I am 10 weeks out of a little elbow reconstruction and for the first time since my teens, my left elbow does not have pain. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. It wasn’t always severe pain, in fact at times it was mostly not noticeable, but it was simply always there. I’ve been asked why I didn’t say something to anyone or see about it sooner. And perhaps had I known it was possible for it not to hurt, I might have. But I’m one of those if the bone isn’t sticking out and it’s not hemorrhaging, rub a little dirt on it and keep going. And what I realize is that I became used to it, so used to it that it was simply a part of my life and I didn’t give it much thought. I adapted to what I could grip and pick up with that arm and what I couldn’t. I learned what I was willing to do with it knowing that it would probably end up hurting for a few days, but if it was something that needed done, I’d do it. It seems a little weird now, but as I was living, it really didn’t.
That started me thinking as most things do, about what other stuff in life, in the world, in my profession – whaaaaat? – that I/we’ve become used to and simply assumed it’s the way it is without asking ourselves if it’s the exact way it has to be or should be. Am I swatting at a wasp’ nest or prying around a little at a Pandora’s box with this one? First I’m guessing I’m not the only that has a few or more than a few things that I do, think, react to that I haven’t given any reflective thought for years. The whole “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” is not necessarily a bad adage until and unless we become so locked into the way things have always been and the way we’ve always done things, that those become obstacles to what could be and maybe even to what God wants for us and through us for the world.
Lent literally means “spring.” How ready are we for that this year? How ready are we to throw open the windows for fresh air, to push up the garage doors and sweep out the leftover winter salt residue, to open up those closet doors and switch the turtlenecks and sweaters for t-shirts and shorts? And in the midst of transferring winter clothes for spring, do we clean out, sift through, evaluate the use of, and donate those items that simply don’t fit anymore even if we think they might after we go through our life-transforming bootcamp experience and lose 20 pounds for the summer season? Have we simply grown used to having those clothes that we probably know we’ll never be able to wear again but we don’t want the pain of admitting most of us aren’t, nor will we be again, the size we were ten or fifteen years ago? And while it causes us a little ongoing pain to see that stuff that doesn’t fit anymore, we’ve simply become used to it so we continue to hang onto that which we’ve grown accustomed?
Maybe that’s a bit of what’s so traumatic about what our denomination is going through right now. We’ve tweaked around on our administrative structure every four years since 1784 and it’s worked fairly well. Sure there was some low-grade pain here and there around how we did things, and there was that whole ugly business in 1844 when we split over slavery and didn’t re-unite until 1939 and then kept persons of color in appointments in Central Conferences until 1968. That was a huge horrible deal, but we got over it. We rubbed a little dirt on it and kept going one might say. And we did finally admit and officially apologize in 2012 to not treating our Native American brothers and sisters with any kind of equality or justice throughout our history. And of course we didn’t officially adopt full clergy rights for women until 1956. But we mostly got over that although some continue to insist that since a majority of large church senior pastors are men, we really haven’t broken through the stained-glass ceiling quite yet. Sure, maybe a little pain here and there, but we’ve rubbed a little dirt on it and kept going. What’s a little low-grade pain that flares up into severity at times but if we tweak around on it enough, it calms back down, right?!? Can’t it this time as well?
Now there’s the whole furor over LGBTQ+ community wanting to stop being considered against United Methodist law for existing. First it was persons of color, then Native Americans, then women, and now LGBTQ+, do we really want a denomination that accepts and affirms EVERY human being in all the diversity with which God seemingly has created us? Can’t we simply be satisfied with the way things are and the way things have always been and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?!? Hmmmm. Is it time for a major reconstruction and the possibility that instead of ongoing low-grade pain we tweak around on, we actually create something new in a way we’ve never experienced before that may in fact, be God’s vision and blessing for us?
It’s a fact. I’m ten weeks out of surgery and my left elbow has no pain. I’m not quite sure I know what to do with that. In two more weeks I’ll make my final check-in visit with the surgeon who fully expects to release me from any limits of what I can lift and how I can use it. And then what?!? It’s ALWAYS hurt when I’ve done too much with it. And I have been being almost completely careful with it and limiting what I lift since surgery. Can I now really trust something being different in a way I never expected and the fact that it might actually be a good thing that enhances my way of being? As odd as this sounds, even to me, it’s taken some getting used to, to not have low-grade pain in my elbow all the time. You would think I would be hopping up and down and throwing a party, and I mostly feel like that. But honestly? There are also times I wonder if it’s really true, if it’s really trustworthy, and if it’s really supposed to be this way. Perhaps that’s true of most and maybe all kinds of change. It’s finally about faith. Faith in and through the spiritual recognition of God’s presence in the peeping above ground crocus and tulips and day lilies of spring to the nitty-gritty daily challenge to trust that God wants good things for ALL God’s people in all seasons of life. I’m pretty sure I’m too old to be the ace left-hander out of the bull-pen for the Royals, but maybe simply being able to hold babies and paint cans and carry sacks of groceries with both arms will be enough.