Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking back…

I returned from sabbatical over two months ago. Strange. Some days, it feels like yesterday; other days, like ancient history. But every day, were someone to ask me- How did the sabbatical go?- my honest answer still would include many platitudes and few profundities.

When I first came back, this fact worried me. I thought I needed gripping, insightful answers at ready at once! After all, people would ask about it and expect fresh wisdom. I imagined that was the point of sabbaticals; what y’all would expect.

Then, a conversation with an IOCP employee, whose 1980s Peace Corps stint was in Western Turkey, calmed my nerves. She opened with, “Welcome back. How was the trip?” I prepared to share my awkward list of halting clich├ęs, when she cut in. “Sorry. I bet you’re still figuring it out, right?” Why, yes, I was! How did she know? “I struggled with that after the Peace Corps,” she said. “More happened than I could fit into three sentence conversations. It took awhile for even me to grasp everything I took in.”

I can’t tell you how exactly that description captured my post-sabbatical feelings. So from then on, I felt less anxiety about giving “perfect” answers. Wisdom would come, as distance and time gave me occasion to reflect with more fullness. I imagined a large movie screen, and sitting just five feet away from it. The intensity of its colors and movements would engage my senses and shock my system. But I wouldn’t fully understand the story, the movie until I stepped back and saw the whole screen. Honestly, that’s at the core of how my sabbatical has felt these past couple months.

This Sunday, however, I’ve committed to sharing my sabbatical story with the church. During our potluck, just after worship, I’ll stand before folk and sum up “what I learned.” I chose this date because, a) there was a potluck already scheduled and food always brings a crowd, b) if I didn’t have anything interesting to say, again, there’d be food…, but most especially, I figured that, c) it would give me enough time- to step back, to sort out the wise from the trivial, to organize my thoughts so others could share them. Now that it’s here, I’m still feeling unprepared, but for a different, more normal reason, thank God. I’m less overwhelmed by the closeness of the memories than I am stressed about having too much to do. How typical!

Anyway, here’s a preview of what I might say. But don’t hold me to it, okay? Still, among things that may be worth sharing about how these two months away impacted my soul, I could say:

We have a dysfunctional relationship to rest. And by we, I mean “Americans”. At least, many whom I know struggle to honor rest, to find it, to love it. But that’s not because we’re somehow less peaceful or wise than other cultures or countries. I suspect, rather, it comes from a great strength. We value work, and do it well and hard. But like most strengths, there’s a hidden weakness, and ours might be measured through bad sleep patterns, questionable eating habits and unmanaged stress.
Power matters, and we should hold ourselves responsible for how we use it. This claim comes partly from war stories I kept hearing, and otherwise from observations about divergent living standards. Whether our power is military, economic or personal privilege granted by class, race or gender, we shouldn’t pretend we don’t have it. Instead, we should account ourselves well of opportunities to use our power to help others.

Gratitude opens doors better than perfect qualifications or “proper” beliefs. Whether that’s making a connection with a stranger serving roast lamb, or hearing from a neighbor about her/his understanding of faith, you’ll learn more, get farther if you start with being thankful, rather than showing off how much you (think you) know. I’ve learned that both the glorious, and the hard way.

As for the remainder, well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out before Sunday! Mostly, though, I’m grateful for this church to sabbatical from and return to.

Grace and Peace,
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