Jim Lampley: "Do you think you rewrote the rules for all swimmers, or did you only rewrite the rules for Dara Torres."
Dara Torres: "I'm hoping I rewrote the rules for anyone who wants to do something and thinks they're too old to do it."
Ever hear something you really needed to hear and then immediately wish you hadn't heard it?
It's been almost 11 months since the Conference Minister approached me about being a new church planter, beginning a period of discernment we knew would be fairly long, since it hinged on last week's New Church Leadership Institute. I went into the meeting hoping this all might work out somehow, and I left it feeling sure of God's call in this direction and spent the last day and the trip home doodling logos and contemplating branding, because we need branding in the 21st century.
And then I got home and looked at my house and thought about its upkeep. I looked at my children and contemplated the costs of launching one and educating the other two. And I came directly to the question posed by Rev. Dr. Donna Allen last Tuesday that bit me, hard.
She related her story of avoiding a clear call to start a new church, and asked us to consider, "What stifles me?"
In her case, a vision of radical inclusivity terrified her. But my fear is different. My fear is material, first chakra, losing everything terror. Can I really pull together the funds to keep the roof over my family's heads and start a new church at the same time?
Now, considering that some people get rich and sleek and even fat on the profits of a church start or a church resurrection, this may seem a funny question. Could anyone look happier than the Osteens or more prosperous than Rick Warren (who I swear looked like he could open his mouth wide and swallow both Obama and McCain whole)? Not that I want what they have, in terms of financial success. But I am afraid of losing what I have, and while I realize that some of my fears are irrational, this stifles me.
And, I guess there is something they have that I want, after all. I guess I wish that something I have to say could reach a lot of people, more than the 100 or so hits a day at this blog. I've dreamed of some sort of minor fame, what I like to think of as "safe" fame, since I was a kid. I dreamed of sitting on Johnny Carson's right, speaking amusingly about something, though I did not know what. My ideas of what makes a person successful may be a little different now, but the desire for success also stifles me. A voice in my head says, "Better to move everyone to a place where employment might be secure than to roll the dice on a new church plant."
Because at 47, while I don't feel too old in terms of creative energy, while I have a fount of ideas and a love for the work and a commitment to God (that part matters, too!), I wonder if I'm at the right place in my family's life for this? And then I wonder, will I ever be?
What stifles me?
Ten years ago, a year out from a divorce, struggling to manage three children and school, and only able to register for one class at a time, I decide to pull out of seminary. I feared a lot of things, but mostly this: I feared that I would always be alone, that I would never be loved again in an intimate way. My In Care Advisor told me my congregants would love me, and that would be amazing, and he was right, that kind of love is, but I craved a partner, and the fear of living without one for the rest of my life stifled me. I withdrew from school and made a stab at doing other work. My extended family felt good about it. They thought seminary was a waste of time and resources and I ought to be earning money selling real estate.
I didn't meet Pure Luck until I went back to seminary, until every other door closed in my face, until I woke up from a dream so powerful I could not deny its meaning and embraced my call to ministry, mostly, at least enough to get back to school.
I rewrote the rules the world had for me, rose beyond the limits my extended family wanted to set for me yet still managed to keep things together for my children. Yes, and to find love and partnership, too.
A few years ago I preached a sermon in the form of a letter to #1 Son as he entered his third year at Wesleyan (excerpted here). It included these words:
If I'm not for me, who will be?
If I'm only for me, what am I?
If not now, when?
(Words adapted from
Hebrew Pirkei Avot)
Today I am asking myself not only what stifles me, but if not now, when?
Perhaps it's time to rewrite the rules, again. Except this time they are the limiting rules I seem to have for myself.