Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go
(Chorus from “Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine)
As old as I am, I should know better. I should know that reality is often a far cry from the presented illusion. It has been a tough couple of weeks . . . nights without sleep . . . days interrupted by invading thoughts . . . twisted words . . . illusions being shattered . . . life in general being a far cry from what my optimistic self would like to believe. It has been days since I have felt rested and centered on my life and the world around me . . . probably a combination of anxiety, stress, disappointment, and disillusionment . . . of things not being the way I think that they should be. It has just been a “hard way to go”.
With my employment with the university I have been drawn into the politics of academic life . . . I have been drawn into the business of education. The idealist in me believed that universities—bastions of higher education—were created to encourage learning and growth; but, I have learned that universities and places of higher education are nothing more than businesses that sell education. Like any business, the bottom line is profit. When times are good in higher education there is the illusion of the greater good of educating future generations for the betterment of society; but when the profit is down or there is actual loss, universities and places of higher education are nothing more than businesses that would rival the practices of WalMart or other corporate entities. When people are scared the only mode of operation is the survival of the fittest . . . lots of politics, back-stabbing, and unethical practices taking place. It has not been a fun place to work the past couple of months.
Within the job that I do at the university I promote professional development for educators. This is a task that is offered for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. For the past few years the emphasis has been on the Common Core Standards . . . something slowly embraced by the educators, and even embraced at a slower rate among the state’s constituents. It has been a battle that has been nasty and seen the group I work for being quietly pushed out. Again, there is a lot of half-truths, politics, and questionable ethics used as everyone races towards the money and survival. It has not made it fun to come to work each day.
Into this tense mix has come a sadness caused by a fellow clergyperson breaking the boundaries of ministry . . . a confusing case, but a breaking of the boundaries. I was one of those called upon to investigate the situation, discern the issues, and suggest the consequences . . . it was not easy. The region in which I serve as a pastor is small . . . everyone knows everyone . . . and, it hurts to see a mistake made by someone you know and care about. Lives have been touched . . . lives have been changed. There is anger, confusion, disappointment, heartbreak, and lots of sadness. This has weighed heavy on my heart for a couple of weeks now . . . I have lost more than one night tossing over this situation.
Then there is the constant concern for family . . . for children who continue to move through their lives . . . for children who continue to run into obstacles in their lives . . . for children who seem to be paddling like hell to stay afloat while the world wants to pound them to a pulp. There are relatives . . . brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and even a parent . . . who we have not seen in a long time who are getting older and dealing with the issues that come with getting older. There are friends we hear from . . . issues in their lives . . . and, being miles apart unable to help beyond a kind word and prayer.
Life has been no fun lately. Where is the party I thought life was supposed to be? Where is the joy? Where is the laughter? Where is the life?
A benediction is a short invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance from God asked at the end of a worship service. Each Sunday morning I pronounce a benediction upon the congregation for God’s presence in the days to come. It is a prayer of hope . . . a prayer of expectation . . . a prayer of presence to help those gather make it through the days to come. Lately, I have needed a benediction . . . not to make it through the days to come, but to make it through the day that is. It has been my evening prayer each night as I lay my head upon my pillow hoping to fall asleep . . . a benediction.
John Prine’s song, Angel from Montgomery, is about an old woman who longs for what she had hoped for when she was a young woman filled with dreams. Life is routine and a far cry from the excitement she thought life would be like. Dreams are broken . . . desire is lost . . . time has not been good to her . . . and, each day it does not get any better. Her despair is summed up in the line she has about her husband: How the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home in the evening and have nothing to say. Life sucks . . . she needs a benediction. Hers is simple: Just give me one thing that I can hold on to; to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.
Isn’t that what any of us want at the end of the day . . . something to hang onto? A benediction . . . God, are you listening?