Today We Remember Tomorrow

Ability, Adaptability, Ambiguity

Living with integrity in the tension
Bill Lewellis

A one-sided conversation took place during the late 1960s when what was to become for me a 40-year ministry on the staffs of three bishops in two denominations. Too soon was it over.

My first day at the bishop’s office of the RC Diocese of Allentown was a deep-water introduction to ecclesial systems. I was 30 years old with the slight experience of three years in parish ministry, and one year of teaching in local Catholic high schools. I had earned a reputation as one who resisted the system. Well, it was the '60s.

During that first day, the bishop’s main man gave me some advice. "You obviously have ability,” he said, “but even more important for your work here will be adaptability … and being able to deal with ambiguity."

The veiled message spooked me. I was warned. It was a pre-emptive strike. I believed then, however, and still believe that the one giving the advice was looking out for me.

One question stayed with me after I processed the advice: "How to live with integrity in the tension?"

Many have tread through the swirling waters of one system or another, learning something along the way. What I learned early on, in the belly of the institution, was this: “God has been known to work within the institution. From generation to generation. But don’t naively trust the institution. It may be where God is speaking. Or not.”

To hear the word of God is to be called to the impossible.

To hear the word of the Lord is to be called to live with integrity in the tension, to live with gospel imperatives, impossible job descriptions that are written on our hearts.

Feed … Clothe … Heal … Welcome … Visit … Raise … Proclaim … Love … Pray … Be reconciled … Strive for justice and peace among all people … Respect the dignity of every human being … Follow me … In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.

It could take your breath away.

We are created with a thirst we cannot quench, to follow a strange God we cannot imagine

Nikos Kazantzakis tells this wonderful story about an Orthodox priest. "I hear you wrestle with the devil," someone says to Father Makarios. "No," he replies. "We've grown old together; we know each other too well; I know all his tricks. Wrestling with the devil has gotten too easy. I wrestle with God."

"You wrestle with God, Father Makarios? And you hope to win?"

"No, I hope to lose."

Hope to lose. The thrill is in being overcome by God. "Batter my heart, three-person’d God … O’erthrow me and bend your force to break, blow, burn and make me new." (John Donne)


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