August 18, 2011

Being and Doing

As our congregation gears up for a very busy fall, I am struck once again by the dynamic of “being” versus “doing.” As a die-hard activist I always have to be reminded that our state of being is just as important as what we accomplish.

Matthew Fox, the former Dominican priest, came to visit my Third Ave. Community Church in Columbus, Ohio, back in 1990, and we had a packed, full house. Over 500 people were crammed into our church that had just re-opened as a community center. He was there to set the tone for our new way of doing church and after touring our facility and hearing the stories of over 20 different workgroups each with their own important mission, he had this to say. “You do a lot of things.”

Not a lot of “good” things. Not a lot of “important” things. Just, a lot of things.

This is a syndrome in many churches. An over-busyness, whether it comes from honest commitment or nervous energy, can crowd out the still small voice that so many seek. Too much change and too many initiatives perturbs the harmony of community life and can leave people feeling alienated and cut off from the harmonic flow and comfort that a stable, knowable and predictable church life can provide. Church needs to be a place where one can simply “be.”

But come on. There is so much to be done, so much more that needs to be done, so much we are called to do, the last thing the church needs to do is settle in to itself and simply glide along. Ouch.

I think that settling into a comfortable routine is largely responsible for so many of our congregations drifting toward oblivion, faithfully and lovingly attending church up until the day the doors close.

When Bishop Gene Robinson came to St. Andrew’s he closed his talk with this prayer:

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

Being versus doing is one of Christianity’s great polarities. It is why the story of Mary and Martha is so powerful. It is why there will always be a creative tension in our congregations.

Like all polarities, this one represents a tension to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. As the new program year begins, I will be prayerfully seeking a balance of being and doing for myself, my household, and my community.