Re-Entry

I love to travel, but I’d sort of forgotten that for a while. There’s something about leaving home, leaving routines and familiar places and faces, and my own bed —leaving it all behind to strike out and discover something new.  When I was a child, we travelled infrequently; I remember only two “big” family trips to Florida and Kansas City, Mo.  We took our summer vacations at the lake, which isn’t like traveling at all...it’s just moving from our one house to the other.  We went camping and took day trips too, but that isn’t the same as travelling, either. 

I took my first big trip was when I was 22, the summer after I graduated from college.  Terry Saris (now Parkes) and I went backpacking in Europe.  It was a great, un-orchestrated adventure — so spontaneous and impromptu — full of good experiences, and a few bad ones too.  Overall it was a tremendous growth experience — I’d even call it formative in moving from childhood to adulthood.  After that I went to a couple of Club Med resorts in Martinique and Mexico with girlfriends.  When Carl and I were on our first date, we made plans to take a trip to California together; that’s where we fell in love, and it formed a pattern for the rest of our marriage.  We travelled several times every year; Bora Bora and Tahiti, Europe, Washington State, Arizona, the Grand Titons, Yellowstone, New Orleans, Europe again, several trips to Florida, Puerto Rico, Canada...we were always planning our next trip.  I also traveled for business to Switzerland and Tokyo.  After Carl died, I went on a mission trip to Honduras twice with a group from Liberty Corner. But it wasn’t until ten years later that I planned a “proper” trip to Iona in Scotland.  I went alone and got stranded there for an extra week because a volcano in Iceland erupted and grounded all flights in and out of Europe.  It was like taking a great, big gulp of fresh air — it cleared out some cobwebs and gave me new things to think about.  It also turned out to be my introduction to Celtic spirituality, which resonates deeply and has informed my theology these past few years.

When you re-enter normal life after having traveled, there’s a tension between your old reality and the new reality you experienced away from home.  I’ve felt this to a greater or lesser degree every time I’ve returned from a trip. In its most benign form it’s the let-down on your first day back to work, when it hits you that vacation is officially over.  In its more severe forms, it requires fairly extensive re-adjustment — this happened after both mission trips to Honduras.  The culture was so vastly different there from my own that there was a period of opulence-remorse when faced again with the excesses of our culture and my own (comparatively) extravagant life-style.

But nothing prepared me for the re-entry adjustment I needed after Israel.  It is not an overstatement to say that I was disoriented, as if my life were a deck of playing cards that had been tossed into the air and hadn’t landed yet.  I had a keen sense that God was behind it, or maybe underneath it all, and it never felt like a faith-crisis.  It was much more an identity crisis – I didn’t trust the foundations I had built my life on, post-Carl.  Mostly, it was my vocation I could not abide.  Being a pastor suddenly seemed so ill-fitting and pretentious.  Who was I to stand up every Sunday and speak for God? 

That is not to say that I wasn’t called by God into ordained ministry...I firmly believe that I was.  And I whole-heartedly recognize that God can and did use me, even broken me, to accomplish God’s work.  I am humbled and honored beyond words that God allowed me the privilege of serving Him as a pastor of a congregation for nine years.  But once the spell was broken, and I woke up from the trance, I knew I could no longer remain in the pastorate. 

It took a week before I knew I would just simply walk away, without another call.  Seven days, when I realized that I could do it, and that it was exactly what I had to do in order to step out and find what God is calling me into next.  I had to take a risk, rely completely on God and step out in faith. It was counter-intuitive...it required stepping away from my first call in order to discover my next call. As long as I remained in Tuckerton, I would simply keep doing what I had I been doing all along, but with less passion and a growing sense of futility.  I was so tired, so weary of going it alone...I could barely stand it a moment longer.

Once I made the decision to leave the pastorate, it was the only thing that gave me any relief from the post-trip disorientation.  As days turned into weeks with no change, I worried that I would never return to “normal.”  When I expressed this fear to Ruth, she asked, “What is normal?” and I had to admit, I had no idea what normal would even look like any more.  Ruth told me that I would begin to put things “in order” and the feelings of disorientation would subside. 

Meanwhile, I went to church every day, and tried to prepare for worship on Sunday, and tried to act engaged in committee meetings, and tried to be a good pastor, if only for a little while longer.  I was desperate to not inflict any damage, and to continue to love them as best I could. 

Two weeks after I returned, it was Holy Week.  It was surreal going through the motions, knowing it would be my last as a pastor. My sermons were rawer and more edgy than usual. People noticed, and commented,  in a positive way, about how they were moved, especially by the intimacy of the Maundy Thursday service.  On Easter, I preached a sermon using a work of art called “As It Began to Dawn” as a preaching tool.  I used the painting of the two Marys to talk about our two-selves:  one hopeful and expectant, the other grief-stricken and bent low with weariness.

 "As It Began to Dawn" by Frank Wesley

"As It Began to Dawn" by Frank Wesley

I moved toward the conclusion of the sermon this way:

If we are to take the Easter story and own it for ourselves, Christ’s resurrection means that new life is available to all.  Easter is a dying and rebirth — a chance to move forward with a wholeness that has eluded us until now. Christ died so that all that is broken in us may die with him.  Christ rose again so that we might be wholly alive.”

As I normally do, I was preaching what I needed to hear most.