I feel a little badly for PM Theresa May. They voted by a thin margin, two years ago, to take England out of the EU, and she is stuck trying to make it happen with as little damage as possible. It’s a huge decision with endless implications for Britain and all of Europe, so why hang it all on one referendum. Add in a couple of additional steps. Some time to second guess themselves … .
I know we have to decide things, accomplish things, make things happen. If we don’t, it all stops and we die. All of us do this, but we, farther away from the equator where the four seasons come at us year after year, dramatically changing every three months or so, have probably created a culture obsessed with always ‘being ready’. Even our summer vacations are stressful ’cause the time is always nearly over’. Farmers, I think, feel this stress more than anyone else. On our farm, like all the others, the work never ended. It was never done. But I remember clearly that quite often, at the end of a day, our dad would stop us and say … tomorrow is another day … .
When Adrienne and Sean were married, back a few years, they played a kind of advice-for-the-new-couple game. Everyone was invited to scribble a note to them, some of which the emcee then read to the group. So there was advice. Answers. But my brother George had written this: ‘sweep things under the rug; most things don’t need to be addressed.’ It kind of puzzled me a little because I thought George, being a sincere man, and veteran of several decades of married life, would have been more serious and constructive … . Maybe he was.
Quite a few years ago, one of the indigenous groups not far from Calgary had hosted an MCC gardening project for a while. One day we had a little meeting with them and they told us, very kindly and gently, that they had ‘outgrown’ that project and didn’t need it anymore. Fine, but in the conversation they seemed interested in continuing a relationship of some sort with MCC so I asked if they thought we could be helpful to them in the future. Orlando might say the colonizer came out in me, because it’s the only kind of relationship I had thought of … us, whites, being helpful. Well, they said, they did need some help with small business development. They wanted more people engaged in business, whether agricultural or in other areas, and they might be able to use some help from MCC. And I, an always-accomplishing-something white man, then asked when we should meet to discuss this idea further. They hesitated. And then they said, again very kindly, ‘we will call you’ … .
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a pastor about something. It was a serious question that I assumed he would want to talk about. He would invite me into his office, have a seat, and we would talk. But … hmmm … no. Some things are better not talked about. If we do, it’s not resolvable, and people will feel they need to decide something. So, no, he said, we don’t need to talk about that. Interesting I thought. Even refreshing. My experience with us evangelicals is that whether it’s a question of doctrine or service, or how to take communion, or whether to use a hymnal or words on the wall, we have a need to resolve things. We make decisions. Our entire understanding of salvation is about making decisions. We don’t really even allow ourselves to grow into salvation. We are given a choice, pressed to decide and then … we are either in … or not. It’s not the stuff of faith at all, but this pastor seemed to have a trusting kind of faith … with some wisdom and patience … .
A while back I asked one of my brothers some advice, wondering if I should ask a question of someone who also happened to be a church leader. Don’t ask it, he advised. Don’t ask the question. If you do, they will feel a need to answer and you may precipitate a response that perhaps, neither you, nor they actually want to have. Some things just need time to sit. Maybe to lie fallow. Under the rug.
An architect from the Netherlands worked with us in Bolivia in the 90s. He was leading a major project selling off some land MCC owned inside the city limits of Santa Cruz and developing that land so that it would become housing for low-income citizens. He was a planner, for sure, and a visionary. He had to be to make this work. But in the midst of that demanding schedule – there were deadlines and many people involved – he also talked about letting time do it’s work. It’s like the pendulum on a wall clock he once said to me. If we mess with it, it doesn’t work. It needs to be left alone. Give time the space it needs … maybe especially when there is so much to do.
The fall of 2014, I was part of an MCC group travelling to Lebanon, Jordon and Northern Iraq. In Lebanon, the president of the Armenian University in Beirut, who had once been a student at Princeton in the United States, said to us … ‘one of the unique things about you Christians in the West is your obsession with numbers.’ You count everything, he said. The people you ‘save’. The people in the pews. Outreach strategies, even when we say we want the Holy Spirit to drive them, have target numbers included, as if the Holy Spirit budgets people like we budget dollars. Last week, I visited with a woman who had been a missionary in another country a few years ago. In our routine reports to the Mission, she said, we were always asked how many people ‘we had saved’ during that reporting period. Sometimes I worry that all this counting has become so a part of ‘our’ Gospel that many of us can hardly have a friendship relationship with someone who is not already one of us. People we don’t know, some whom we do know, including family members become a target, because that ‘conversion’ is more important to us than the friendship. It’s in the relationships where time has space that the Holy Spirit does his most transforming work … ; it’s probably not helpful to be measuring it all the time.
Last October, Kathy and I visited an old friend, near Santiago, Bolivia. He is married now with grown children, but in the early 90s, when Kathy and I had just returned to Bolivia to work in leadership with MCC there, he was still single. I remember asking him if he had any advice for us. He had been in Bolivia since the late 60s, was highly experienced and had made many things happen. ‘No’, he said. ‘Well, maybe one thing … don’t make decisions before you have to … .’