I don’t very often read the book of Proverbs, but this morning my scripture readings included a couple of familiar and profound verses from Proverbs 24. My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
We live in a time that is filled to overflowing with information and statistics, but it seems as though we are all-too-often lacking in wisdom. We rush from one “solution” to the next – pointing fingers and placing blame. Whether it is Ebola or farm policies or mid-term elections or church finances or the declining numbers of people who sit in our pews, we all long for the one “fix” that will make things right again. As though there was ever a time in the world when things WERE right!
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wasn’t talking about wisdom when he said “I’ll know it when I see it” – he was talking about pornography. Wisdom falls in that same category, I think. (Really? Wisdom and pornography?) Yes! We know it when we see it. And it is sweet (like honey) when we stumble across it or when it finds us. Wisdom points the way toward a future that is infused with hope instead of fear or despair or anger or blame.
But arriving at wisdom is never quick or easy. It takes time to marinate wisdom – to mix new situations with time-honored values. It takes courage to face the realities of today without over-reacting in fear or oversimplifying in platitudes. It takes faith to pray over these realities rather than spout off our anger or fear. It takes trust to open our hearts and minds in order to be able to listen first and act second (and not the other way around).
Last week’s Annual Meeting was a moment when it felt to me as though we were collectively searching for wisdom. Without shying away from the challenging realities that exist for the church in today’s world, we began to thoughtfully explore together the possibilities for moving toward a hope-filled future.
The question of clergy salaries found new conversation. There have always been the realities of personal clergy finances (things like….the staggering educational debt that young clergy must now carry or the incredible financial challenge of sending a child to college or the financial realities of retirement). And those collide with the grim realities of congregational finances in these days of shrinking church budgets. After years of our complaints and finger-pointing, CCAM offered up something new. Is the current plan the final “fix”? No. But it is an important step along the path toward equity and hope. A challenge? Certainly. Wisdom? Maybe. We’ll see.
The question of Conference structures found a new voice. Again, we are caught between financial realities and the real needs of congregations for support and nurture in a world that is changing faster than we want to admit. For years, we have wrung our hands over this all-too-real situation. Now we turn to conversation and listening and praying. Would it “work” to combine three Conferences under one Conference Minister? Would it “work” to leave things as they always have been? Is there some other path that might emerge as we consider new possibilities? Where does the hope that is born of wisdom lie? We’ll keep talking. And praying. And listening.
Ultimately, I believe that wisdom is a gift that comes as we practice the disciplines of our faith. We all know what those are – things like prayer, praise, thanksgiving, generosity, forgiveness, listening, hospitality, communal discernment, joyful song, compassion, trust, and the willingness to die well. When we practice those things together – in local congregations and in the Iowa Conference as a whole – God’s wisdom will find us and so will hope. We will know it when we see it! Thanks be to God!
—Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct with Young Clergy at Iowa Conference UCC