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February 2011

February 17, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Six

fog.jpg"If place lends structure, context, and vividness to narratives, it is stories, whether fictional or biographical, which give shape to place. However, as stories of displacement show, it is the absence of lineage and memory associated with physical place that is just as critical as separation from the landscape alone.'" ~ Philip Sheldrake

In January, 2010, our family arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, where I was to begin work as "Senior Fellow for Congregational Studies" at Laidlaw College.

Though we had been planning to move since July, 2009, we were nevertheless shocked to find ourselves in this new land, beginning our life again from scratch. In the months before our move, I had a dizzying number of things to do to be ready to go by year's end: sell vehicles, prep our house to be sold or rented, close various accounts, navigate immigration channels to secure residency visas, arrange an international move with all of the various customs requirements, etc. There was always something needing my attention at that time. As a result, I had thought very little about what we would need to do once we arrived in New Zealand. Now here, we faced the immediate challenge of putting back together all the various things we had just dismantled. But rather than having four months to do this (as I had in the US), we had two, maybe three weeks.

We were alternately excited and shocked - and in both instances, highly adrenalized. Our emotions were raw and at any given moment, as least one person in our family was in crisis. It was an exhausting time. And at the same time it was incredibly...energizing? Powerful? Vital? I'm not exactly sure. But one thing is certain: as a family we had never depended on each other the way we learned to during that time. We had a lot of fun exploring the stunning new place we now lived. We also spent a lot of time grieving. Through it all, we were patient and avoided trying to fix each other. Instead we tried to simply listen and be present as each person worked through, in their own way and time, the full spectrum of their emotions.

Perhaps some of you reading this have closed a chapter in your life, packed everything up, and moved halfway around the world. You know what this is like. We did not. Obviously. Now we were immigrants living far from home. We knew virtually no one, had no mode of transportation, and only temporary lodgings. Furthermore, our possessions would not arrive for another four months. It was crazy. And good - an adventure unlike anything any of us had experienced.

In short order we purchased a car and found a place to live. We set up bank accounts, cell phones, and utilities. We purchased appliances. We enrolled our kids in school, bought them uniforms and supplies, and sent them into a completely different educational system. We were introduced to, and pleasantly surprised by, "socialized" medicine when one of our kids fractured his ankle just after we arrived. We borrowed furniture (camp tables and chairs, a few mattresses and a futon), basic kitchen items, and enough plastic plates, bowls, cups, and utensils to get by. We bought a second car. And then, two weeks after we arrived and most of the basics were covered, I began work.

Continue reading "There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Six" »

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February 10, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Five


"Every life is lived toward a horizon, a distant vision of what lies ahead. The quality of our action depends heavily on whether that horizon is dark with death or full of light and life." ~ Parker Palmer

I have mostly related the facts, circumstances, and organizational dynamics surrounding our transition from Jacob's Well to New Zealand in this series so far. That might make it seem like our decision was primarily a response to circumstances that had become unsustainable for me. While that was certainly a part of what was happening, it was not all. In this post, I want to consider our decision from a spiritual point of view - though I am not sure "spiritual point of view" is the right way to get at what I am trying to communicate. Nevertheless, to do that I'd like to refer to a comment a former pastor made in response to my last post. He raises the issue of "calling." I want to use what he wrote as a jumping off point to engage this facet of the story.

"I can identify with the issues of transition Meredith described to you from my own journey. What I re-learned was the importance of and the role of call, and that God's call on our lives is not a fixed state but can move us in new directions (or even countries!) for a season of life."

He is so right and I think he touches on a critical point that many of us misunderstand related to calling. It is common to conceive of calling largely in terms of a vocation or job. Thus, many people understand what they spend their time doing every day as their "calling." You might hear a person say that they are called to be a teacher, a mother, a banker, or a pastor, for example. And that idea about calling is right, or maybe true - as far as it goes. But such an understanding risks mistaking a particular manifestation of a calling for something more fundamental. What might that something be?

Continue reading "There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Five" »

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February 04, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Four

opensea.png "I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I have never dreamed of, and which you were, even then, preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home." ~ Thomas Merton

The previous two posts in this series describe some of the background, as well as the discernment process, that led me to resign my position at Jacob's Well. I shared how reconnecting with my friend Meredith Wheeler created the opportunity to come to New Zealand. What happened between deciding to pursue that possibility at the end of May 2009 and my acceptance of a position at Laidlaw College six weeks later is a story full of crazy drama. No kidding. I am going to resist sharing that part of the story for now, though. Instead, I would first like to highlight a few things that Meredith shared with me as we processed through my struggles and discussed the opportunity to do something different for a season. After that I want to describe what that something different was and why it appealed to me.

You might remember from my last post that Meredith was the pastor of a large church outside Philadelphia. Over the last several years of his pastorate, he was also doing doctoral work at Temple University and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focused on conflict in leadership, particularly how institutions, like congregations, handle leadership transitions. As a result, Meredith was a great person to interact with, bringing to our conversations both a pastor's heart and a consultant's perspective. He also brought his personal experience, having navigated his own transition out of congregational leadership just as his research on that very topic was being concluded. As I talked to Meredith about my struggles, he was able to contextualize them within the dynamics of institutional change.

Meredith shared that leaders often sense two to three years before making a transition that their life is not working and change is needed. He told me that a several factors make such changes complicated, though. The first is that leaders who think about leaving often feel like they are betraying people they care about deeply. Most leaders love what they do and a large part of that is due to the significant relationships they have formed with the people of their community. They are not just leaving a job; they are saying goodbye to people with whom they have shared life and love very much. This reminds me of the confession the Apostle Paul makes to the church at Thessalonika: "Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." It is not surprising that such a decision can and does feel like a sort of betrayal.

Another challenging issue is that many leaders immerse themselves so thoroughly in their work that their identity becomes synonymous with their role - a reality I described struggling with in an earlier post. As a result, they have a hard time imagining themselves doing anything different: "Even if I wanted to leave, what would I do?" Further complicating the process is the question of how a leader in transition supports themselves financially. Meredith's description of each of these factors helped me to understand my own turmoil and why this process had been so confusing and protracted. With these insights I was also able to make sense of struggles I had witnessed other leaders having from afar.

Continue reading "There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Four" »

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