I am on vacation right now. This is a re-post from last fall. The topic still seemed timely.
The date: August 26, 2011.
I was 145 miles into the Loneliest Road in America—Highway 50 that crosses the Nevada desert from east to west. I still had 352 miles of cycling to go. I woke up in Ely, Nevada to my usual routine of getting a full breakfast of orange juice, coffee, eggs, bacon, and a pile of pancakes. I was prepared for the next leg of the journey. But I was worried. After two days of cycling in the desert with fifty pounds of gear after seven weeks and 2,500 miles behind me, I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to push my body and my soul across the desert in 102 degree heat. The ride had become more brutal work than adventurous fun.
I finished my breakfast, went back to my motel room and, rather than pull my gear together, got out the map. “Could I finish the last 1,500 miles without the use of camping gear? Could I send my sleeping bag, pad, tent and cooking gear home, lighten my load, and make the trip much more enjoyable?”
It was a risk. Once I emerged from the desert there were enough towns where I felt confident that there would be motels, fellow cyclists, kind Presbyterians and friends to rely on for nightly shelter. The risk was the desert. With services only every 65-90 miles the lighter load would make it easier to bridge those difficult distances. On the other hand, if I didn’t make it I would have no gear to rely on if I found myself forced to bed down for the night with no bedding. The thought of spending the night on the sand as the desert turned cold was frightening at best.
It was one of the best decisions of the trip. As the cycling became more daunting it wasn’t pushing harder and digging deeper that saved me; it was lightening my load.
The image of that day keeps coming back to me as I ponder how to negotiate my way through the overwhelming series of events of recent months. I feel like I am crossing a metaphorical desert once again. That same feeling of realizing that just pushing harder isn’t going to be the answer that eventually saves me. I don’t think I can dig deeper. It’s not about being able to carry a heavier load but being willing to give myself grace and lighten the load.
And lightening my load is what I am trying to do. My body and soul are refusing to take more on, work longer and later, cram more into my day, and attempt to get to the other side of this by sheer will, grit and determination. Rather, I am attempting to lighten my load, let go of that which is not essential, and trust that what does not get done apparently wasn’t important in the first place.
It’s time for more grace and less push.
Phyllis Tickle reminded us in The Great Emergence that the church seems to goes through a massive ecclesiastical rummage sale every 500 years. Many of us have been consulting and preaching that theme for years encouraging churches and judicatories to let go of that which has outlived its usefulness. Like old shoes and outdated outfits the church every few centuries needs to do a major closet cleaning.
It feels to me that we have moved from the rummage sale that we SHOULD do to the rummage sale that we MUST do. It’s no longer one possible option among many, but an essential act that our ecclesiastical lives may depend on. If we do not lighten our loads, we run the risk of being crushed by the weight of and the barrage of competing crises.
On August 26, 2011 (I remember the exact day!) I faced a choice in the Nevada desert—either continue to pound my body and soul into the ground as I attempted to cross the desert with fifty pounds of gear or lighten my load and make the adventure fun again.
The next morning, twenty pounds of gear lighter, I nearly danced across the desert. I was having fun again.
- What weight are you carrying that you need to let go of now?
- What responsibilities now feel optional and are better reserved for another time?
- What physical possessions support your emotional and spiritual health? Which ones are weighing you down and holding you back?
- What do you need to do in order to dance through this time?
Lighten the load.
Let’s find a way to dance across this wilderness.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
Are you considering retirement?
That made me laugh! No, just learning to put more joy and spring into my steps along the way so that my body and soul actually last to retirement!
Great questions to live into Brian…..
What would lightening the load look like my friend? It’s one thing to send 20 pounds of gear in a box to the other side to pick up in a day or two or three; just like when planning a through-hike of the PCT. Trout Lake gets massive amounts of “resupply” mail every summer as hikers come into the community for rest and resupply before hitting the trail for the rest of the Washington State stretch.
When I consider the church – or even the Church in that light, I see some big – and some not-so-big – pieces of excess baggage. Depending on what part of the Church one might want to address, it could be as big as jettisoning classic theological doctrines of exclusion and antiquated perspectives on sin, humanity, and even Christology to the much harder acts of property management and structures of worship and community.
I can’t begin to address all of them here, but one that I’m currently wrestling with is how to envision what we will “go back to” when we can meet in person again. I am convinced at this point that intergenerational formation woven into all aspects of church life (ecclesiology) together is the key to revitalizing-even dare I say it-“saving” Christian life together for our churches.
To fulfill or enact this change, I envision physical space differences in many instances would be a (radical but necessary) beginning: Jettison rectangular tables in fellowship halls in favor of round ones. Jettison traditional forward facing pews to circular facing configurations (not with a raised central “table” but a lowered one to help both pastor and congregation physically realize humility is the direction of God’s universal flow of love-like the water, always seeking the lowest level, to borrow from a Hopi proverb-and/or coffee house style environments. Traditional structure (which I love!) for informal joining and offering of parts of worship organically – less of a “lead pastor” hierarchy mentality and more of a Wild Goose “lay facilitator” modis operandi. These are just beginnings I’m beginning to wonder about.
To implement this locally in the church I serve, I have added for my next Session meeting an invitation for the Session to begin envisioning what they want for their next “in person” chapter of life and ministry together, and start planning for it now-regardless of whether or not they like any of my ideas, they should own and offer input to make the transformations themselves. Likewise, I might hazard a guess each community of worship and practice must discern for itself what they want to become.
To help with that, what I would like to suggest is that all communities could benefit from corporate discernment from trained discernmentarians (as in the Friends’ / Quaker practice) for their next chapter of faith/life together “after COVID.” I wonder, could this also be, perhaps, a re-envisioning of what the Presbytery support role could be in the new chapter of our corporate life together “after?”
And always, let there be peace.