And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
Were captive on the carousel of time
We cant return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
~Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game"
I love a Merry-Go-Round.
I've been on some very pretty ones. This morning I went searching for this picture of a toddler #1 Son riding an oversized jackrabbit on the Pullen Park Carousel, looking utterly delighted, sometime in October, 1988. The day stands out for the lion and the giraffe and, yes, The Bunny.
I remember my painted pony going up and down, on the merry-go-round at Virginia Beach, my father standing next to me, my safety assured no matter how fast we seemed to be going.
All our lives have these ups and downs, these spiral natures, these views to the right or left that look so familiar but that change as we change. We chase around and around the circle, because it is our nature, and we are like the rabbit with a simple goal in mind, whether it's survival or a carrot or a soft place to lie in the grass.
And we go around and around, in our families and in our churches or our jobs, and in our heads. I go around the same territory over and over, though the carousel may be moved, as the one in the picture was, thought it may grow shabbier and will certainly grow older, though it may need repairs along the way, I go around and around.
Your circle may vary.
Mine consists of a quest to be valuable, to prove that I exist for a reason, to do as much as I can to make myself believe it. Sometimes I forget that the carousel slows down and takes a rest, too.
I'm not preaching on Sunday, but I looked at the portion of Romans on the calendar for this week, and it reminded me of the circle game. We put our own gloss on the faith and works debate. We go up and down and around and around. If we have a taste for atonement theology, we like these words, and if we don't, well, we stick with the gospel this week.
As hard a time as I have sorting myself out, I know what I think about faith and works. I believe they both matter. I believe one informs the other. I believe certain practices do not guarantee anything, but that a lively faith calls us, or me anyway, to particular practices.
Which may vary.
And the very people who will tell you that "works righteousness" is somehow inadequate, that you run the risk of claiming that simply living a "good life" is enough when they are sure it is not, likely have their own set of practices and habits that they hold as dear as the first century believers held theirs when they began to bring strangers into their fold.
We do things just because we've done them that way before, because we've "always" done them that way.
As an Interim Minister, it's my job to ask "why?" And "Since when?" And to help people figure out whether they even know the answers to those questions, to ponder where God is in certain practices now, or what theology informed them in the first place.
And it feels a bit like a merry-go-round, because the answers can be confusing. We don't always know them, or we don't agree on what they are, or when this started or when that changed. Some questions cannot be answered at all, but that doesn't stop us from arguing about them, does it?
It's hard to get off the carousel. But the first step? Is to want to do it.