There are lots of reasons I enjoy watching the television show, Schitt’s Creek, on Netflix. There’s one episode I especially enjoy when Roland, John, and Stevie are trying to figure out how to repair the crumbling foundation on the new investment motel property they’ve just purchased. The construction will cost more money than they have, so they approach the problem as one of having taken on too much risk without enough capital. Then Stevie makes a surprising proposal: maybe the solution is to actually buy more motel properties that could bring in more cash flow to renovate the motel that needs the foundation repair?
I love the scene because it seems like such a smart, but unlikely solution to the problem: take on more risk. What’s more surprising is that Stevie read about this strategy in John’s book about how he built his prior business. It was actually a strategy he had used before, had seen work really well, and probably should have thought of himself.
I have actually suggested the ecclesial version of this solution to churches before, but without the positive reception that Stevie gets in the show. A church I was serving once was facing declining membership and decreasing income and every meeting was always about budget shortfalls. I finally suggested that maybe the solution could be to simply give away everything we had. If we were already flaming out, it would either expedite the slow, painful extinguishing of the congregation or we would be more truly fulfilling our mission and actually thrive.
Sometimes we move so far away from our identity, mission, and purpose that we stumble over it when we rediscover it. The vineyard tenants in the parable had forgotten their purpose. They decide to behave as though they own the vineyard. Their lives would actually have been much richer if they had simply shared the produce the first time. Instead, the owner vows to give the vineyard away and the tenants will have nothing to show for their time and service on the land.
I cannot hear this parable (or the Isa 5, from which the cornerstone reference is taken) without needing to hear Noel Paul Stookey sing Building Block. My YouTube search for the song took me down other paths, as such searches often do, and I found myself listening to Stookey sing In These Times. The song made me pretty sad, but there was this cornerstone embedded in the song:
The ship of state is drifting
It's getting hard to steer
It's a complicated issue
But the direction's pretty clear
And 'each of us' is who we need
To get to there from here
In these times
In spite of the complexity of everything around us, the direction is usually pretty clear. More often than not, it is a matter of coming home to ourselves.