CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter --
This is Bob Morwell’s last Sunday as a full-time pastor. He is retiring today. He’s old enough. He’s also fed up with the hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church, proclaiming Open Doors and Open Minds and Open Hearts, but only if you’re heterosexual.
His retirement makes me feel old. Again. Older. I’ve been feeling old since the first of the students from my campus ministry days started retiring. Bob’s retirement after 41 years of ordained pastoring makes me feel old because I was there at the beginning of his career. Almost. He had been on staff at Wesley UMC in Charleston, IL for a year, his first after ordination, when we started working together there.
Bob was full of ideas and hopes and idealism. As always, however, the realities of the intransigence of all institutions, including the church, began to show up. That’s a jar to all of us who start out thinking people are in the church because they want to act like Christians. Sometimes he got discouraged. So did I, but as an older colleague, I felt it was my job to encourage him, regardless of how hopeless I felt myself. So I always reminded him, and myself, that God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.
He took that focus in and made it his own. He writes in farewell to his congregation at Carterville, IL First UMC: “Our task is to be faithful to our understanding of God’s will, and to be open to the possibility we might have more to learn. Our task, even in times of uncertainty is to be selflessly and humbly loving. I see no way to retire from that.”
It is better--if you are an advocate for care for the oppressed and justice for all--to be successful, to achieve care and justice, but there are a lot of forces in the world that do not want love and inclusion and justice to prevail. They gain too much for themselves through exclusion and injustice.
The more self-centered you are, the more ruthless you are. You don’t care who gets hurt while you grab for what you want. If you are seeking justice, you do care. The non-caring ones always have a big advantage.
As this world gets hotter and nastier, with more and more people seeking only their own good, becoming more powerful as they do so, trampling anyone who gets in their way, caring not if the world goes down in flames as long as they are the ones with all the matches, it’s easy to get discouraged, to want just to back off and sit and complain.
Yes, we inclusive Christians want to be successful, but in the end, that’s not really up to us. What is up to us is the faithfulness with which we practice Christian love.
IU business professor Wain Martin was famous as the first prof to apply computer technology to business, and for writing the text books about it. More importantly in my mind, he was the icon of Christian generosity in Bloomington, IN for his whole, long life, especially to those with the hardest row to hoe, like those in prison, or just out of prison and finding all the cards stacked against them as they try to become good citizens. And Native Americans.
He used to make a lot of trips to the Dakota reservations with supplies for the needy. When he became too old to do so, a friend took his place. But he was dumbfounded on his first trip. He reported to Wain, “I took all that stuff to those people, and they gave it all away to others. There was nothing left for them.” Wain said simply, “Next time, take more stuff.”
Bob Morwell has tried to do that through his years—take to those in need more of his stuff, more of his advocacy and work for justice. He has been faithful even when it did not look like success.
When I am discouraged now, I turn to Bonaro Overstreet’s magnificent little poem:
You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good; they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would,
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
As I age, my stubborn ounces don’t weigh as much, but, if anything, like old folks are rumored to be, they are even more stubborn.
Happy retirement, Bob. May the world continue to feel your stubborn ounces as you enter the years of winter.
John Robert McFarland