Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some Sort of 'Lude'

(Note: I actually wrote this post four weeks ago, when I had a bit of time and not much else to do. Put in the context of what has happened in these last four weeks, a few lines here seem almost prophetic.)

What does one do when you have a limited amount of so-called ‘free’ time, but you’re not in a place where much can be done effectively? One such example of this is if you travel by airplane, and you have to change flights in mid-course. You most likely have a layover at the terminal where you change flights. Chances are you can’t go anywhere, save the bar at the airport. People caught in that scenario are usually thoughtful enough to bring along a book or something else to do to occupy their time. In these modern days of cell phones and wi-fi connections, some people take to their phones and/or laptops and attempt to be productive that way.
I am in a similar situation this Sunday morning. I am serving as cantor at all three scheduled Masses, and there is a layover between each of them. Too long to sit and do nothing, too short to really do anything. On occasions like this I usually take a quick drive to the cemetery where many of my (and my wife’s) immediate ancestors are buried; it is only a five-minute drive away. But it is late February, and the grounds are covered with a fresh layer of snow; and if it weren’t it would likely be too saturated to walk on without getting muddy, so that is out. (However, I am thinking of them in prayer as I write.)

I might have considered calling home. My wife is going through an elaborate family tree research project. It started out as trying to trace her mother’s side of her family back a few generations, but didn’t get too far. When she moved to her father’s side, though, she got caught up in much detail, particularly her paternal grandmother’s French roots, which she’s managed to trace back five centuries and shows no signs of an end just yet. In all of that she’s found out that a great number of her ancestors figured in the settlement of Quebec in Canada, though that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But I digress. I said I might call her – only I left my cell phone at home. Plus, she doesn’t need interruptions that aren’t important while she does all this research. So, I thought, bring the laptop along. I might get some work done; at the very least I’d have the internet to keep me company. But, as my Catholic parish has an expansive land footprint between the church, the parish center, and the parking lot, there is no wireless signal close enough for me on which to get attached. So, now what??

I’ve had time to think about the last few weeks, along with the next few, and how I am being of service to God and to others. I can’t say I haven’t been busy. I don’t want to toot my horn too much, for I would be quickly reminded that I am not nearly as generous in my situation as I’ve known others to be in theirs. But in my relatively unique position of straddling the fence between a Catholic and a Methodist congregation, I indeed have a bit to reflect upon.

It’s relatively quiet in my Catholic community. Easter is still two months away; Lent hasn’t even started yet. The new pastor here is slowly changing things; a little here, a bit there, nothing to get excited about. Over in the land of the Methodists, on the other hand, things are jumping. They are at a crossroads as a congregation, not only with the change in pastors there (and the new one a woman, my first experience as such), but with the realization that they have to work off a $3 million debt put on by expanding their facilities and building classrooms, meeting rooms, and a youth center.

A couple of weeks back I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer some time contacting members of the congregation, asking them to raise awareness in prayer for their stewardship campaign. Among the goals of this campaign is the elimination of the debt over the next three years. I thought for nearly a week as to whether or not I should really do this. I am probably the least likely to represent the achievement of the goals. I openly admit that I straddle two diverse and markedly different congregations, one out of tradition and where I am compensated for my talent, which keeps us financially solvent and for which I am thankful to God. The other, more contemporary, putting a fresh and more vibrant spin on being a disciple of Christ; and one where I am considered a member even though I am not, formally.

Now throw on top of this today’s Gospel passage from the pen of the evangelist Matthew:
Jesus said: 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

Hmmm…this begs a couple of questions. Am I trying to serve God, or myself? And I have to be careful, because as a musician the ministry can become self-serving instead of God and community-serving rather quickly. So, to volunteer more than just getting up in front of others to sing, even if it’s just to sing – that extra time spent calling others to prayer is a proper and good thing to do.

But what about the fence straddling? Is it possible to serve God from two seemingly different perspectives? From a lofty, hierarchical approach, men would generally say no, I can’t. But I don’t know that I can choose one or the other. I am invested in the one because of my office as well as the compensation. I am invested in the other because of my son’s interest and attachment there. I have had several friends there and made others over the course of time. Further, it doesn’t seem that I am the only person who is affected in such a way. No, it is good for me to understand Christianity from more than one perspective or experience. Tradition cannot be ignored, nor should it; for we don’t know where we are without understanding where we’ve been. Putting that into a contemporary context is welcome provided it is not self-serving, but fosters a true extension of God’s will into the modern world; a practice of Christ’s Great Commission to his disciples. Some congregations are able to pool resources, especially in urban areas; but when you’re a standout, you have to stand out. I’ve seen this in a very real and demonstrative way among the Methodist congregation, and I pray fervently that it doesn’t die in the wake of pastoral change, aging congregants no longer able to attend worship on Sunday, or concern about a massive debt. So it is apparent that I have a vested interest there for my own sake as well as that of my son. Are we not all family in the same, the one Christ underneath the skin of denominational doctrine?

In that same passage, Jesus reminds his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God…and He will see to all your needs; in short, not to worry needlessly, because God’s omnipresence knows what we need even without having to ask. So the real question all of Scripture should call on us to ask of ourselves, and in our prayer to God, is two-fold. One, as so gracefully and artistically put by an instructor of mine, is So what?? What does this have to do with me? And the answer is: it has everything to do with me, who I am, where I’ve been and where I am going. It is not an easy path, but it seems to be immeasurably easier than a path where this first question is never asked.

The second question follows almost immediately on the heels of the first: Lord, what is it you want of me? What is your will for me?  I will watch, listen, and observe as You guide me.

It seems the best response at these crossroads comes from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The Methodist Covenant Prayer is a reminder to me that God may not have big plans for me, but he does have a Plan and in order to best discern how I fit in it, I must yield myself to whatever it is – and whatever it is not – I am supposed to do.

And so, when those times come along when I think I have nothing to do but wait…are the best times to be with God in the place where I am, and let Him turn me in the direction I should go.

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