I’ve been sitting and laying around a lot the past few days, picking away at a paper that’s due next Tuesday, and trying to put something together in my mind that resembles a clear sense of purpose for moving forward. I’m afraid I lost that pristine sense of a call some months ago when it became abundantly clear that no one outside of my own head was really convinced that I was called to be a pastor, especially within my particular denomination. They are looking for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and perhaps a handful of young men who have been with the denomination their entire lives. I thought perhaps the more rural churches were eagerly awaiting someone like myself but I suppose I could have been wrong about that as well. My conversation with the current pastor of my church sent me into a tailspin, and the way I’ve been passed around like a hot potato from one church to another and mostly ignored by the committee one level above the church has all contributed to me feeling mostly like I don’t really belong here.
After so many conversations with people in my classes, this became all the more clear to me–my voice, experience, and eagerness to dive in and help where I might be needed are not enough–I am simply not what this denomination wants or needs right now. I get the impression that many folks who have “gotten theirs” and now have voices that matter, are of a mind that the older, rural churches of a more traditional demographic should all either die out or schism off and become part of a more conservative version of the denomination. Those who are to be a part of the ministry moving forward are the young (millennials and younger), women, people of color and LGBTQ people. For someone who is too old to be a millennial and too young to be a baby boomer, there just isn’t much of anything here for me.
As far as the broader sense of calling and purpose goes–that too has become difficult to ascertain and revive as being something crystal clear and clearly from God. What is God’s purpose for me in the next several decades, as a husband and father who is trying to raise a young son and perhaps another young child–when our country is about to be beset with so many difficult challenges that will likely bring about conflict like we haven’t seen since the Civil War? Why would God allow someone like Donald Trump to win, and allow so many so-called Christian conservatives to be blinded by the kind of man that Trump is? Am I just completely duped by a mainstream, liberal media bubble, and we are on the verge of seeing a deeply flawed man in the tradition of a Churchill do great things for this country? God, I really hope that I am wrong about Trump, and he turns out to be okay–but, none of me is feeling that great about it.
And, what of it? If I am right about Trump, then it changes everything about what the future means for me and my family. If I am wrong about Trump, then it means I probably haven’t been nearly as close to God as I’d hoped, and all of my so-called sense of having a calling to ministry has simply been my own misguided pride. I would much rather be wrong about Trump, and he turn out to be an okay president, no better or worse than the last few we’ve had.
Except, what that ends up meaning for me is that there is no special calling, no purpose, no mission, no vision. I would have done just as well to have stayed at C/B after they merged, and kept my head down and worked from home as long as I could, and then gone back to Austin or gone to Charleston to work, if they determined I needed to be in an office working for them. It means that I was full of so much ego and pride over how much more I could do for a company or an organization, when really, my fullest and true capabilities were just in the area of putting my head down, doing what I was told, and socking away money into a 401K.
There are two visions: helping others and helping myself. They can seem to be like oil and water, and yet each of them depends on the other. I can’t help others until I’ve removed the beam from my own eye. Once I become immersed in trying to do so many things to make myself better physically, intellectually and spiritually, I become more compelled to give of myself and help others benefit from the good things that I’ve obtained.
However, there is the simple fact that a life must be lived with an emphasis on one or the other. As much as you might like to be a perfected being in some classical sense of the word–all full of culture and smarts about a lot of things and really healthy as well–and also be the consummate philanthropist and community volunteer, you really have to reach a point in your assessment of self where you allow yourself to obtain a realistic picture of your talents. I may simply not be capable of being the kind of man I’d like to become. On my death bed, I probably won’t have an entire community gathered around me weeping.
Right now, I am just trying to remember how to pray. I think that I was walking on water for a little bit, and then suddenly remembered that I couldn’t–and I had also forgotten about my faith. I have to keep my faith or the darkness is too much. I may not be able to do a whole lot right now, but I can certainly cry out to God in prayer–prayer for peace in this land and illumination for myself. I need some light to put my next foot in front of me.
I realize that I am not the one who is creating the future. What’s more, I recognize that my idea of what I think would make for a perfect future isn’t necessarily God’s. However, I am with some hope that God is still with me, in spite of how many times I have taken the opportunity to wander off and do my own thing and assert my voice in such a way as to drown out God’s. I also hope that God is still with my country, in spite of how terrible things look from where I sit. The potential terror that could come with a madman declaring martial law for some petty reason is almost unthinkable but still very much within the bounds of being a probable outcome over the next 4-8 years.
When your mind starts creating these scenarios of how bad the world could get to the point where you are envisioning yourself in a post-apocalyptic world, you become reminded again that you are not really in charge of as many things as you’d like to be. You are not in charge of when you die. People get cancer all the time at any given age, and so could you. You could have an undetected heart problem, or some deadly hibernating virus hanging out in your gut. A car could come out of nowhere tomorrow when you are crossing the street. Or, anything else you want to think of. The point is that comfort and satisfaction need to reside in something bigger, or you will walk through this life always skating over a chasm of terror. If you are capable of having great peace of mind about what happens when you die without needing a higher power, then you obviously draw on resources I can’t.
I have to return again and again to the resource of a higher power, and I have to have some hope in the fact that even though I haven’t done everything Jesus asked me to do, I did believe in him in a more fundamental way than merely believing in his existence. I realize that I have been for the most part a self-centered, selfish individual and that I have mostly myself to blame for this. I could blame my culture or the way I was brought up, or others who acted as influences during my formative years, but at the age of 40, I can’t really blame them for more than a fraction of a percentage of my present actions.
It is simply more comfortable to return to a state of adding more to myself–more knowledge, wisdom, food, drink, experiences, etc.–instead of being in a state of giving of myself. It is my default mode, my comfort zone. I have to make myself quite uncomfortable to go out and give of myself to others. Much of my anti-social tendencies and introversion comes from simple selfishness. I feel better about doing something that adds to myself instead of gives of myself, in the short term. Of course, when I get out of my comfort zone and give of myself, and devote blocks of time to doing this, it feels awkward and not quite right in the short term, but makes me feel much better in the long term.
I realize that as a father and a husband I can’t just sell all of my possessions and give the money to the poor and then go live a life of being a mendicant preacher. I must fulfill my obligations as a householder, and find ways within this construct to give of myself. At the end of the day, my family is doing for me what I never seemed to be capable of doing for myself–they make me give of myself all the time. Though, I do recognize that this probably isn’t enough in Jesus’ eyes. Jesus expects me to give of myself to the ones I love as a matter of course–he has asked me to love enemies and neighbors and strangers and pray for those who mistreat me.
And, maybe that’s all I can do right now–pray for those who seem to see the state of things in such a radically different way than I do. They may not necessarily be my enemies, but they are certainly opposed to me in many ways politically and intellectually, whether they know it or not. All I can do is pray for them–not to pray that they come to think like I do, but pray that they receive vision, guidance and clarity from God as much as I hope to. And in the end, we will hopefully come around to having a clearer picture of the world to come that we can agree upon and look forward to together in a peaceful way. This may be asking for a lot, but I still do believe that with God, all things are possible.