March 24, 2015

The Transient Home

One of the things I’ve learned about ministry in the last year is that all ministry is transitional; every position is temporary; all jobs are for a time;

every Call will end.

A little over a year ago, I left my job of a little over 3 years. It wasn’t something I wanted or would have chosen for myself, but nonetheless, it happened. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the change over this last year, asking why, asking what next, asking what wasn’t my fault, asking what I could have done better … asking how to make the hard stuff never happen again. And through my ponderings, the words of a friend and colleague have rung true: all ministry is transitional. It wasn’t just THAT job, and it wasn’t just the transitional role I currently occupy; we’re all preparing our ministry for the next person to lead it. Nothing is permanent; even if your stay in your role for 25 years, eventually somebody else will take your place to work with whatever you’ve left behind; and you won’t know it will last 25 years until you’ve been there that long.

You can imagine how this has messed with me, especially since my dream right now is to have a job that’s not interim/transitional/transient. Having moved fourteen times in the last ten years, my family and I desperately want to live somewhere - *really live there* - for a long time. We have all sorts of ideas about what “ideal” might look like, but beyond all the little preferences, we want to be able to invest in the community and put down roots. We want the safety and relative security of a house. We want to get to know our kids’ school principle and teachers, to get to know neighbors. We want our kids to have friends to play with next door, a yard to call their own.

But the transience of our culture and of employment these days feels like it doesn’t allow for that. Transience means that at some point - whenever that might be - we’ll have to leave, and so instead of investing in the people around us, instead of allowing them into our hearts and lives, it feels far, far safer to have superficial surface-ish flat relationships, to do a job, to check the boxes on a list and move on. Investing in a community in a transient world means that eventually, it will be torn, ripped, wrenched away. Investment eventually will mean suffering and pain and loss; at some point, we will be taken away from familiarity, from things we have grown to love - friends, a house, schools, a favorite restaurant, even family.

It feels easier to just avoid the whole thing.

Introverted though I am, I crave a solid community, one that cares deeply for its members and for the world in which it finds itself. It turns out that I’m really just like everyone else - we all want that. It might look different for different people, but deep down what every person wants is a place to belong and a people to call their own. Though accepting the reality of this might be difficult, what I’ve come to realize is that the transient nature of our world doesn’t mean we can’t have those things.

What it means is that we must accept that those things, being so desirable, will cause us pain.

A great existential crisis grips my generation. We're masters of our electronics, but not of truth; priests of our own customized religions, but victims of our circumstances; over-educated and dangerously entitled. We're all Solomon, sitting in our palaces, surrounded by more than we could ever want (or afford), wondering why we're still so unhappy. And I think it’s because we’ve not yet learned how to handle pain. In fact, our whole first world economy is geared toward pain avoidance. That’s what it MEANS to have convenience - it means we can avoid all different kinds of pain;

The pain of doing something I don’t like …
The pain of waiting, of being alone with ourselves …
The pain of our bodies in injury or age and the realization of our own mortality …
The pain of wanting but not having …
The pain of not knowing something …
The pain of hunger or thirst …
The pain that comes from the consequences of our coping mechanisms in trying to deal with the other kinds pain …

Our economy and our culture say that we can buy our way to happiness, because to us, happiness means the state at which we are in the least amount of pain. Suffering from envy of your neighbor’s stuff? Take out a loan and buy that stuff yourself (no payments for a year)! Suffering from the pain of having to go to bed before the Oscars are over? Buy a DVR and cable and record it! Suffering from a growling stomach? Buy some drugs to stay thin AND full! Suffering from the pain of being left out? Buy a North Face jacket or an iPhone 6+ and feel included! Suffering from not knowing? Google is here for you!

But what if pain isn’t something to always avoid, but something to embrace? Pain leads to solidarity with others in pain; through that shared experience, a community can grow deeper, more aware, more willing to give of itself to others in pain. A community that doesn’t know pain will never empathize with the world around it because in the Kingdom of God, we’re not promised an irritant-free, pain-free, suffering-free life; we are promised that pain and suffering lead to something greater: 


We have a choice about how we will live. Home is, after all, what we make of it. So for me, home is where my wife and kids are, not where all my stuff is, not where I find myself with the least amount of pain. We may move to new jobs, change houses or apartments, move to new social circles, or lose family members. To really thrive, our safety and security - our faith - must be placed outside of our circumstances, beyond ourselves and our resources and our comfort zones. 

In the midst of good seasons, but especially in seasons of transience and pain and suffering, our faith should be put in the God who walks through the pain with us,

because our God is the God of the Resurrection.

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