The House of Bishops…bless their hearts. I know that they mean well. I really believe that. And they do a great job for the most part, I am sure of that. But, gosh…sometimes, the things that they come up with in their pastoral statements just slap me in the face.
The line that struck me this particular time was from their most recent meeting at the Kanuga Camp and Conference Center. In it, they recognize in this economic crisis "an invitation into a deeper simplicity, a tightening of the belt, an expanded Lenten fast, and a broader generosity."
Now I know what they mean. They are not necessarily talking to me (that comes in the next line). They are talking to those who have not lived in any terms deemed simple and have an ever expanding penchant for more. They are suggesting to those who give up some small excess for a short period of time that making a life change would be better. They are asking us to be more like the widow with her mites. They could be talking totally about themselves.
Actually I agree with all of that. And I am trying to live into all of it. We have been living on an economic edge for a while now. That is not brag; it is just a fact. Some think it foolish. Hell, sometimes, I think it is extremely foolish and I can guarantee you that it is tiresome and exacting. Nonetheless, it is where we are. It isn't as though I am doing without. I have plenty of food; the bills are paid, we are clothed; gas is in the car…so what's the problem?
I am not suggesting that all people should or even could do this. But it is hard to hear the bishops inviting me into a leaner time when I view them from my position on this economic ladder.
Here is where the next line of their statement comes in to play: "God's abundant mercy and forgiveness meet and embrace us, waiting to empower us through the Holy Spirit to face the coming days."
This line speaks directly to me. "God's abundant mercy and forgiveness meet and embrace us" – me, in particular, right now as I write. God knows I need it because God knows what is in my heart but is not coming out fully onto this virtual sheet.
It is sort of like talking to a woman priest about the process of discernment and she "pastorally" states – "well, not everyone is called into the priesthood."
I know what she means. But that is not the way it comes across. And I never say, "Easy for you to say from your present position." But I think it.
It is sort of like Barbara Bush after the flooding catastrophe in NOLA from sub-par levees overtaxed by Katrina, when she attempted to find a positive note within the outpouring of guilty blood money from a negligent government by stating that this, "was working out nicely" for some. We all knew what she meant. But it sounded really crass and stupid.
A bishop who is well off, fat or sleek, driving a newer vehicle, living in a home where several could live … you catch my drift? My human element goes into hyper-mode. It hardly matters where they might have been once upon a time – it only matters about now, in this time.
I know far more "good" bishops than I do less than good ones, just people trying to live into their weird calling. And I am quite certain that most of them give abundantly from that elevated (perceived or otherwise) status. But when this group uses the royal "we" to say "we" need to live more simply, tighten the belt, take on Lent for more than just a season and give more, it is like swallowing a chunk of meat…I just can't do it. I balk even knowing that it is not me that they are speaking to particularly. Still, I want to ask belligerently – live more simply how? Give up my car? My old blankets, sheets or towels? Give up buying someone else's cast off clothes at Goodwill and just be happy with what I have? TIghten my belt more? What belt? Change my life even more than I have?
The 'me' inside that "we" wants to say – put up or shut up. Show me the money. You do it first… or after me…or beside me…just do it. Don't talk. Act.
And then…"God's abundant mercy and forgiveness meet and embrace us" scrolls across my mind's eye and I know…yes, I know…it is not about me. It is not even about them. It is about each one of us living into our own understanding of what God is calling us to do. I am where I am because of my understanding of what God was/is calling me to do. And I will continue to strive for a clearer understanding, even as the odds continue to line up against me and so many others in regards to finding work. And they are where they are because of their own understanding and part of that concept includes offering pastoral letters after they meet as a group.
These times are tough – far tougher for some than for others. Of course, it is all levels of the middle class that are affected most dramatically. For those who have nothing, little can be taken away. Those who live from paycheck to paycheck that are in danger of suddenly losing it all. Seniors and children are the at risk, as is always the case. And yes, those with larger than average incomes are being affected too. Those with the most have less now…but, jeez, sell a car or two. But, it is dangerous to play the 'my hurt is bigger than your hurt' game. Very dangerous.
It is with that I know as sure as I know my daughter's green eyes or Tucker's rapidly changing voice or my sweet Debbie's touch on my shoulder – I know that I have come this far trying to live into that understanding of God's will for me and I will not be kicked out at the corner unless there is something there for me to do. I am certain that what I need will be made available as that need comes into existence. The rest is just fluff.
Meanwhile, I will work on the human element thing – mine not theirs.