In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.[Ephesians 1:11-14 New Revised Standard Version]
Let me be clear. My intent here is not to write a year-end retrospective. Nor is it an attempt to declare New Year’s resolutions.
But as I reviewed what I had written last year at this time, I noticed I had begun a reflection I didn’t finish. So, what you’re getting today is a full twelve months late!
I can’t recall what distracted me or prevented me from finishing my thoughts. I’ll chalk that up to a function of old age. But why try to think up new things when there’s already nearly half a blog post ready to go?
So here’s where my mind was at this time a year ago, when I was nearing my first full month of retirement. I was focused on the word, “purpose.”
The dictionary defines the word purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”
As I was approaching the year 2021, that word had become the object of my obsession. One month into my retirement, it was important to find a purpose or a reason for which to live. For most of my life, I have been defined by what I do. This year would be different. I would mostly be defined by what I used to do. And it does take a while to regain one’s identity as someone not related to a vocation. You are not sure of who you are for a while.
And as I look back, I admit it was a challenging adjustment, if not a struggle. COVID didn’t make it any easier.
In many ways, retirement is like a death. One dies to an old way of life. And as I often tell relatives of a loved one who has died, for me this was a year of firsts – the first Christmas, or any major holiday or family gathering without that person or, in this case, that lifestyle.
Hence, the importance of discovering a purpose. One of my colleagues reminded me that it is good to begin each year with a theme. Pope Francis, for example, declared 2021 the “Year of the Family” or the “Year of St. Joseph,” depending on whose report you read. Other than the fact that he is planning an ambitious agenda, I haven’t come across his theme for 2022.
Since I never officially declared 2021 my year of purpose, I have chosen to title my theme for the upcoming year, “The Year of Purpose II.” (Strange, I know.)
In 2021, I had every hope of expanding my writing, which I did. I intend to do more this year.
Then there are the vacation and travel plans that my wife and I put on hold because of the dreaded virus. Hopefully, we can resurrect those in the coming months.
Even with those ideas in mind, I am beginning 2022 by going back to the future, in a sense.
I have been invited to serve as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod for January and February, while their current bishop, the Rev. Kurt Kusserow, takes a well-earned sabbatical. I am eagerly looking forward to that
This call, temporary as it may be, has already been a blessing.
First of all, it is a homecoming, of sorts. I was reared in Western Pennsylvania after my family emigrated there from Puerto Rico, so I know the area well. Yes, I still cheer for their professional sports teams, and, for a while at least, I can do that openly without facing hostile stares.
Secondly, in preparation for this role, I have been collaborating with several dedicated ministers of that synod in planning a Martin Luther King commemoration in January. These new relationships have been enriching and have introduced me to different people and different perspectives. Newness always presents an atmosphere of excitement.
There are also some church-related duties coming up following my two-month sojourn in Southwestern PA. I will be one of the chaplains for the ELCA’s Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE) in St. Paul, Minnesota in July. And in October, I am part of the planning team for our Former/Retired Bishops’ Gathering in Detroit.
So I remain tethered to the church even as I am detached in retirement.
But my greatest hope for this coming year goes beyond the personal or the individual. As I read the opening of the letter to the Ephesians (see verses above) I drilled down on that word: purpose.
We are all created for a purpose – God’s purpose. That is our reason for being on earth.
Together, as a people, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. There is so much good that can be accomplished in the world if we would only set aside our differences and live together as God’s people in the joyful presence of our Creator, reflecting the goodness that was bestowed on us at birth.
May we look ahead to 2022 with that purpose in mind.
God’s richest blessings to you in the new year!
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