Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Afternoon and the Feeling of Fall

On Sunday afternoon, I feel like I have finished my work week. And, that is when I can settle down and think on a few things.

I am thinking in a solemn sort of way this afternoon, some might call it a depressed sort of way. But, it is not depression. No, depression cuts you off from reality. This feeling is more in tune with reality, a feeling that slows you down inside, makes you feel the weight of this life.

Maybe it's just Fall, in all of its slowing down, in all of its melancholy, in all of its beauty.

The big experiences and commitments in my life have all come in the Fall: in my junior year in college when my grandmother and grandfather were dying of cancer, I was talking out loud to myself driving home from Clemson to see my grandmother in the hospital, and I felt this overwhelming sense of God's presence and purpose, and I just felt this joy inside, this joy to respond and say: "Yes, that's what my life is to be about!" I'm still not sure exactly what I said "yes" to, except that at the time I was thinking about four or five people that were suffering deeply that I cared very much for. I do feel very confident that I said 'yes' to God, whom I experienced then and experience now as being deeply given to the troubles of this world. That is my calling. Lately, I go back and forth as to whether I am carrying out my calling more as a lawyer with the Public Defender's Office or a pastor at my church. As I said I am not sure exactly "what" I said 'yes' to, but I am very sure about "whom" I said 'yes' to.

And, out of that experience came my application to transfer from Clemson to either Davidson or Wake Forest. What a great decision!

Two years later at Wake Forest, in the Fall again, I got to know someone that I fell in love with.

These experiences, these commitments, made during Fall. I do love Fall, the depths of it, the deep experiences that I still haven't figured out how to honor.

I can't help but think of sitting in the parking lot of the Wake Forest library in the Fall of 1982 with Sue, talking with each other like nothing else mattered.

Experiences and commitments. The openness of heart to really experience life and the joy and certainty of commitment arising out of these experiences. That is the heart of life.

And, it was in the Fall of 1990, that I decided I was going to apply to law school, leave my full-time work as a pastor, and become a part-time pastor, and move back home to Knoxville. Of course, our family moved, I took a part-time pastor position in South Knoxville, and hoped I would get in to UT Law School. I didn't apply anywhere else. In March, three months after we had already moved to Knoxville, I heard that I had gotten into law school.

But, before we moved, during the Fall of 1990, I remember two things real well: I remember that my Dad and I and Jimmy went out in the boat on Tellico Lake and saw the biggest bird I have ever seen in my life: a huge Golden Eagle, whose wings reflected that beautiful Fall sun as it turned and flew away from us. And, I remember discussing my plans to attend law school while keeping on being a minister. And, I remember that my Dad felt very good about it. He was always like that when I was confident in my plans. He could tell that Waters' determination when he saw it! I think if I had said that I was real sure that I was going to attempt to climb Mount Everest next month, and that if I was real committed to it, then Dad would have supported me. Of course, I never had to worry about Mom's support. That was just always there. That's the way good mothers are, and good mothers aren't all that common. But, those of us that have them -we take that wonderful love and support for granted too often.

And, I remember going to visit my friend Jeff's mother, who was dying of cancer at the time. She was in bed and weak, but when she heard I was planning to go to law school and continue being a minister, she said: "perfect, you think like a lawyer -perfect!"

Most people thought I was either giving up on ministry or going crazy when I said I was going to law school, but for those three or four that it made sense to, well, that was important to me. Three or four or five, that's about all you need in life to understand you. And, one or two is really enough if the understanding is deep. I guess I have been very fortunate to have had someone at about every point where the great decisions of life are made to look back at me with hope and faith. It's hard on those who start to commit themselves to a course of life and don't have that support. Of course, I am a Waters; I probably would have taken the same course if everyone I had known had told me I was crazy! Even so, I deeply appreciate the understanding. I do not take it for granted, especially not at this stage of life.

I really love Fall. And, I remember all of these things as the air begins to cool and the leaves begin to fall.

Exercising Authority and Luther's Saying: "Sin Boldly"

Martin Luther found himself in the middle of a religious and political revolution in 16th century Western Europe. He had only wanted to be a good Augustine monk when he entered the monastery. But, in this struggle, he was taken by surprise, almost like Paul was taken by surprise on the way to Damascus around the middle of the 1st century. What Luther was taken by surprise by was the living God, who to Luther's joy, was intent on saving, not condemning.

And, as Luther bore witness to what he had received, a mighty awakening occurred in Western Europe that shook the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church and the foundations of the social order. Luther was not prepared to be consulting with political leaders, but he had to. He learned in this difficult role that no matter what decision he made in public affairs, some bad would come of it. As he saw lay people revolting against the clergy/priests, he was horrified that priests were being killed. So, Luther took the side of the local authorities, who then went and cruelly killed hordes of innocent townspeople who were uninvolved in violence against priests. Luther felt at times like he would so much rather be dead than at the middle of this change. In this context, he took heart, and tried to proclaim what it really means to live by faith in such times: "Sin boldly," he said. What he meant was that we are to rely on God, seek God's glory, but not be afraid to act, knowing nonetheless that our actions will be tainted with sin. Nonetheless, we must act.