Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Siri, Why Am I Lost?
Reflections on Madison, Losing One's Way, and Patient Ministry

My family and I have been in our new home in Madison for two weeks and two days. We love Madison. We love its Austin-esque quirkiness and laid-back feel, the friendliness of the people, the thoughtfulness of the city toward families, the bicycles, the food, the cooperation among the churches, yes, the weather (hey, it's August yet), the political, ecological, and social awareness/responsiveness, and the fact that I find myself unspeakably excited for God at work at St Francis House and the good work God has set before me as its chaplain. Of course, no place is perfect, but we like our new town.

None of this is to suggest that I know my way around my new town. I'm learning. GPS makes this easier, but also more embarrassing when one inevitably gets turned around. How can you get lost with the sweet whispers of Siri to guide you? But you can, and I do, with some regularity. (In my defense, I don't have the true GPS that speaks the turns; Siri gives me printed directions, which are something like maps, I'm told.)

I've gotten so good at getting lost it has become something like a science to me. One thing I've observed about getting one's way is that it's almost never because I've gone too far. My hand-held directions tell me that my next left turn comes in 0.4 miles, and as soon as I read the instruction I begin to wonder if I've missed the turn. Just how far is 0.4? Not that far, surely. Should I go back? If I do, and subsequently encounter the correct street at the incorrect spot, how can I know where I am? Occasionally, very occasionally, I miss a turn. (The town of Monona decided to celebrate its recent construction by removing all street signs. Good call, Monona! I discovered this one Sunday while running late to church.) But most often its the doubt that comes with going to an unknown place I fear I will not recognize. I am so often amazed, on return trips, how close and connected were the turns that, going out, felt as if they were separated by eternities. Impatience (if I'm late), mistrust (of my directions and sometimes earned), and insecurity (in my ability to recognize the signs) all tempt me to turn to soon.

I have begun wondering if churches, in our nearly chronic desire for growth and wellness and faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus, haven't become a little bit like drivers in new cities. We know we want to have arrived, our cars are full of people with suggestions on the route, but impatience, mistrust, and self-doubt/insecurity often lead to rash turns and roundabouts. The quick fix and over-focus on technique. What if the right road is the long road? And what if we can trust God to point it? Would more attention the character of the Kingdom for which we're striving tune our eyes and ears such that the landscape around us also better points the way like fingerprints of God? And what will aid God's People (and myself) as we seek to become people of patience/perseverance, trust, and belief? How would the ability to trust the long-view stand to open me up to the Spirit and fill the present moment with joy?

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