Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In these footprints

O God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

--Book of Common Prayer

During my campus visit at the first college I would attend, I remember loving the fact that the steps in all the venerable old buildings had grooves worn into them. Generations of students before me had stepped where I stepped, and it comforted me. "See, this isn't scary. Don't you wonder what they saw from this spot? What they thought about? Where they are now? This institution is bigger than you are, but it's a safe place." That last was the promise that those worn stone steps made to me. It made me love the place a bit, even before I matriculated there.

It's comforting to put our feet in others' footprints. The "perils unknown" are a bit less scary if you know that you're not the first person to face them. Footprints give us a pattern to follow, the familiarity of repetition, the security of the group...even the moral authority of the "tried and true." They keep us from wandering off the path.

And here's where it starts to get dicey.

Because so much of real life happens somewhere off the path, and because the seductions of the institution can distract us from the central purpose of the institution:

to shape and feed us
so that we may be sent out into the world
to follow Christ
and to share our bread.

To love the institution for its own sake is an easy slide into idolatry. I love my church, but it's not perfect. It's easy for church to become an end in itself, and the walls that hold it up sure keep a lot of people on the outside.

You know where Jesus would stand in that equation.

There's a fine line between a place of sanctuary and a place of constraint. Sometimes it's just a matter of perspective. As my friend Diane says, Jesus probably didn't come here to start an institution full of "bureaucracy, hierarchy and patriarchy (not to mention a few more 'archys')." He wanted to start a movement.

A movement takes a whole lot of courage. A movement is an experience of constant change. A movement asks us to make new footprints, to move into "ventures of which we cannot see the ending." We don't know what we'll face, and we don't have reliable, traceable, safe patterns to use. We are required, almost by definition, to move off the path.

We don't know what or who we'll find there.

We don't know what they'll believe; how they'll react to us.

They probably won't be just like us.

We might have to do things in new ways, and to stop nosily worrying about where our fellow travelers are walking and what's in their backpacks, because we'll have enough to handle, just climbing the hills with our OWN baggage. That is, if we're really willing to go somewhere new. We might be called to offer our fellow traveler a hand, though, because we might be on a road, but we might also end up on rocky ground or among the brambles.

Who knows what new life might arise from seeds that are planted there?

I'm pretty sure that the only footprints we'll find in a lot of those places are Jesus' footprints. He didn't have much use for the boundaries laid out by many of the institutions of his time, when they became barriers between him and those he came to save. And Jesus had the faith to go out with good courage, even when he COULD see the ending and all the perils he'd face along the way.

So...maybe we can go out with courage, too. As Will Willimon says,
Dicipleship is about risk.

Maybe we can dare to get outside all the walls we build around ourselves and walk as pilgrims in the footsteps of Jesus.

Got your sandals on?


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Can you hear the applause from here?

So often institutions start acting to ensure their own survival, no matter what happens to the people whom the institution was meant to serve. Jesus always managed to see the people first.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

P.S. How is Miss Lucy?

Diane said...

well, thanks for the nod. And that first prayer? One of my absolute favorites.

absolutely love what you have written here.

Juno said...

This entry sounds like you were thinking of something in particular at the time; I'd be interested in hearing what the impetus was.

Good girl, Luce, glad to hear you're feeling better! And that's a beautifule "sit!" I might add!

FranIAm said...

I am tired but all I can say is that I am so glad that I read this post.

You have written something really important here.

I am going to email it to myself and save it.

Turbo: said...

Holy crap! I'm wordless. Outta the park!