Pastoral Messages | August 13, 2020

We’ve been doing a lot of improvising this week. After the derecho blew away most of the plans we had for Monday afternoon and Tuesday (at the very least!), we have been faced with challenges to innovate and improvise at nearly every turn.

I’m writing this on a pad of paper with a pencil and will drive it over to our enews team as a longhand, hard-copy manuscript that will have to be typed in to a word processor. The car runs so I can charge my cell phone, which is my primary Internet interface until wifi and power come back on. Coolers with ice stand in for fridges and freezers. I realize with surprised gratitude that our water heater, like our stove, is gas-fueled. It makes it easier to wash the dishes by hand.

Some of the improv will have more long-term effects. We’ll probably enjoy more wood fires in the fireplace this winter. The big sycamore will need to be reshaped for its next era. Damaged gutters make new configurations more thinkable. The improv list goes on.

Reverend Dr. Samuel Wells of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican church in London talks of the Christian life as an improvisation. Glenn Paauw, in the book we will study this Fall in Heart Soul Mind, picks up on the theme. As in any good improv set, there are a basic scene, characters, and relationships that are givens. Paauw says this is what the Bible gives us. Then one actor or another makes an invitation with a gesture or spoken comment. Other actors can accept or reject the invitation, extending the story arc or redirecting it. The Bible shows God making many invitations, most of which God’s people seem to reject.

Their own invitations, in turn, are mostly wrong-headed, veering away from God’s vision. And then it happens: God doesn’t reject; God “over-accepts,” takes up the wrong-headed initiative and turns it into something worthwhile, valuable, even redemptive. The long story arc stays on track, and the story becomes a school for Christian improv.

I couldn’t reject the derecho, but I can over-accept what it brought with some creative improv. I can’t reject the legacy of my family’s dysfunction, my church’s faithless record, or my culture’s dehumanizing patterns. I can seize the power of God’s over-accepting redemption of my failures to try my best to over-accept those wrong-headed invitations that life tosses my way. With some creative improv and God on the stage with us, even those things can find redemption and carry us onward.

Peter A. Pettit, teaching pastor

8 Comments on “Improvising”

  • Janette Schmidt

    August 16, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks Pastor Pettitt for your wise words. The idea that God over accepts the limitations in my personal life, my faith and in my culture is comforting. It is so assuring that God is at work in these areas, making them all more aligned with mercy, justice and love.

  • Peter Pettit

    August 15, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks to Frank and Don and Marcia and Tom and Georgia for your responses to this blog. I was not as clear as I could have been to help make my point understandable. Here’s what I hope is a clearer attempt at writing the last paragraph:

    I learn from that school how to do improv on the parts of life, the “invitations,” that have veered off track. I cannot deny the dysfunctional parts of my family life as I was growing up. But they have given me skills that, with God’s help, I can turn to the benefit of others. I cannot deny that the Christian church has at times been “of little faith”; for example, focusing too much on institutional well-being or comfort. But we have built a strong institution that, with God’s help, we can now use to make life richer and more secure for others, too. I cannot deny that my culture has had de-humanizing dimensions within it, hindering some groups and causing pain and suffering to people. But I can work responsibly with the advantages it has given me and, with God’s help, nurture a culture that values every person and binds up the wounds of those who have been hurt.

    At our best, we are a community that learns Christian improv from God and the Bible, so that we then make our own creative, life-enhancing invitations to the world around us. As we are buffeted this summer and this year by so many difficult natural, historical, and social “invitations” that we cannot simply reject, may God again lead us to be at our best and may God also again do the divine improv with the efforts that we make.

  • Georgia Dugan

    August 15, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Although my choice would be no upheaval and damage from hurricane winds, we have enjoyed spending time with our adult children and grandchildren as they cycled through our home to charge their phones, use the WiFi, get a hot meal, do laundry, and to get some rest in air conditioning. The pandemic has been long and somewhat isolating and so our ‘hurricane improv’ of spending time with our kids/grands warmed this mother/grandmother’s heart.
    In regards to Pastor Pettit’s comments about rejecting the legacy of dysfunction in childhood, in our culture, and in our church, I believe ‘naming and claiming’ is the path to changing those things that need changed. To make our lives better, to make our church better, to make our culture better for all Americans, we first need to recognize the need to change.

  • Don Garrison

    August 13, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Peter, Sorry to hear about your family’s dysfunction. I’m more sorry to hear that you view your church as having a faithless record and your culture as having dehumanizing patterns. I believe your church and your culture may be the same as mine. I still accept my church and my culture, and as the song says, I’m proud to be an American, and I’m also proud to be a Lutheran. That’s the best improv I can offer at this time with the limited knowledge I have of your thesis.

    • Marcia Willi

      August 13, 2020 at 3:35 pm

      Pastor is using this as AN EXAMPLE!! He is not saying our church is ” FAITHLESS”

      • Don Garrison

        August 14, 2020 at 10:56 am

        Marcia, perhaps you missed the last line of my message. It’s and Improv. based on limited knowledge.

    • Tom Bley

      August 14, 2020 at 8:26 am

      I agree with you Don.
      We are trying to be a part of the solution and this space is too often used by all who write in it, to tell us we are the problem.
      I shouldn’t need to cringe when I get the Thursday email.

  • Frank Claudy

    August 13, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Well said, Peter. I will be looking for some ways of over-accepting this largely powerless interlude. Certainly it is whipping me into better shape via sawing and hauling tree limbs!

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