You know. When life seemed less complicated and the summer rolled along in one lazy, beautiful sunshiny day after the next?
When lemonade never tasted sweeter or colder, and you never counted a calorie or worried about the intake of sugar?
When there were simple pleasures to be enjoyed like laying on your back in the tall grass or reading a book under the shade of a tree or riding your bike all over the neighborhood - without a helmet?
When you could go - uninvited - to a neighbor's house and know everyone by name - including their pets - and chat for a while on the cool of their porch?
When your father (well, okay, your mother - men wouldn't do this) could stop at a gas station for directions and/or a free map and know they'd be reliable - as certain as they were that you were safe in the back seat without wearing a seat belt?
When you could go to a department store and the sales clerk was not only knowledgeable about the product but was also interested in actually providing you with "good customer service" - which you are now promised (but rarely receive) if you stand in line at a "Customer Service Desk" where an overworked and underpaid person listens to you with obvious disinterest and then gives you a form to fill out?
Memories are wonderful, aren't they? Except, of course, when they become a kind of aching nostalgia that sours your enjoyment of the present moment.
I hear strains of this aching nostalgia in conversations about the current political climate as well as in my work with a few churches where I'm engaged in some consulting work.
There are Republicans who remember great leaders like Eisenhower and great communicators like Regan and 'compassionate conservatives' like G.H.W. Bush and sang . . . um, I couldn't find an unofficial or official song for the Republican party, except this one was suggested.
I suspect neither FDR nor JFK would recognize the Democratic Party today. Neither would Eisenhower or Regan recognize the "Grand Old Party" for all the 'tea bags' littered on the current political landscape.
As the Republicans seem to have shifted even more to the Right, the Democrats seem to have shifted away from the Left to a more moderate or conservative position on the political spectrum.
Conservative Republicans seem absolutely disgusted by the shenanigans of the Tea Party with their "our way or the highway" approach and "we'll humiliate you - even one of our own - if you don't do what we want".
Likewise, Liberal Democrats seem thoroughly befuddled and enraged by the President's willingness to negotiate and seek compromise with folks they consider terrorists. I don't know what the man is supposed to do with a Republican majority House and a Democratic majority Senate except seek the higher ground, but that's just me.
Even so, everyone seems to be unknowingly quoting a line from Shakespeare's Richard II (Act III, Scene 2): "O call back yesterday, bid time return."
It seems to be the increasing lament of many churches whose unofficial theme is "Build A Better Yesterday." Two of the churches I'm working with actually said the same thing, word for word, as their vision and prayer: "We just want to be the same close, happy church family we once were."
Right. Good luck with that.
Any church that is interested in re-creating the past doesn't have much of a future.
The Seven Last Words of a Dying Congregation are:
I wish someone would make a poster of that and make sure it was displayed prominently in the Parish Hall of every church. If more than three people in any given congregation say that more than once in one week, someone should begin to toll the church bells because they're already dying.
In working with these churches, I've found myself going back to the shape of the Eucharistic liturgy as a model for churches to consider as a model of their individual and congregational life of faith.
Week after week, we come into church and process to a hymn which hopefully strikes the theme of the lessons we are about to hear. The collect prayer "collects" this theme and gives us a preview of what is about to come.
Then, we listen to the stories and psalms of our Hebraic roots. As Verna Dozier often pointed out, the sequence of our liturgy is really off because the Epistle is really a reflection of the Gospel not the Hebrew Scripture.
Be that as it may, we then hear a sermon which, hopefully, the preacher will help us understand the meaning of all the lessons - but especially the Gospel - for us today. Right now. In our time. And, how we can live out the Gospel and the stories of our faith more faithfully.
We reaffirm that faith and join our voices with the ancient voices of the church in a Statement of Belief which we call The Creeds. For Sunday Eucharistic Service, in a church which professes to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" in nature, that means the Nicene Creed.
We then say prayers for the concerns of the world and the church, bringing the concerns of the world to the Body of Christ and, hopefully, find inspiration to bring the Body of Christ into the world.
I find The Announcements highly disruptive at this point - my kids used to call it "Half Time at the Episcopal Bowl Game" - and would much prefer them at the end of the service, but I have come to see it as the way in which the community 'lives out in their lives what they profess with their lips". I rarely miss an opportunity, during the announcements, to make a connection between a church event and the gospel.
The Chronos of the past and the present and the future, and "all the company of heaven" come together in one mystical Kairos moment we call "Holy Communion".
In Christian theology, it is a time - the time - when God acts. Indeed, in Greek Orthodox Liturgy, before the liturgy begins, the deacon proclaims, ""Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio" ("It is time [kairos] for the Lord to act"); indicating that the time of the Liturgy is an intersection with Eternity.
Hmm . . . what might happen if we made that announcement just before our liturgy begins?
When we fully participate in the Sacred Mystery of Eucharist, it is not just the bread and wine that are changed and transformed. We, too, are changed and transformed into agents of God's mission in the world and become witnesses of the unconditional love of Jesus and vehicles of the power of the Spirit.
I recently attended Eucharist where the priest held up the host, broke it, and then looked distracted as he dropped the host into the patten, fussed with the altar linens and mumbled, "Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."
He might as well have been saying, "Damn, I forget to change the oil in the car this week." I burst into tears and fled from the church as quietly and quickly as I could.
I know. I know. The validity of the sacrament is not dependent upon the character of the priest. It just broke my heart, is all. I was in no state to receive communion. No wonder that church is in trouble.
The point is that, if we miss the mystical nature of God's presence in our midst, if Eucharist is just a perfunctory exercise in a quaint religious duty, no wonder the past becomes more important than our present or future.
No wonder some of us keep trying to "Build A Better Yesterday".
The point of the Eucharistic liturgy is not to forget the past, but to bring the best of the past into our present, leaving the rest behind, so we can move, unencumbered, into building a better future.
I can't do much about the political landscape. Frankly, I think we all need to accept that things have shifted and move on - or, move with it - and seek the serenity to accept the things we can't change, find the courage to change the things we can, and gain the wisdom to know the difference.
As it is also said in Twelve Step Programs, "The wise person knows that success in life is achieved by simply putting a whole lot of mistakes together in a way that works".
They also say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So, these days, on hot days, I drink sugar-free lemonade with lots of ice.
I have a GPS in my car instead of stopping at a gas station for directions.
I try not to get too discouraged when I ask a sales clerk a question about a product and write letters to the company when a sales clerk has been helpful (Did this just the other day for my new best friend "Johnny" at Staples).
I still love to sit under the shade of a tree while I read my Kindle, and I will get a helmet before my next bike ride.
|The Dreamer - Renoir|
And, I still have hope for this old church of ours - that we may bring the best of what has been in the past into the present, leaving the rest behind, so we may become more of who we are and live into the vision God has for us - as individuals and as a Body of Christ.
You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. We know from scripture what often happens to dreamers (see Genesis 37:19).
That's okay. I'll take the risk and responsibility of my dreams.
Actually, St. Paul's words to the ancient Church in Ephesus inspire me daily:
"Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, through Christ Jesus for ever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20,21)Somebody in the church give me an 'Amen'.