It’s September, that non-liturgical beginning of the church year. The summer’s slower pace is no more. School starts. So do church programs, with anxious budget planning/ promotion looming near.
That was the theme of a recent conversation. As the new pastor, he was especially eager for a smooth, energetic first fall season. He reported a not smooth beginning — gaps in teacher recruitment, complaints from parents of youth, spotty attendance, hospitalized colleague, and resistance to financial planning. He was already weary, “flat,” as he put it.
My outrageous response surprised him. “I’m thinking, what a plum job you have! You are given a reasonable salary to manage a research project. You get to experiment, along with others, about following the radical Jesus in these times of social upheaval. I know of no other professional who has such a ringside seat on life and has the freedom to follow their curiosities about people making sense of their lives. Just think about it: this is your job. You get paid for this!”
He smiled. He also winced at my playful counter to his seriousness.
And I added, “And besides, what better place to learn about yourself, to grow up, participate in a grand movement, have soul friends, and know the thrill of betting your vocational life on a Mystery of grace you cannot see or measure or control. What’s more exciting than that? And it’s full-time with pay! What a plum job.”
Just now, I am smiling at myself. If you have been reading these Reflections, you know how naturally serious I can be. I know how to do “serious.”
This is why, many years ago, a “light” came on when I heard Rabbi Edwin Friedman say, “Treat it like a research project!”
Without fail, this reframe would dislodge me from a stuck position. When at a weary, “flat” place, I could ask: “Hmmn, what are we . . . what am I learning here? Where is the Spirit’s hypothesis of abundant life, compassion, and the ‘courage to be’ showing up?” And you are doubly fortunate if you question with fellow researchers. More fun as well. I have never known researchers to work alone.
To conduct research, to oversee experiments with the gospel and get paid for it — well, it sure sounds like a plum job to me.