One Wrong Turn

How Is Retirement?

 A friend said that the first weeks of retirement feel like being on vacation. I’d say it’s more like serving on a mission work team! Having not moved in more than two decades, I had forgotten how much work it takes to get settled into a new home, particularly when you’re downsizing as we are.

That said, it’s been a wonderful time of transition into a new way of life. Sitting on the porch, watching the sunrise over Eagle Lake gives a whole new meaning to Sunday morning!

Add the deep assurance of having left Hyde Park in very good hands and our genuine excitement about its future, and all we can say is that we are very grateful people.

The Past is Always Present

Yesterday marked 100 years since the day a Serbian nationalist named Princip fired the shot that killed Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, and started the nations of Europe down the absurd (the kings and emperors were all cousins) and inexorable path that led to “The Great War.”

In the spirit of the centennial, here are a few recommendations for your summer reading list.

The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918” by Adam Hochschild

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce” by Stanley Weintraub

If World War I seems like ancient history that is only interesting to fans of “Downton Abbey,” it’s possible that you haven’t been paying attention to the news. Among its other effects, World War I laid the foundation for the conflict in the Middle East today.

After the war, the British and French drew the arbitrary lines that created what we know as Iraq and Syria with little or no attention to the ethnic and religious history of the region. One of the many tragic results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is that it broke open the dam that was holding back 100 years of ethnic conflict.

Here’s a ine from “The New York Times” that caught my attention:

“A wrong turn by the archduke’s driver and the lack of a reverse gear forced security men to push the car out of the narrow street, presenting Princip his victims at close range.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/world/europe/in-sarajevo-gavrilo-princip-set-off-world-war-i.html?action=click&contentCollection=Europe&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article)

Details that Make a Difference

Those odd details got me thinking about the ways “a wrong turn” and an inability or unwillingness to reverse direction is all it takes to lead us into places we never expected to go bringing consequences we never anticipated.

The gospel alternative to the human arrogance that prevents us from changing direction is “repentance.” The Greek word means “a change of direction.” It’s the humility to acknowledge when we have turned in a wrong direction and the grace to turn into a new one.

Would a reverse gear in the archduke’s car have saved the world from the ghastly history of war in the 20th Century and the Middle Eastern conflicts of the 21st? We’ll never know. But on a personal level, it’s at least worth trying.

Traveling Well

Time To Remember

At our farewell celebration at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in 1992, I was introduced to a hymn that says, “This is a day of new beginnings,/Time to remember and move on.”

Across the past few weeks, we’ve been doing a lot of remembering. Words are inadequate to contain the gratitude Marsha and I feel for all the expressions of love and appreciation that have come our way. This whole journey of ministry — the churches we have served and the people with whom we have shared our lives — has been better than we expected and more than we deserved. It’s all been a gift of God’s grace for which we are forever grateful.

The final step was when the Annual Conference that voted to accept me into what was then called “Probationary Membership” in 1970 voted to approve my retirement this week. It’s the first time in forty-four years that my name has not appeared in the list of clergy appointments that were “set” by the Bishop at the conclusion of the Conference. Now, that really feels strange!

Each retiree was invited to write a statement that was read to the Conference. Here’s mine.

I was a stranger and you took me in.  When I came to the Florida Conference, the only people who knew me were the pastor of Marsha’s home church in St. Petersburg and my mother-in-law who was a District UMW President. The way this Conference took me in is a gift I’ve never been able to repay.  With the psalmist we can say that the lines have fallen for us in good — though not always easy — places.  We’ve been given opportunities we never imagined, challenges we didn’t expect, and friendships that will outlast our lifetimes.  As the old spiritual says, “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”  Thanks be to God.

Time to Move On

            So, we move on. And so does the church. Among the new seminary graduates who were received into the ministry in the Service of Ordination were Jennifer Potter, who grew up at Hyde Park, and Jack Ladd, whom I baptized as an infant at St. Luke’s. What a joy to celebrate the next generation of leaders for United Methodism. The future is in good hands!

And we move on. This weekend Marsha and I celebrated 45 years since that rainy Saturday evening when we were married at her home church in St. Petersburg. That church is gone, but we are still together, grateful for the years that have passed and looking forward to our new life together.

In his closing message to the Annual Conference, Bishop Carter quoted a billboard he had seen in the Johannesburg airport. I remembered seeing it there, too. It quotes an African proverb that says, “To travel quickly, go alone. To travel well, go together.”

I’m grateful for my wife, my children, and my grandchildren and for each of the faithful disciples with whom I have traveled in the past and I look forward to traveling well with them in the future.

Grace and peace,

Jim