In just a few days our eight friends will come home from a pilgrimage throughout China. They will be tired and probably inspired. They will have stories which will infuse the congregation with a sense of mission. They will have learned about themselves – things they may not have known until life exposes these learnings in the hardness of the combination of travel and community life. How we receive them is important. How we thank them for exploring the edges of Christian mission is important. How we listen to their testimony is important.
Life is best lived when we can learn from the crucible into which we have been poured. The heat teaches us over and over again who we are, what our strengths are, what cracks we have sustained from life – cracks which let in light but which were hard-won. The only failure is in not learning from life. The only failure is repeating the same mistakes over and over again but with different people and in different settings. The only failure is being so full of undiagnosed grief or undiagnosed addiction or undiagnosed pathology that nothing much changes. And of course, the most devastating addiction is to our conviction that we are right. That addiction is an endless circle of dysfunction out if which only a dramatic intervention is the solution.
This hallway in a Buddhist temple which I love is long and the light in it undulates and changes much the way life does. The Buddha and the window beyond the Buddha at the end of the hallway are a reminder to me that I am not a priest in a church. I am a Christian on a planet and on a pilgrimage designed not for my comfort, not for my power, not for my success and not for my harvesting. I am on a pilgrimage designed for my transfiguration. I am on a pilgrimage designed to show me the hard things I need to see about me.
I am a small person in a small church on a very large planet. It is easy to forget that and when I do nothing good comes of it. And the history of the church with which I am affiliated is not a clean, shiny, holy, gentle one. It is as infected with the abuses, the manipulations, the violence and the misuse of power which all of humanity shares.
I fully expect the mission to China to come home humbled by what they have seen, inspired by what they have heard, delighted or at least amazed by what they have tasted. If we do not sit at their feet with a cup of tea and listen, then we will have lost a pearl of great price. I am glad they are coming home. I have missed them deeply and hunger for the wisdom they bring to us. May it inspire us to the kind of courage, focus, diligence, simplicity which has so infused Christianity in China these past five hundred years and which an arrogant church needs for its conversion.