Sunday, July 19, 2009

Know the Big Stuff

My wife and I just spent the weekend in Houston, Texas hunting for houses to rent. We found a few that were to our liking, and one in particular that he hope to live in while getting established in the new area. Searching through several houses was helpful because they were so spread apart that the journey around town helped to develop my internal map, making it a little easier to get around. Houston has no topographical features to help know direction, so getting one's bearings takes time. Nevertheless, as we drove from location to location, the newness of the experience began to sink in, which can be somewhat unsettling. Any major life transition can be unnerving, especially when it's later in life. Hitting the "reset button" is fine earlier on, in the twenties and thirties, but to do so at age forty can produce generous doses of anxiety.

The end result is that at this time of life you start to camp more on the big stuff, and sweat the small stuff a little less. This is not to say that finding housing is necessarily "small" stuff, but there are things much bigger. Imagine having a place to live for the time being, but being unemployed. I can imagine it because that has been our experience for a couple of months now. For others, it can be much longer. The feeling is horrible, gnawing away at the gut while accusations of slothful dereliction invade the soul. So employment is a big "brick" to put in the retaining wall of one's life. Therefore, I am extremely thankful to be moving to a new job in Houston that is both rewarding and compensating. For a life dominated up to now with fulfilling volunteerism, it is nice to have work that is both personally satisfying and can support the family as well.

However, it can be argued that even this is not the biggest brick. Consider how meaningless such employment would be without a strong and cohesive family to enjoy it with. Having a spouse and children that are resilient enough to weather such change is valuable beyond measure. Kids that were emotionally prepared to move away if I had become a Navy chaplain are a blessing too.

Arguably, a bigger "brick" still is the question of one's church family. While this statement raises eyebrows, supposing that one might prioritize church over family, it unearths an important point. One's spiritual health is the first priority of life, being that the connection to God is the chief governor upon all other of life's aspects. In addition, contrary to the general sentiment produced by the "Dobson revolution," as important as the family is, it cannot compete with one's loyalty and connection to Christ. This may seem strange for someone so committed to his family to say, but this is the essence of Jesus words in Luke 14:26-27

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

This does not mean to actively hate anybody, let alone the members of one's family. However, it has everything to do with choice. The biblical language of "love" and "hate" often relates to what one chooses or does not choose. When, in Romans 9:13 Paul quotes from Malachi 1:2-3 with, "just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'," he is pointing toward God's arbitrary "choice" of Israel. Indeed, the NET Bible's translation of Malachi 1:2-3 reads:

“I have shown love to you,” says the LORD, but you say,
“How have you shown love to us?”
“Esau was Jacob’s brother,” the LORD explains,
“yet I chose Jacob and rejected Esau. I turned Esau’s
mountains into a deserted wasteland
and gave his territory to the wild jackals.”
(emphasis added)

Therefore, when Jesus speaks of "hating" father, mother, wife, children, brother or sister for his sake, he is not advocating hatred of loved ones. On the contrary, in every way those close to us are often, or at least should be, the direct recipients of Christ's effect on us. The love of Christ must so fill up the soul as to spill out upon everyone else (and not just to those who also kneel). Having said that though, the ultimate choice must become clear. Familial idolatry is possible. The questions surrounding one's connection to Christ, through the Church, hold precedent. It is the biggest "brick" in the wall.

Where a family will live is important to know. Where I will work is an even more important question to answer. How close will we be in the process is an even bigger consideration. But the question as to where we will worship is the most weighty question of all. Having a spiritual "family" is of first importance, and therefore is the leading concern when moving to a new area.

As a result, finding one's church in a new community is (or at least should be) the most important concern in a major move. Therefore, among the most unsettling items to be decided when moving is the church search process. Where will we go? Will we fit? Will we like the preacher? Will they have a children's program that my kids like? Will I like the music? Is it within a convenient distance? Etc...

The concerns of the "church consumer" are numerous and varied, and ultimately rather fickle. So it is with great satisfaction that we enjoy the Anglican paradigm of a connected Church through which I knew the Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity already. Also, because of CHT's place in the broader Reformed Episcopal Church, a great deal of trust could be extended about that which we did not know. The net effect was that we knew what church we would move to before we knew anything else about Houston. Perhaps this may seem strange to some, not to "shop around" to find a church that "suits our needs," but such is the beauty of "mother Church." Besides, we strongly advocate the paradigm that teaches: you make your decision... and then your decision makes you.

We went to Houston last weekend knowing all the most important things in advance. Sure we were house hunting, but we already knew where I'll work, how close we are in all the change, and (most importantly) where we'll worship in the Church. How refreshing to know the "big stuff" in advance. I admit that the housing issue is somewhat anxiety endusing, but knowing the big stuff this early in the process is a tremendous blessing for which we are very thankful.

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