I have been on the road a lot in the last five days and as a result I have encountered a lot of detours. There was at least one between every two points in my travels. Some were just a few blocks long and were more of a minor blip. Some were a significant distance, and hauled me a long ways around the countryside, threw off my schedule and my mileage checking on mapquest and in one case almost got me lost due to really bad signage. But the detour I was saved from by the Gospel was not on a highway at all
Our clergy conference last May was a thing of wonder. So bright and shiny and full of retreat-like peace...I kind of had a feeling going in this one could not possibly measure up. So I thought I had my expectations in check. I said to myself all those good and requisite things. "It will be it's own conference." "It will be what it will be and to expect it to be other is to set myself up for a big fall." I had a sense it would be more business-like. We are heading toward convention, we are working on some big things, including a new way of being a diocese together. It's hard work. Gritty work at times. We have been at it a while now and sometimes it's hard to see progress. Sometimes it seems like we talk about this all the time. And then we talk about it some more. One of the things we talk about most is how we must improve our communication and our ability to work together if we are going to survive and thrive as a church and be a transformative, missional presence
The first night at dinner I found out that a communication breakdown had occurred a week or so ago and I had not received a notice about the last Commission on Ministry meeting. They met and I had not a clue, so I was not there.
Then I discovered that I team I thought I was part of had made a rather important decision. I found out about it when someone affected by the decision called me to task on it because they were upset about the outcome of the decision. I had no idea it had been made.
By last night I was tired and cranky and ready to cash it in and go home. We had done a small group exercise that I found frustrating and not a good use of our time. Despite my essential hopefulness and what may even pass for cockeyed optimism about the future of my church at times, I was finding myself getting lost in cynicism and cycling down into those old dark conversations that only hours earlier I had heard myself telling someone that I knew with all my heart we needed to stop having if we really believe in the transformation we are trying to live into. I had seriously thought about getting up this morning, having breakfast and leaving. But I am still enough of a rule-follower that if the conference ends at noon, I stay till noon. And sometimes rule following has its benefits.
One of the things that has come out of our process of transforming ourselves has been a commitment to Gospel Based Discipleship. We have varied experience across the Diocese with this. Some of us have been doing GBD with our congregations and leadership groups regularly for a while now, others are just being introduced to this process of putting the Gospel in the center of our lives and work. The May conference was the first time we did this practice together as a clergy group and it was quite wonderful. This conference, like everything else, the GBD groups had been uneven, some good, some a little meh
This morning we gathered right after breakfast to begin our day with GBD . I sat down with a random group. Three guys, only one of whom I feel I have any connection that goes below a superficial level. We read Matthew 6:25-34. Do not worry..."Oh," I thought immediately. "That again....hmmmm." Cuz surely I had been worrying. Fuss, fuss, fuss, for sure. Worrying about my connections with these two groups I supposedly belong to. Worrying about our future. Worrying about my place in it all. Worrying about my little congregation and where we fit and if anyone even cares that we exist. Worrying about all the stuff of life, bloggable and un- that keeps me up at three a.m and decorates my dreams. The night had been one of sleep that was deep but not restful. I'd had a nightmare about having to crawl through tiny endless little gates that dropped me into nothingness and just kept coming.
GDB asks that you read the Gospel three times and after each reading answer a question. The first question is "What word or phrase stands out for you?" What I heard was "God knows." It was very comforting and somehow "settled" me immediately into a different space and mindframe than I had been in for the last twelve hours. The question after the second reading asks "What is the Gospel (or Jesus) saying to you?" The second time we read "The Message" translation, and Peterson has Jesus say the following at the end of the passage: "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." I had no doubt that this was exactly what this Gospel was saying to me. "Pay attention to God. Get your head out of all this other crap. Just listen up." One of the other people in my group was captured by this as well and talked about the difference between God's time and ours and what does "tomorrow" mean in God's universe and how does that change what tomorrow might mean for us. He also mentioned that what God is doing is God's business and that we don't always get it. And that is another reason why it might be good not to get so worked up. Earlier in the morning he had shared his journey over the summer with me. It made his comments very credible and powerful. We read a third time. I was still pretty lost in the quote and J's comments. The third question is "What is the Gospel(or Jesus) calling you to do?" No moving from that last quote....other than the idea that I should perhaps make twenty or so copies and put them up everywhere I spend any time so I can meditate on this every day for the next six months or so and use it for my mantra and spiritual discipline....yeah. Just that. There is, I think, something there I must attend to. Because it seems to have been the thing that brought me back from being lost on the detour on this little leg of the trip. This one thing. God, it appears, has very good signage.