Give Me a Break

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Digging a Deeper Well has taken an extended holiday break. What started out as a few weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s became one month, and then two, thanks to work, travel, the ACC basketball schedule, and other essential events. But somewhere in the middle of January, it also occurred to us that our break from weekly writing to and about church boards was unexpectedly allowing us to listen to what ministry leaders and congregation members are talking about.

A case in point: in an online forum of ministry leaders in early January, the hot topic – garnering over 60 comments – was the crucial debate, should pastors preach Epiphany or Baptism of the Lord on the first Sunday in January? 

The world is on fire, the divisions in our society are deepening, and this is the question that forces its way into our foreground?

Of course it does. Maybe not that question, exactly, but human nature leads us, always, to the manageable. In this case it was the small, defined question within the bounds of a specific tradition that felt familiar enough to let us talk about it and resolve it.  In other cases, it might be good old housework. Return home after a funeral and what do we do? The laundry. The dishes. The vacuuming. We focus on the “normal,” so we don’t have to face a world that has been disrupted.

It can be the most natural thing in congregational life, too. Challenges come our way and we deal with them. Needs are met. Complaints about church life are addressed. It becomes a circle of work – down and in, down and in. And it captures most of the time and energy of church pastors, staff, and church boards.

From time to time, there needs to be a break – from the down and in, the relentless next thing, the smaller and smaller concerns, all that pulls you away from God’s vision for your congregation.

The break allows you to listen. To look up and out. To reconsider God’s activity in your midst. Thank God that, in God’s world and in the Spirit of the Risen Christ, there is another way.

Howard Thurman once recalled, as a little boy living in Florida, the year of Halley’s Comet.

I had not seen the comet in the sky because my mother made me go to bed with the setting of the sun. Some of my friends who were more privileged had tried to convey to me their impression of the awe-inspiring spectacle.  One night I was awakened by my mother, who asked if I would like to see the comet. I got up, dressed quickly, and went out with her into the back yard. There I saw in the heavens the awesome tail of the comet and stood transfixed. With deep anxiety I asked, without taking my eyes off it, “What will happen to us when that thing falls out of the sky?” There was a long silence during which I felt the gentle pressure of her fingers on my shoulders; then I looked into her face and saw what I had seen on another occasion, when without knocking I had rushed into her room and found her in prayer. At last she said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard. God will take care of us.” In that moment something was touched and kindled in me, a quiet reassurance that has never quite deserted me. As I look back on it, what I sensed then was the fact that what stirred in me was one with what created and controlled the comet. It was this inarticulate awareness that silenced my fear and stilled my panic.

… It is wonderful to know what we live for, to know that what we do for our Lord is never wasted but will bear fruit in eternity. Yet we must not forget that whatever good we accomplish is not the result of our own strength. It happens only through the blood of Christ. If we forget this, all our efforts will fail, because we will lack the incentive to dispense with worthless things and seek the truth. Oh, how hard it is to draw oneself out of the vanity of one’s own life!

What details in Thurman’s story of Halley’s Comet stand out to you?


What was the young Thurman’s state of mind, at first, when his mother woke him up and invited him into the backyard?


What was “touched and kindled” in him that night—and why?


When have you taken a break that helped you “dispense with worthless things and seek the truth,” in Thurman’s words? What was it about that experience that brings it to mind?


How could your church board take a break that helps it look up and out? (And how could you make that break a little unexpected?)


What would your board be looking away from—and what would it be looking at?

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