Pastors may be more prone than most to think about new beginnings. This is the first week of Advent. It is the beginning of the Christian calendar.
It is also a new beginning for me here at North Suburban. I am joining with Anne Munley in a new beginning for the co-pastor model. And to some small degree this is a new beginning for the congregation as a whole.
What is the point of adding the adjective new? Isn’t every beginning new? To me it emphasizes that every beginning occurs within an already existing story, in the midst of an ongoing set of projects. What is a new beginning for one merges like a stream into a the current of other beginnings already flowing.
One of my favorite philosophers Hannah Arendt wrote “It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before.” The unexpected emerges because we are neither predetermined nor predictable. Our individual and collective stories are open-ended.
Individuals and congregations can sometimes be haunted by failure. We confront the consequences of beginnings that have proven problematic. We have regrets. We grow cynical about new beginnings. We reserve judgement, diminish our agency, or curb our enthusiasm. Rather than nurture our curiosity we cultivate our disappointment.
Arendt proposed two essential practices for keeping new beginnings fresh and vital. The first practice is about promises. Maturity is not just the exercise of freedom, but the making and keeping of promises. The Biblical writers used the word “covenant”.
The second practice Arendt recommended was forgiveness. Forgiveness is the supreme form of new beginning. When I forgive I let go of my hold on you. When you forgive you let go of your hold me. Forgiveness creates the possibility for a new beginning; a chance to start again – the renewal of a promise.
Because God is the ultimate practitioner of promising and forgiving God is the ultimate creator of new beginnings.
Our community will be made strong by the quality of the promises we make and the sincerity of the forgiveness we offer. New beginnings in one sense become a constant. We offer renewal to others and receive it in return.
A community of promise and forgiveness becomes a community of new beginnings. Curiosity and surprise become an enduring reality of our life together.
That is the kind of community I need. So do you. Let’s do it together.
Advent is here. Let’s begin – again!