The fastest growing sport in Norway is wingsuit jumping. It’s the pastime of lunatics, or it’s what warrior-knights do in an age without dragons. It requires steel nerves, a cool-head, a touch of madness. You must be able to look fast-approaching catastrophe in the face, and whoop.
I go onto to describe the equipment: a kind of giant flying squirrel bodysuit that turns the jumper, splayed wide open, into a human kite, sans string. The sport, also called base jumping, has become a worldwide phenomenon.
I did it last weekend.
Not literally. I’m neither brave nor crazy enough for that. I did it figuratively, except with all the same sensations I imagine base-jumpers experience – utmost dread, giddy anticipation, sheer terror, pure exhilaration, an urgent visceral sense that if I live through this it will be one of the most daring things I’ve ever attempted, and if I don’t live I will at least die with a certain flair.
Last weekend I resigned.
I have been in pastoral ministry nearly 24 years, and in my current post over 17. I’ve loved every day of it, except the days I haven’t (usually Mondays, when I nurse a post-sermon hangover and writhe in existential angst about, well, everything). The role has shaped me beyond measure. Being a pastor has done more in me than I have ever done being a pastor. I entered the role soon after my 29th birthday. I will step out of the role just past my 53rd. Between those two milestones lies a universe. I am not the same man. And yet, I am more myself than ever. The pastorate has been trial by ordeal and foretaste of heaven, often on the same day. I have failed miserably and succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. I am loved, and I am despised. I have been a prophet, and a fool. I have poured myself out like a drink offering, and sometimes squandered myself like a cheap piñata. It has been awesome, and burdensome, glorious, and tedious, and altogether beautiful.
And last Sunday, I quit.
Well, not exactly. I announced to my congregation that I would be stepping down as their pastor on June 16. They were justly slightly more shocked than I was. I truly thought I’d be here until roll call.
I do have a landing spot (we’re back to the base jumping metaphor): Ambrose College in Calgary, Alberta – my birth town, now grown vast and rich, but no warmer come winter. I have been appointed Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose Seminary. I start August 1.
Maybe the letter I read my congregation last Sunday best explains all that. Please click this link to see that. Letter
I covet your prayers for me and my family, and also for New Life Church.
Pray we all land, if not softly, at least intact.
March, according to the folklore, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb – a particularly apt image right now, given that I'm in Wales, the land of Aslanic revivals, the country of 33 million sheep. But this March did the opposite: came in like a lamb – meek, mewling, soft-footed, timid – and left like a lion, roaring and leaping and shaking its great gold mane. Or even more, it flew off like a Welsh dragon: glittering, awesome, breathing fire.
The last week of March was a piece of high summer. It was day upon day of unmarred blue and balmy breezes. It was tannig weather, t-shirt weather, beach weather – of which we took full advantage, visiting in four days no less than four strips of local coastline, each postcard beautiful. It's not hard to love Wales even in the rain, but this sunshine has knocked us head-over-heals.
And it's jumpstarted spring. When we arrived here, all was barren: ground and tree and hedge. All sat death-like beneath gray cold sky. But not now. Now earth awakens, unfolds, spills over. It's a swirl of color. It's a dance of bees. It's a chorus of birds.
I suppose we all have our ways of knowing when we are ready for heaven, when the valley of the shadow of death sits so heavy on us that we pine to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. My touchstone is spring. When the day comes that it fails to stir me, I'll know I'm not long for this world. When the day arrives that spring's first crocus or daffodil, its first cherry blossom or uncurled leaf, does not jolt me fresh with hope, I'll know I'm ready to head for the wild blue yonder.
But that day hasn't come yet. I relish every last little sign of spring (well, maybe not the pollen-thick air, which wreaks havoc on Cheryl's allergies). And I see why God chose resurrection, of all ways, to announce Christ's triumph and our salvation. He could have, in his infinite power, simply extended to humans the gift of deathlessness: that faith in Christ short-circuited our death entirely, that is was our get-out-of-jail free and proceed-directly-to-Go card. But he chose instead the way of death and resurrection. He chose to let the seed fall into the ground first, and then to conjure it up a hundred-fold.
It's a more decisive way to be done with death: to beat it at its own game. To submit it to it only to subvert it. To get buried in it, only to go bury it. To make it seem to have the last word, and then let life speak the last word instead.
I know that spring is not the same as resurrection. But it bears certain striking similarities. Among them, maybe foremost, is this: spring, like resurrection, reignites hope in a heart that's nearly stopped. For spring, like resurrection, declare that death never gets the last word.