Tumbling in the Sand
Did you know the Great Wall of China is crumbling? Apparently, “State media reported 01 December 2003 only about one third of China’s 2,000-year-old Great Wall remains, with the rest in various stages of decay, merely made up of piles of rocks and bricks or entirely disappeared,” according to Time Magazine.
This somehow makes me feel better.
I mean, if the Great Wall of China can’t hold it all together, then why should I figure that I can?
I’m in a season of life right now where it feels like things are falling apart. I know that new things will emerge from this — hence the whole need to find space and focus this year — to see what new things sprout and grow. But it’s still unsettling.
My husband works at a college that is in the process of closing and he is now looking for work. He’s far more excited about this than I am, but I shouldn’t worry—he’s preeminently qualified, talented, and really smart and anywhere would be lucky to have him (yes I’m biased, but in this case I’m right). I don’t doubt he’ll get a job. But I do wonder when an institution that’s been around for over 100 years just kind of announces one day (in an email, no less) that they’ve run out of money and are closing. At one time, not that long ago even, there was some stability in the idea of tenure and higher education. At one time (a little longer ago) academic institutions were the bastion of “civilization” when everything else was a mess. Or, at least that’s the myth that I learned along the way. I suppose that may continue to be the case, in some form or other, but it’s hard to see what will be. It is unsettling.
Church isn’t any more of a stable “institution” either. Type “crumbling” into the Google image search and the internet almost gleefully produces picture after picture of abandoned church buildings in beautiful and sad states of dissolution. Like these ones:
Good Shepherd, a thriving, beautiful, energetic, and hope-filled community hasn’t escaped the realities of church decline. Attendance is down. Commitment is down. And I’m left wondering what to do exactly. I know, locally, I’m totally different than my predecessor and that makes for change and people abandon ship. I know that I wrestle to figure out the best priorities in my call to thrive here and match pace with this congregation while encouraging them in new directions (yes, this is a fancy way to say that I make mistakes and that messes with things around here and that I still need to grow as a pastor).
I also know the church is in transformation. I know the whole, capital “C” Church will be a different looking thing sooner rather than later. I know the Church will survive the transformation. I know this because I know the Church is not an institution but a movement and the institution of the Church rises and falls like buildings along the way … but I don’t know what that means for this community. Or for me. And that knowing about the big picture is nice and all, but I’m the pastor and feel some responsibility for it all here even as I pray the prayer known as Luther’s sacristy prayer with honesty and fervor:
Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it long ago. Therefore do I invoke Thee. How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate my heart and mouth to this ministry. I desire to teach the congregation. I, too desire ever to learn and to keep Thy Word my constant companion and to meditate thereupon earnestly. Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service. Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.– The version that was given to my grandfather as a graduation present from Seminary and now hangs in my office.
So, yes, I get it’s not about me. But I’m called to be here in this moment. I’m called to be about the work of ministry even as things crumble so that new things may rise. But I find myself wondering should I just be playing duck and cover while it all comes down and then deal with the rubble? Or should I be putting LEGO pieces in the holes like this guy?
Or maybe all I’m called to do, all that anyone is called to do, is to make the most of the present and trust the rest to the wounded hands of God. And somehow that has to be enough. Because, really, it is, isn’t it? It is because even though the Great Wall of China may be crumbling, God, who holds all things, seems to stand beyond the test of time. And that seems settling in all my unsettled falling apart.