It’s been quite a while since I posted to this blog. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and a lot has happened in the past few months, giving me good grist for the mill. But something got in the way every time I thought I might post. (Yes, I know;I’ll quit procrastinating tomorrow…)
What energized me out of my torpor was reading some preacher friends’ posts about their sermon work for this coming Sunday (February 23). The lectionary Gospel text, from the Sermon on the Mount, is Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus’ teaching about the law of retaliation. We read there the exhortation to “turn the other cheek,” a message which some people have use to deride Jesus and his people as wimps, or to characterize Jesus as completely out of touch with human reality.
What particularly grabbed me about this was the realization that five years have now passed since the lowest moment of my 26 years in full-time stipendiary ministry. The details of the event do not need to be rehearsed here. Suffice it to say that I found myself under attack within my own parish, culminating in a very unpleasant congregational meeting. At the end of the meeting, a vote was taken, which went in my favour. That was all to the good, but it left me in pain and confusion, and not a little anger at those behind the issue. I was tempted either to 1) lash out, or 2) to run away and hide. People would have understood either response, but something within me said “No. Stay the course. Do your job. Hold your head up.”
And so I did.
The ensuing months and years taught me a huge lesson about Jesus’ wisdom. “Turning the other cheek” does not mean allowing the other person to continue walking all over you. Rather we should see it as an assertion of one’s true person-hood: “I am worthy of your respect as a fellow child of God.” Either fight or flight would have given credence to the tactics and words used against me. By taking the high road and doing neither one, I believe I was able to bring healing into the parish in a way that would not otherwise have happened. I believe I took Jesus’ way in this, and for that I am glad. Much prayer and reflection went into that time, a new wilderness experience for me.
Five years have passed, and I am now retired and a long way away from the scene of this story. Nonetheless, I still bear the scars of the pain it caused me, and of the immediate damage it did to the congregation. I would not willingly walk that way again, nor would I wish such a thing to happen to anyone else. But…
Out of the ashes of that painful time came a stronger person and a stronger congregation. We learned together what it means to follow Jesus’ teaching to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Five years on, I believe I am a better person because of this experience, hard as it was, and I became a better priest to my parish.
Maybe I had to get past this anniversary before moving on with some things. I am now an Honorary Assistant Priest at the parish where we chose to make our church home. I’m on the preaching schedule and am preparing to lead a Bible Study group during Lent. My life has more shape than it did at the time of my last post, and I am really looking forward to the months and years ahead.
Thanks be to God!