Day 59 Tuesday, September 6 San Anselmo to San Rafael, CA 9 miles
I read Ray’s post late yesterday morning about “Brian’s true calling” just after visiting the seminary campus where I graduated over 20 years ago. His post was timely as I have spent the last few days with people associated with the Church, reflecting on the future of the Church, and then visiting this grand institution that was to be my preparation for serving the Church as a minister. I have often referred to the spiritual schizophrenia I feel–living in two worlds with differerent values and separate languages. I was at dinner tonight with a group of members from Christ Presbyterian in San Rafael, CA. One of my colleagues who is now retired spoke of her neice as the “Earth Mother” and then berated herself for failing to get her neice to continue as an active member of a church. I was glad when her other friends from the church spoke up and insisted that this was not a failure, just a sign of the changing and shifting world we live in.
I have experienced the recent days of this pilrimage like stepping in and out of different worlds sort of like going from one ride at Disneyland to another. You have to change your reference points and expectations as you step out of “It’s a Small World” and step onto the boat for “Pirates of the Carribbean”. As I talk with people I realize that even though the language centers around religion and spirituality, the line that seems to separate people has to do with the object of your spiritual reflections and/or belief. I have discovered that the greatest dividing line doesn’t have to do with the religious language we use. It has to do with the object of our religious faith and spiritual searching. The greatest dividing line seems to be between those who make God the object of their faith and those who make themselves the object of their spiritual exploration.
Let me explain. There seems to have been a seismic spiritual shift that sees religion as part of personal fulfillment rather than denying the self in order to serve the religion (or God or nation). Both may use the language of religion and/or spirituality, but if the assumptions are on opposite ends of the spectrum we end up worlds apart. Tex Sample actually nailed this years ago when he talked about the shift from the self-denial ethic of the WWII generation to the self-fulfillment ethic of the Baby Boom generation. I feel like I understand both perspectives, but the truth is I am a product of the Baby Boom generation and I am more personally comfortable with the assumptions and language of personal self-fulfillment.
The issue of “calling” is an important one in the Presbyterian Church. As I sat with the members of Christ Presbyterian Church I was struck by the vitality of their conversations, the enjoyment they derived from each other and they commitments that have made to their families and their community. They have recently built a labyrinth on their property and have opened the church to a practicing Buddhist community which I understand is quite large. At the same time they acknowledged that they are largely staying afloat by renting out half of their facility to a pre-school in the community. Like Eastminster, where I am pastor, they have a vital community, but it is only 20% of the membership that it was 30 years ago. It is clear that they are a strong community, but that the larger community no longer is looking to the church for the same things.
All of this is swirling around in my head as I have had numerous conversations with people and visited the seminary. This morning I received an invitation to hear Diana Butler Bass and it was like the final confirmation that we just can’t avoid this any longer. The introduction to her event read,
“Like other aspects of American life, religion is going through a challenging period of change, erosion, and decline. Many Americans are no longer satisfied with forms of faith and church that no longer seem to speak to the soul. From membership to traditional beliefs, nearly every measure of conventional religiosity is down.”
What are we pastors called to in this time is monumental change, decline, and ferment? Are we called to act as organizational hospice chaplains helping aspects of the church to gracefully let go of their former life? Are we called to put our energy into looking for, creating, and supporting the emerging forms of spiritual community? Or are we supposed to pray for a miracle that floods of children will suddenly grace our Sunday schools again and we can get back to the glory days of Church (if only I had that much faith!).
During our dinner last night I shared with the members of Christ Church that pivotal moment at Eastminster when we decided that our focus was not to be on survival, but on the legacy we left in the community. I still don’t know what the future will bring, but I have been thrilled to see that what emerged from that was the opening of the homeless family warming center in our empty classrooms, the breaking ground for a community garden, and this pilgrimage of listening for the story of the shift in our culture. During our conversation it was acknowledged that most of our churches probably ought to be thinking more about legacy. If a church is framing their life in terms of “How do we save the church?” or “How do we survive?” it is probably time to be reframing the question as “What will our legacy be?”
There is a lot swirling around in my mind, but part of my spiritual growth is to learn that I don’t need to take on the world. I am not responsible for saving, changing or reforming anything. I can share my voice, my perspective and then let it go. Today I will ride a short 25 miles from San Rafael to Petaluma enjoying the rolling hills of this inviting part of northern California. I may even stop at the cheese factory enjoy a few samples and sit by their duck pond with a cold drink. As I imagine these next few days on this final leg of the journey I am cognizant that I want to return home knowing that I learned to take care of myself and enjoy God’s goodness.