His intensity was unmistakable and unavoidable. Lively questions flowed forth and new ideas were delightfully embraced. A disastrous divorce had loosened the moorings of his life, and a souring professional life had left him adrift. Out of desperation, he overcame a thirty-six year avoidance of anything religious and was now an eager seeker for something of permanence to infuse his days.
My dual role as a spiritual mid-wife and the leader of an institution did him a disservice. As our conversations progressed, his understanding of, and commitment to, Christian discipleship progressed. I then suggested he might want to formally join the church. He did, and little changed ... at first.
Slowly institutional duties elbowed out his spiritual search and, then, the institution itself became his focus. Finally, that which had saved him now weighed him down. Finding the church to be what he thought he had escaped, he moved on in his journey.
Would this process have happened anyway or did I allow him to be delivered prematurely from the nurturing womb into the cold reality of institutional life? I will never know, but a sadness still lingers in my uneasy conscience.
What happened to him early in his religious career happens to most who get actively involved in the institutional life of the church. Serving on this board and that committee, doing this task and that duty means one neglects time for one's personal spiritual search.
But this is true not only in the church. Jobs and professions, marriages and volunteer organizations all get in the way of the purpose for which they exist. All, at some point, impose their structured life instead of being the conduit for the life they promise.
Jettisoning the organization, marriage or profession is one way of responding. Another is to seize the Christian belief in resurrection--that out of the deadness of habits and structures we can find new life. The more dramatic forms of resurrection from the despair of addiction and dissolute living ought not cloud the more frequent, but just as vital, resurrections that are possible with revived relationships, with refurbished careers, with renewed hope, and with each new day.
The power of our religious faith lies not in accepting holy truth from on high nor in acquiescing to institutional busyness but in connecting our ordinary, everyday experience with the extraordinary presence of God. Jesus understood that in an amazingly profound way.
This follower is, apparently, still in a learning mode.
--Robert H. Tucker
19 October 1998