Today we ended the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA. It was an absolutely incredible event, and one that came with many big surprises. I came to Pittsburgh about a week ago, expecting to sit through a bunch of plenary sessions and hear a bunch of people talk. We'd approve some things and elect a new secretary. As I sit here on the other end of things, I cannot believe how much the Holy Spirit has taken us in a new direction.
I often tell people that my faith works a lot like the way I play golf. A typical hole goes something like this:
1- I look at the yardage and where I want to go.
2- I think about the club most people would use.
3- I take one club down from that and whack the ball as hard as I possibly can.
4- I find the ball and repeat.
Now step 4 is the interesting one. Sometimes, and I do stress sometimes, the ball has landed in a pretty good spot, making the next shot a little bit easier. But more often than not, I have to venture off into the wilderness on the side of the course to find the ball and whack it back toward where I wanted to go in the first place.
When I look at this metaphor in terms of my church, I'd have to say that this hole is a pretty sharp dogleg. (For those unfamiliar, a dogleg hole is sort of "L" shaped, and often involves teeing off without being able to see the hole.) 25 years ago, we teed off unable to see exactly where we wanted to go. Unlike most of my shots, this one sailed pretty straight, and landed just short of the bend in the course. Now, most people, like me thought that we'd just be following the fairway around the bend. But the spirit had other things in mind. Instead of working around the bend, I think the spirit spotted little opening in the trees, and decided to cut the corner. There's risk in this approach and we may find ourselves in some "sticky" situations. (see what I did there???) But the spirit decided to take that club from our bag and swing away.
This happened in many ways. Obviously it happened in terms of our leadership, electing a new presiding bishop and secretary. But it also happened in stepping boldly into a capital campaign over the next five years. It happened when we decided to take a stand for criminal justice, immigration reform and to advocate for voting rights. It happened when we decided to continue to strengthen our relationships with our ecumenical partners and dialogue with ones we're not in full communion with.
I am proud to be a member of this church, and thrilled to become a member of its clergy in a couple of years. There is no doubt that the Spirit has just given us a good whack. We cannot be sure where we'll land, or if the spirit will have to come find us in the middle of the wilderness. But regardless of that, we can be assured that the spirit is the one who swings the clubs.
The good news for everyone I believe is that the spirit doesn't just work for my denomination, or even just for Christians. God in the Spirit is active in all of our lives, whether you choose to know it or not. No matter who you are, where you are, what your struggles are, or what you believe, God is swinging the clubs for you. Some of you may be being hit with a driver, and some may be tapped with a putter. But in order to be successful on the course, all the clubs are needed. You're needed.