I was asked to speak at Dominion-Chalmers United Church yesterday. They are doing a Thursday noon devotional series for Lent. The question they asked me to speak on was what difference does the call to be a disciple of Jesus make to my ministry/vocation. What a great question. It is very similar to my buddy Mike's recent question about why I felt I needed to be a pastor. Mike is quick to call me on magic words like feeling called, those words really don't get at the heart of what is really being asked. And really, vocational callings, if they are really callings and not simply aspiration, can bear the scrutiny that is required to fulfill them wisely. So I've been thinking of this quite a bit recently. What difference does it make? Why is Jesus so important? And what does it mean to be a disciple? It didn't surprise me that exploring this took me right back to the story of how I ended up on this Christian journey - what evangelicals like to call their testimony.
I don't like telling my testimony. My issue is that I'm a fairly dramatic crisis oriented person (a la William James) so many evangelicals think I have a great testimony. But I get concerned that we evangelicals can fall in love with the dramatic stories and miss that God meets us all uniquely. The worst case is when evangelicals feel compelled to embellish their stories - that makes me sad. Our culture can be quite elitist and does not value the experience of the prodigal's older brother who loved God from early on. I know some of those people and that they are often made to feel quite inadequate in evangelical conversations. So I just stopped. So it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I shared some of those stories with the DC crowd yesterday. And thankfully it seemed to really hit a good chord with the folks who shared with me after the talk.
The thing that connects for me is that in my story I see a repeated motif. The motif is that I find myself confronted with a choice between a life that is meaningless, merely going through the motions, and a life that makes a difference in the world beyond my self. In one my response has always been to seek escape, but in the other I feel compelled to put my hands to the work that is before me and not look back. And always in my life, at the center of these moments of decision, is the person of Jesus Christ.
Some of that centering on Jesus has to be attributed to growing up in the United Church in Truro, going to Sunday school and, as I discovered later on in life, having people praying over me and my family throughout my whole life. So it shouldn't be surprising, in my case, that Jesus would figure large in the critical decisions of my life. But for me it is not only a sense of Jesus asking me to choose to be a disciple, it also means that in my effort to walk that out I have found it most meaningful when I turn to Jesus as the author and perfecter of my faith.
When I try to center my life around Jesus I find that there are things I naturally want to do. Two in particular form the basis of my vocational choice: community and encouragement.
In terms of community, I don't think I'm particularly good at building community, but I love it. And I love that Jesus continually welcome people to the table. I see in Jesus a passion for community, hanging out with people, engaging in the messiness that is relationship. And even though I'm really an introvert - I crave this enough that I go about creating it wherever I can. So if you ever wondered why I love this so much - blame Jesus. But seriously, this part is the challenge for me. And I still have tonnes to learn about community, but as a vocation it is something I'm ready to devote my life to.
The second is why I have spent so much time, energy and even money, becoming a theologian. I love to see people come alive in their lives. I love to see them connect how their lives can make a difference in this world. I love to encourage people. Now, I'm not a big yes man. I'm particularly hard on spiritualities that are so inward focuses they are merely masking an effort to escape meaninglessness. And part of encouragement is pushing people to be better. I take that seriously. If I were to say what I am called to it would be to help people engage in their spirituality better. And the reason for that is rooted in a lot of things - but probably most significantly in the fact that this is what people who loved me did for me.
When I put Jesus at the center of the second vocational choice I am constantly reminded of how uniquely he treated every situation/person that came across his path. Jesus had an amazing ability to draw people to think about things better. People made radical decisions when Jesus was around. They stepped out and did things that really bugged those who loved the status quo. I aspire to that. It gives me hope that this choice is a good way to imitate Jesus, after all at the core of being a disciple is being more like Jesus.
I'm glad the talk went well. Even traveling in there I thought it could go either way. I took a risk, and am glad it struck a chord. I hope that chord keeps resonating throughout this Lenten season.