Thursday, August 23, 2012

In between

So Hebrew has been survived (I wouldn't be so arrogant as to say "conquered," not by a long shot, but the overall grade was way better than I expected), and next week is my first trip back to Kansas for my post-inquirer, pre-candidate consultation with the CPM of PNK (that acronym soup refers to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas).  Today and tomorrow are devoted to investigating a pesky health issue in a particularly uncomfortable way; a colonoscopy.  Woo. Hoo.  (Rather than attempt any comment on that, I refer you to what is apparently the leading pop-culture comment on that phenomenon.)

Appropriately my thoughts are a bit betwixt and between today.  Looking ahead, I may yet be doing a bit of church work in the fall, supplying a bit of substitution in a local church with some temporary pastoral staff shortfall.  I'm excited about the opportunity, and the interim nature of the opportunity is fine at this point. Any experience is a good thing at this point, and I have nothing but everything to learn.

It will be a bit challenging since I've signed myself up for an overload this fall, at least at the moment.  Besides the natural Old Testament follow-up to Hebrew, I'm signed on for Preaching and Worship, Teaching Ministry of the Church, and Introduction to Pastoral Care.  Something may yet have to go, but for now that's all on my plate.

In the meantime, my mind is slowly waking from the fog an intensive-format class inevitably imposes upon me, the one in which it's hard to see the forest because your face is constantly smashing into one tree after another.  An entire tropical storm came and went without my noticing -- Helene, we hardly knew ye.  That never happens, folks, except obviously it did.  We now know who's running for vice president.  We now know that some people believe a woman can somehow prevent herself from getting pregnant by rape, and that some of these people are in Congress.  A lot happened while I was buried in Hebrew.

On a personal level, one decidedly minor thing did happen, one which is meaningless in the grand scale of things and yet has what I might call "parable value."  I had to give up on my simulated baseball team.

Some clarification: this is not a "fantasy" or "rotisserie" team in the sense of one that makes use of the statistics of real major-league players.  (I have one of those too, which is currently losing in its playoffs, but I digress.)  A sim league generates the players by the kind of sophisticated computer program that is beyond my comprehension.  The player's job is to assemble the team--via draft, via trade, via waiver wire--so that, given time, one has a lineup, rotation, and bullpen that can win.  One gets young players into your minor leagues, has to decide when to promote them, when to start them, when to replace them due to age or ineffectiveness, and generally runs the team over as many seasons as one can stand.  Since this particular league "plays" three games a day, a typical season, postseason, and offseason takes about two months in real time.

With much trial and error (emphasis on "error") I put my team together over many seasons (I acquired my team in that program's 1983 season; currently my league is in its 2003 season).  There were some really awful players playing a lot for those early teams, and some bad season records, including some 100-loss seasons.  Still, I was getting some sim-players with sim-talent with those high draft picks, letting them develop in the minors, plugging them in as appropriate.  In time, losing seasons became winning seasons became playoff seasons.  The team even made a few World Series appearances (though no wins, which will irk me for a very long time).

But sadly, the cycle has started to reverse.  The team has still been winning, but not as much, not making the playoffs.  Because the draft picks haven't been as high, the talent coming in hasn't been quite so good.  And those players whom I drafted and nurtured into All-Stars and league leaders are getting "old" in baseball terms, and their performance has started the inevitable decline that indicates.  Sentiment aside (as much sentiment as one can generate over bits and bytes), it was time to start over.

In the major leagues it gets called a "fire sale," sometimes.  But I'm not sure that's the point.  That was a good team, but its time had passed.  I'm guessing I don't have to suggest a whole lot of possible real-life applications.

Churches in particular get caught up in sentimental attachments.  The infamous "seven last words of a church" ("we've never done it that way before") are a basic reflection of that attachment to the way things were done at the church when my parents or grandparents or whosoever were around, and preachers knew how to preach and were always at the hospital and so on and so on... .  It's always a challenge, to know what to stick with and what to let go.

Of course there's an opposite extreme; to change merely for the sake of change.  In letting go of my beloved simulated baseball players, the point was not merely to go "out with the old"; the point was to get back players who will, in some hopefully not-too-far-off season, be hitting lots of home runs and getting to the playoffs and finally winning a World Series.  Is it guaranteed that all of them will develop?  No, not any more than it is in real baseball.  But there has to be some possibility, or there's no point in picking up the new player.

The church in general has a history of some very well-intentioned changes that have, it seems to me, not always been terribly successful and have even been detrimental to the core health of the church.  Seeing too many empty seats and too many people passing by without stopping to look, churches came up with ways to attract eyeballs and put butts in seats.  In doing so, however, in way too many cases something more vital, more essential to the core of what a church is and means was traded away along with the old, non-working ways of doing things.  Substance was forfeited; identity was forgotten; meaning got lost.

Many of you assume I'm talking about worship styles, and certainly that's one area that could be up for discussion, but it's hardly the only one.  Something very essential about what the church was meant to be and to do in the world was lost, maybe decades or even centuries ago.  I get baffled, for instance, by how many folk come out of churches -- good, servant-minded churches that preach and live the gospel with integrity, mind you -- knowing virtually nothing about the Bible.  Make of its more troublesome passages what you will, but at least know them, for pete's sake.  And you might actually read Paul before you decide what he is or is not.  Sheesh.

Knowing what to let go, and when; and knowing what to trade it for.  Just another challenge on this fool's errand.

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