A Year in Closing

With only a few weeks before I’m back in the US I’ve begun looking back over the past 10 months. Boarding that airplane in Seattle seems both near and far in memory. Near because the memories of saying goodbye are so fresh, yet far because of the many experiences that fill in the space between then and now. Obviously I can’t encapsulate the past year into a pithy sentence, or even an entire blog post. This is partly because the things I’ve learned and ways that I’ve been shaped have not been linear. I’m still working through a lot of it.

At the beginning of the SALT term in Akron, PA a prayer/poem by Bishop Ken Untener written in memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero was read to all the SALTers. This poem has done a lot to frame the way I’ve thought about my year. It’s a bit long, but here it is:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s
grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

These are the words that have echoed through me all year.

As I’ve made my way through this year I’ve acquired many things—souvenirs, photos, language, a cool pair of chopsticks—but none of these are ultimately what I hope to carry with me as I move forward. What I treasure most are the questions I’ve developed and the people who have helped me form them. Here are a few of those questions:

How do I step into community in a way that acknowledges that I can’t perceive everything alone, and embraces vulnerability by allowing others to stand in the places where I can’t see?

What place does a prophet have as one who sees and calls out sin, but who also sins? Is the messenger a hypocrite for proclaiming a Kingdom which they themselves do not yet fully embody? Can I be genuine in critiquing the ground I’m standing on?

How do we go about unsimplifying everything? Like, how can histories, and conflicts, and heroes, and villains, and peoples be illuminated in their true shades of gray in a world that can only digest black and white?

As a worker, not a master builder, how do I prevent the vision of justice, reconciliation, or God’s Kingdom from squashing those whom I love? If I’m so busy preparing to teach about the Sermon on the Mount that I snap at family or belittle friends, does it even count?

How does grace fill the space between the everything that needs to be done and the something that I’m capable of?

And how can I get the US to start opening some dakgalbi restaurants???

I have more questions now than when I first arrived in Korea, but I feel like I walk a bit lighter now too. My hope is that this is because I’m learning to step back and take the long view from time to time. In the “unsimplifying” of my world I’m learning that I can’t do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.