Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Waterfall Gauntlet

On I-5, somewhere around mile marker 34, there is a cliff that runs along the highway upon which, when it begins to rain (which, this time of year, is most days in the Pacific Northwest), water trickles down the rocks and towards the road.  When it begins rain harder, those trickles turn into a series of distinct waterfalls, one after the other, cascading downward onto the ground.

During the rare sunny days like this past Saturday, it is easy to forget what this little stretch of road looks like when it is raining--all your eyes care to focus on is the road in front of you, the blue sky, and the verdant green that is everywhere.

And it would be easy to forget, but for this past December, when the winter rains were such that the floods began on a two-of-every-animal scale.  Along with the floods came the avalanches, the cascades of mud and earth and rock that ended up shutting down the interstate for a better part of a week, stranding hundreds of people in the little town of Woodland and cutting me off from my congregation and my people.

How much changes in just three months.

How much changes, then, in just a day, when the rains come again and the gauntlet of waterfalls starts pouring down again.

Far too often, we want things to remain the same--until we no longer do, and then once we do want them changed, we often want them changed immediately.

Sometimes, change is meant to take only a day.  Sometimes, it takes three months.  And sometimes, it takes a lifetime.

It is something I have had to adjust to as I went into full-time parish ministry.  The orthodox wisdom is to not enact any changes when you first arrive at a new congregation for your first year because you are the change, and a big, big change at that.

But at Longview, we didn't have a year.  We had to start making changes right away.  We began instituting new classes and programs, new outreach methods, a new childcare program...and all while jettisoning quite a bit of the incumbent infrastructure that was already there.

In fairness--Longview had, before I arrived, spent the past two full years in either active discernment or search and call for a new pastor.  They knew they needed change and called a pastor (me) who would help them usher it in.

Yet, Phase One, as I've taken to calling my first couple of years at Longview, was pretty easily achieved in retrospect.  Okay, not easily.  I was a twenty-five-year-old, fresh-out-of-seminary pastor who barely knew what he was doing but had to pretend like he did.  But I grew into the job, and the change came quickly.

But then we plateaued for a little while.  Families who had come started drifting away.  I struggled for creativity after a couple of years of being able to pour out all sorts of ideas and give them the old college try.  The flow of ideas slowed to a trickle, and change started coming much slower.  I became frustrated with, and disappointed in, myself.

Somewhere in between overwhelming one's new congregation with fresh ideas and not having any is the middle ground I actually think incoming pastors have to occupy.  The "nothing new in your first year" rule needs to go, because churches need to embrace the fact that their pastor does in fact call them to change, not just as a group, but also individually and spiritually, to more fully embody the imago dei.

And likewise, pastors need to be unafraid of the reality that they will experience periods of drought and famine in their work, difficult though that might be for we who take such pride in said work.

This stretch of highway is, for me, at its most beautiful and profound not when the water is cascading so much that it threatens to flood, or so bone-dry that it is nothing but rock, but instead when I can see, one after another, a gauntlet of waterfalls running on down from the heights above.

And so today, on Maundy Thursday, the day when Christ was arrested and the world thrown so horribly and painfully out of balance, I imagine that balance is as it should be.

It is an equilibrium I am still striving for and seeking for in my own life and ministry.  I pray that I may one day find it.

Longview, Washington
March 24, 2016

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

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