What a strange season of life we are in right now. I remember no so long ago, as I’m sure you do as well, where fall meant so many things, from school gatherings, and football and even getting ready for the blitz of holidays that were always fun to celebrate. This season, however – and I do hope and pray it is only a season, and that there may be some way we can reclaim at least most, if not all the joys of this time – this season unfortunately feels a bit more artificial than it should. Yes, the school buses are running, but only half full, and the classrooms’ main effort is to seemingly keep students away from each other. The big winners seems to be the hand sanitizer developers, or the face mask makers.
It’s different – and it was different with graduations and proms and such. It was also difficult in my former profession of ordained ministry. Spring and summer called up the rituals and celebrations of all times in the life of ministry. We met to examine and credential persons new into the ministry, and to license and commission and ordain those who would take on the role of clergy leaders. We remembered and celebrated with thanks the lives of our clergy leadership, those who have gone on to glory, in a time of worship.
We also – and this is where I come in – took time at each of our yearly gatherings to recognize and honor those pastors who after decades of service made the decision to retire from active ministry. I’ve mentioned a bit before that I had totaled up 43 years of working in churches and settings to strengthen the church, and so this year, 2020, was the time where I would also receive that recognition. And it happened – sort of. It’s what I call a virtual retirement. It’s interesting that the word virtual comes from the Latin, virtus, meaning force or fact, and yet now it comes to mean the actual opposite, as we employ ways of having something be totally untouched. We might be better off calling what we do in this situation a “hypothetical” retirement.
So we had a video clergy session in June. We did so then because we needed to approve changes in statuses before the new appointive year began in July. We voted on persons to come into the ministry – although no one ever heard my voice as I gave my approval from my home office desk, and we also approved the retirements of a number of pastors – including me. With that vote, I was practically retired, and that was all fine.
There is more, however, to retiring than just taking a vote. A great part of our tradition was to allow those retiring to address the conference, and to offer their parting remarks. Some have been short and sweet, and some have been insufferably long and boring, but that’s who we were. Back when I was brand new in the ministry, retired persons would offer a speech at our banquet. In recent years, pastors were given time on the floor of the conference plenary session, with the idea that they would have an entire three minutes to address their lifetime career. Seemed a bit terse.
This year, with the “virtual” nature of a conference, they moved the addresses of the retireds to a “virtual” worship service, and their first plan was to give each of us 30 seconds to speak. I know pastors who take 30 seconds to clear their throats! With that silly restriction, I bowed out, and told them I wouldn’t be a part of the festivities. Apparently others did as well, because they changed it to be a sort of roundtable discussion with all the retired persons – close to 12 of us – and there would again be a very limited time to speak, via a videoconference. I again declined the invitation, and decided that I was retired enough.
Sure, I got a nice book, and a certificate and a pin that tells the world I am no longer active, and I have put them all away for safekeeping, since they have little sentimental value. I did receive a couple more gifts and letters from folks, but by and large, the loudest sound was the gentle shutting of the door.
This seems far grimmer that I had planned, and so I need to say that I am very happy to be retired, and the years of ministry I lived out have hundreds of stories. I feel an integrity to my status now, and I’m happy not to have to go through the challenges of so many pastors and churches, both with the pandemic and distancing, and with, in our case, a still-looming general church debate that needs to be offered next fall. My only regret, I guess, is that I didn’t get to go to prom. I didn’t get to celebrate that peculiar rite of passage. There really was nothing besides the counting off of another day, and what has become a very quiet and isolated time. Yes, there is nothing that keeps me from connecting with others, but I do find it odd that others have not sought to connect with me.
So, I repeat daily what is the title of this blog. The Fourth Life. I’ve explained in other places the different lives I have lived, and what I have discovered. This time, I believe, is the fourth life of my life. I don’t want to adapt to what happened before, or to accidentally slide into a revision of my third of second lives. Not that I am anything like Jesus, but he went into the wilderness in preparation for his ministry, and spent time in silence and loneliness, the temptation to be like everyone else. That was important for him – critically important – and as I take up this new life, I am more than willing to assume similar discipline and similar challenges. My hope is that God will also lead me through whatever valleys or mountaintops I need to walk, and that what results in all of this is that I find and claim a life worth living – even in my old age.
To do anything less would be to accidentally stumble through retirement, with regret and an artificial life. My life is too important to end up that way. It’s time to be intentional, and to find the joy and hope each day through God’s grace.
Word for the day: galactic. I chose this word because it is a great example of a word’s original roots being completely hijacked and used in a totally other way. When you hear, “galactic” – pronounced as it is written, “gull-AK-tic” – I’m sure you have in mind Star Trek, or supernovas or black holes or incredible distances, and of course, Space – the final frontier.
But, you would be mostly wrong. What I have learned is that the use of galaxy is a borrowed use. The actual word comes from the Greek, galakto, which means “milk” A further word use gave us galaxias kyklos, or “milky circle,” which of course is the way Galileo in 1610 described the large and wide cluster of stars in space around us. It became the Milky Way Galaxy, but still it had it roots in “of or pertaining to milk.” We just took his descriptive adjective, and turned it into a term for space itself. Fascinating, eh?
By the way, the Milky Way has a visible diameter of 170,000-200,000 light years, and an estimate of 100-400 billion stars, although no one has really counted. That’s a lot of milk.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.