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Wheee!

12December2011

Being a parish pastor is like riding a roller coaster. They didn’t exactly tell us that in seminary, but I’m beginning to figure it out. There are days of climbing anticipation, followed by moments of hanging…almost motionless…at the precipice of a rush that will simultaneously thrill and terrify. High peaks. Deep valleys. Twists and turns that threaten to rip you out of your seat. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a chance to catch your breath on a straight-away before the next dip or curve. If I’ve learned anything at all in seventeen-plus years: Hanging on is a very good idea.

Indeed, there is a lot of “hanging on” happening these days. I see it among colleagues and lay folks in the congregation I serve and in those close by…with a tendency towards a kind of white-knuckled desperation. And why not? Things have been tough, and they don’t seem to be getting less tough. Among Lutherans, our disagreements about sexuality, ministry, and Biblical vs. cultural authority are no closer to resolution. Mix in a tough economy and a volatile political environment, and you get a tight-fisted anxiety which reveals what a poor job the church has generally done in shaping personal discipleship and stewardship. And that, subsequently, takes a toll on support (financial and otherwise) for the church’s ministry.

Not that I’m immune to this. But on my better days, at least, I’m able to remember that what you hang on to is as important as hanging on itself. There are options.

How about that little bar across your lap? Sure…the ride guy says it’s safe enough. But it always seemed a bit tentative to me…even after it has clicked down into the “locked” position. After all, that little bar is just another part of the giant machine that is bent on whipping you to and fro. They aren’t perfect. They break…with consequences for those who are betting their lives on them. So perhaps we need to be careful of the myriad locked down little bars of “rightness” on which we often too easily rely when we are afraid: economic theories, political positions, cultural norms, certainly my own confidence as to what is assuredly right and wrong. Not that any of these things are intrinsically bad; they’re just not strong enough to ultimately keep us safe and whole.

Perhaps we’re better off hanging on to our partner on this ride. After all, he’s been up the difficult hills and down into some pretty deep valleys. He knows already what it’s like to be terrified and what it’s like to prevail. He has taken everything that the most violent ride can dish out. And he can bear direct and living witness that something greater than the dips and curves of life gets the final word.

“Remember: I am with you always…even to the close of the age.” This is the promise he makes to all who dare ride alongside him. And since it doesn’t look like we’re getting off this coaster anytime soon, I’d suggest we take him up on that promise. So here we go: Jesus and me, Jesus and you, Jesus and us…and whatever the ride throws our way. Wheee!

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