church. When he told me the name of the church, that it had a school, and the location I knew it was the same place we turned down a call to just over a year ago. Now let me make clear that I am not writing this as if to gloat that we made the right decision but rather because this scenario is a very real one that is affecting the lives of people we actually know. Not only did my wife and I go to the same college as the man who was the associate pastor and is now the sole pastor of this hurting congregation, but my wife actually grew up with him. Needless to say this story hits close to home.
So why bring it up? To condemn? To gloat? To show what happens when people make bad decisions? No. Not in the least. In fact although some of these may be tempting or have possible beneficial examples down the road once the pain has subsided, the reason I bring it up is because this experience is shaping the lives of people in ways that were never imagined. This experience is redefining relationships and galvanizing people, hopefully for the better although surely it is possible the opposite is true too. What then should we do in the face of such a life altering and perspective defining experience? To be sure now is not the time to point fingers and wonder why. While hurt and pain are obvious on all sides of the equation perhaps the best thing one can do right now is come alongside those who are struggling and offer support as best you can. You may never know why he was in the position to be apprehended by the police but in the aftermath of such an experience we need to rise up in support of those who are hurting. Sure we can’t all run out and move to the location of this incident, but in an effort to honor and support that church we can do what they asked and pray for them during this time.
As if this incident were not enough I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to something else going on in the lives of some very dear friends of ours. To make a long and complicated, though no less interesting, story short I will simply say that those friends of ours are losing their home and place of employment because the directors feel a need to hang on to wealth. Now in both cases leadership has let down those who have been placed in their care. Whether it’s through personal choices to seek other avenues of companionship or through a misguided desire to possess all that has been given to them peoples lives are being shaped and defined by these difficult circumstances.
While it would be nice to think that all will come out of this unscathed the truth is that pain and suffering abound right now. I know it doesn’t take anyone long to look back into their past to find a time when they too were suffering. When one’s own life was being shaped by a difficult and painful experience. Personally I can think of a slew of experiences ranging from abuse to homelessness that have defined my own perspective on faith and life. And it is in having the ability each of us do to look into our past and find those skeletons in the closet that we are reminded of the fact that this world is, that we are, broken.
I suppose this post could have been a lot shorter than it actually is and I still could have come to the same conclusion. Thats the problem. In life there are no shortages on difficult and trying experiences. This world is a broken and hurting place and in the face of that we have a choice. We can become embittered by our experience thinking that the world or God is out to get us. We can deny the experience is or has happened and like dust sweep it under the rug. Or we can confront them. By them of course I don’t just mean our own experiences, I mean the experiences of others. In trying times you and I always have a place, right beside the one who suffers. We may not be able to fix things. We may not be able to right the wrongs and heal the wounds but that does not mean we have no part to play. In fact, one might say it is the most important role one can play, a brother or sister standing side by side another. Because outside of the reality that we all live in a broken world is that we all live in it together, sharing the air we breath and the blood that runs through our veins. The question is, will we allow that reality to be the one that shapes our experience?