A Joyful Journey

Selections on his ipod stir spiritual reflections for Bishop David A. Bard.

Michigan Area

My wife, Julie and I recently returned to Michigan from being with our daughter, Beth, in Rochester, New York. Beth completed her OB/Gyn medical residency in Rochester, and we traveled there to celebrate with her and to help her pack up her apartment. Beth will be getting married later this summer and in September begins a job as an OB/Gyn physician in Duluth, Minnesota.

When we arrived at the Michigan state line, coming through Ohio, I was taken with how much this felt like arriving home. I was struck by how a place that a year ago would have felt quite unfamiliar now felt like home. I was reminded of one of the songs we heard on the road while we were driving, a song on my ipod, which was plugged into the car’s sound system: I Fall in Love Too Easily (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne).  FYI, this particular ipod has over 8,000 songs ranging from the vocal jazz of Anita O’Day singing this aforementioned song to Johnny Cash to The Clash. Veni Sancte Spiritus, a Medieval prayer/ song/chant, can also be found.

I fall in love too easily – maybe not, but I want to express my deep and profound gratitude to Michigan United Methodists for this past year together, and for the wonderful Annual Conference we shared just a few weeks ago. You really are beautiful.

“The spirit you demonstrated at Annual Conference was amazing.”

Now I am not unmindful of the challenges some of our churches face, nor we face as a denomination here in Michigan and throughout the country. I know some of the tremendous tasks ahead in the coming year, and will write more about those in just a bit. However, I continue to be deeply grateful for the wonderful leaders, lay and clergy, in the United Methodist Church here in Michigan. Your deep faith in Jesus Christ, and your exceptional energy and vision continue to feed my own energy and joy. The spirit you demonstrated at Annual Conference was amazing. Thank you, and thanks to all those who worked so very hard to make Annual Conference come together so well. There are challenges ahead, but I remain convinced that with the grace of God, and by the power of God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ, together we will be able to do some remarkable work for God’s kingdom, and such work is never lost.

As I think about my gratitude for this past year and for you all of you, while also thinking about some of the challenges of the coming year, I am reminded of something I read awhile back that continues to have a profound impact on me. The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. (Francis Weller, “The Geography of Sorrow” The Sun, October 2015)

The coming year will involve many decisions about the Michigan Area, including decisions about district boundaries and staffing. We voted at Annual Conference to form nine districts, where we currently have 12 with 11 district superintendents. That will mean a reduction in staff. We currently have two Directors of Connectional Ministry. There is only one such position in our new conference. I carry the heaviness of this, the grief of this, with me, and continue to pray that by the power of God’s love and Spirit, I can be stretched large by gratitude and grief. Veni, Sancte, Spiritus – come, Holy Spirit. I pray for all those who are in this time of uncertainty – Veni, Sancte, Spiritus – come, Holy Spirit. I invite you to join me in prayer during this time of change, praying especially for those whose lives are directly affected by the changes we are making together in the structure of Michigan United Methodism.

 “I pray for all those who are in this time of uncertainty – Veni, Sancte, Spiritus – come, Holy Spirit.”

Gratitude and grief also mark my thinking about our nation in recent days. We are approaching the Fourth of July, the time when we celebrate the wonder and beauty of our country and its founding ideals. I am proud to be an American, and glad to be part of the human adventure known as the American experiment. As we debate health care policy, I am also weighed down with grief as I fail to hear many conversations that address the profound moral questions involved. What kind of “good” is health care? Should we treat it simply as a market commodity, or is there something different about it, or at least about some decent minimum of access to health care? I tend to think of health care as something different from a commodity, for without access to some level of health care how are persons able to enjoy a measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus’ concern for the sick and hurting influences how I think about health care policy, and the gospel stories undergird our denominational statements that argue for considering access to health care a basic right of all persons (see “The United Methodist Social Principles”). If access to health care is a basic right, how do we organize our life together as a society to care for one another?

My own life story also influences me. While in college I was diagnosed with chronic ulcerative colitis. I have a pre-existing condition for which I did nothing. Something in my genetic make-up, in conjunction with my environment, led to an immune system which does not like the lining of my colon. Because of that, I am at an increased risk for colon cancer, and if it develops it tends to be aggressive. The practical effect of this situation is that I have had, over the course of my life, frequent colon scopes, and now require them every year. For those for whom this is entirely TMI, forgive me. I can recall times in my life, where, absent insurance coverage, I am not sure I could have afforded to undergo this procedure. My situation is not unique, and less dire than many. How do we care for one another? It is a heavy question that needs to be asked again and again in a country for which we have much to be grateful.

I fall in love too easily? Maybe, and I would not have it any other way. And love has something to do with holding gratitude and grief together, and being stretched large by them. It is not an automatic process, but a Spirit process. It is by the power of God’s Spirit that we can be stretched large in love by holding gratitude and grief together.  Veni, Sancte, Spiritus – Come, Holy Spirit.