Thursday, September 06, 2012

Go West (Sunday Reflections for June 3, 2012)

(My blog has languished for several months,. This post is the last Sunday Reflections column I did before leaving my congregation in Illinois. I am now relocated to Santa Fe, NM and working at an art gallery there, while I decide what next to do with myself.  I am also musing a lot and mentally gathering material for future blog posts, which hopefully will begin appearing soon. So stay tuned!)

As many of you know, New Mexico has been one of my favorite vacation spots. Soon it will be my home. Visiting a place and living there are very different experiences, of course, and New Mexico is not perfect. It has pockets of wealth and large areas of poverty. It has a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups that do not always get along well with each other. It can be dangerously dry, with wild fires a constant threat. And then there are the snakes.

Nonetheless, I am excited about moving to New Mexico, and to Santa Fe in particular. To borrow a phrase, it is, I believe, the next thing to do with my life. I look forward to being closer to the natural world, something which is so easily obscured in the city. I look forward to being surrounded by mountains and to the sun shining far more often than not. I look forward to seeing stars at night.

Christianity has an ancient tradition of nurturing and re-energizing itself in the desert, and I have felt a similar pull since my first visit to New Mexico. The desert is not lifeless but it is certainly lean, gently but firmly doing away with whatever is superfluous and hindering. It is this environment which has profoundly shaped and defined the Native American culture and spirituality of northern New Mexico. It has also nurtured the state’s century-old artist community. The spare landscape and thin dry air of the high desert together encourage a unique clarity of thought, feeling, and vision.

So I look forward to this move as an opportunity to do some clarifying and re-orienting, some winnowing and whittling. It doesn’t feel like a retreat or escape but rather a “strategic withdrawal,” allowing me to regain my bearings and set a new course.

One thing I am not doing at this point is looking for a new pastoral call. That could happen later but right now I it seems better to step back and regain some perspective. The church-at-large is a confused mess: directionless, dysfunctional, delusional, demoralized, and depressed. Sadly I see nothing on the horizon to indicate this situation will be changing anytime soon.

I have spoken and written about this many times, in part to provide some context for the challenges faced by our own congregation and an understanding that this is now the norm. The bottom line is that none of this is anybody’s fault. We have become stuck in this downward spiral, however, because it is so hard for the church to understand how profoundly our world has changed. We are completely out-of-step. We want to tinker when what we really need is a complete overhaul. And my conversations with both pastors and denominational leaders show we still just don’t get it.

People keep asking me (often in response to an essay or sermon like this), then what’s the answer? But I have no answer because I know what the questioner really means is, how do we get things back to the way they were? And that is just not going to happen, nor do I think it should. It is time for the church to come to an end which, in fact, is what’s happening. It’s not going to completely shutdown like a defunct factory but it is--slowly--transitioning to something new and very different.

So the issue is not finding “the answer” to the church’s problems, but rather gaining some understanding about what’s going on and some clarity of vision about where we are heading. Then maybe we can do things to nurture the process, encourage it rather than fight it, and perhaps even guide it a bit. 

By getting away to New Mexico I hope to get a little of that understanding and clarity, and if that happens, put it to some good use. In the meantime, I also hope to do some hiking and writing, perhaps some weaving and painting, and just maybe, learn how to make a really good margarita.


Michael_SC said...

Hi Doug: I have enjoyed, and have learned from, your blog posts over the years. I spent 4 years in Arizona, and have relatives in New Mexico -- I love the Southwestern Deserts. Especially the thunderstorms and the black night sky. I hope you benefit from your new situation, and if you blog any more, I look forward to reading the posts.

Doug said...

Thanks Michael! I will do my best.