Monday, March 4, 2013

Abandoned Memoir Chapter 4 part 3

This is all I have of that abandoned memoir. I admit, looking at this, I lost my way kind of mid-thought. Maybe I thought that was an end of a chapter at the time, but it certainly doesn't read like one to me now. Anyway, this is what I have. I'm going to let it rest a few days (maybe post about something happening in my life right now) and then see if I can find my way forward with this. I'm open to feedback . . .

Chapter 4: If These are my Circumstances, How do I Live Faithfully?  part 3

It occurs to me that I should address the question itself, or the question behind the question. What is faithfulness and why would you want to be faithful to begin with?

In theological terms, there is more than one answer to that question.

Some of us love agony. I‛m convinced of it. Some of us are only happy when we‛re striving for something impossible. I went through it my early twenties, I watched other people go through it in college. I see people going through it now, although I admit not all of it is from a religious impulse. It‛s the agony of the person who constantly asks, "What should I do with my life?" When you have the religious impulse, that question becomes, "What does God want me to do with my life?" Depending upon your understanding of who God is, that question can be paralyzing.

For example, I watched a young woman from my days in Lutheran Campus Ministry leave our small community to a more conservative Christianity because we weren‛t giving her answers for that question about her life and she found a group who did. I understood her. I had also considered leaving LCM because I wanted more concrete direction, more definite commands on how to use the gifts God had given me. Her agony was greater than mine, I guess. Her image of God was someone who was demanding something very difficult and highly sacrificial of her and while I believed God wanted something of me (I still believe that, in a more nuanced way), I also had some sense of God good, kind, not looking for reasons to strike me down for disobedience.

Anyway, this young woman joined a group who did things like take evangelism trips to South Padre Island on spring break, witnessing to the drunken partiers on the beach. It‛s the sort of piety that judges God‛s pleasure in direct proportion to your harassment, embarrassment, and futility. Granted, there are undoubtedly some people out there who will testify that it is because someone ministered to them as they were puking off a pier that they came to Jesus. God works in all sorts of ways. I‛m not saying people shouldn‛t talk to spring breakers about the love of God—if it is, indeed the love of God they‛re speaking of and not a guilt trip about having fun. We Lutherans, however, are more, shall we say, practical. We‛re more likely to bring up the love of God when there‛s a chance someone is likely to hear it. But, as I said, some measure God‛s pleasure by how much abuse you can take from belligerent drunks.

Let me try to illustrate this agony another way. I have another friend, a woman my age who I‛ve known since college. She felt a call to ordained ministry and she‛s been a pastor for many years now. A few years ago, she started becoming disillusioned with her work as a pastor. Maybe it was burnout, maybe it was God adjusting the calling on her life. Whatever it was, she was constantly talking about wanting to go to culinary school. So I said, "Do it. Quit your church and go to culinary school."

She said something about not being sure if that‛s what God wanted, that maybe God still wanted her at this church that was making her a little bit miserable. So I asked her, "So what part of your experience of God tells you that God wants you to be miserable?"

Well, it still took a couple of years, but she did eventually leave her church and go to culinary school. She‛s still an ordained pastor, but she‛s thinking of other ways to minister, and maybe food is a way to do it (and I don‛t care what your background, ministering with food is always theologically sound).

One other anecdote. I once heard a pastor speak to this sort of agonizing we do. He said, "We spend so much time worrying and asking, ‛oh God, what do you want me to do?‛ And sometimes I think God is just shrugging his shoulders and saying, ‛I don‛t know. What do you want to do?‛"

I tell these stories as a roundabout way to address this desire to live faithfully and give a different vision of it. So much, too much of what we‛re taught about God leads us to believe God is demanding and looking for reasons to make us miserable. We believe that if God is going to call us to something, it‛s going to be hard and something completely outside our ability.

I‛ve come to suspect, however, that the desire to do something is the calling. A joy in tinkering with engines is the call to mechanical work. Delight in helping children pick up new skills or information is the call to being a teacher. In my case, finding that I can‛t not write is the call to be a writer.

This is not to say that it‛s going to be easy and this is not to say that your calling is your career. It‛s quite possible that just because you take delight in dancing doesn‛t mean you‛ll be good at it without hours of classes or that you‛ll ever make a living at it. Sad, but true. God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt because God saw Moses had a desire for his people to be free, not because Moses was a natural born leader. The man had a speech impediment and had to get his brother to do most of the speaking.

Of course our vocation is but one small part of how we live faithfully, and really has little to do with morality. What I‛ve tried to do is to talk about vocation in a way that illustrates how our image of God, what we‛ve been taught about God, leads us in how we pursue our life‛s calling. We‛ll either do what we think we should do with a heavy heart, or we‛ll do something that maybe doesn‛t immediately look sensible with a joyful heart.

But in either case, we do it out of a sense of God‛s presence in our life. Or at least in my case. In the cases of several people I know. Whether we buy into the image of a God making odious demands, or of a God curious to see what we‛ll do next, we who experienced God‛s presence are trying to figure out the reason for our existence in relationship to God‛s existence. To speak completely in the first person, because I felt God all around me that day in our backyard, because I find such peace and grace in that experience, I want to respond. There was a time I responded in paralyzing agony. Now, I‛m more likely to respond with a sense of responsibility to the gifts and desires I have.

I want to write stories. I find joy in writing stories. I‛m even pretty good at writing stories. If this is the circumstance of my life, how do I live faithfully?

There remains the murky question of morality, of course, and if we can get past the idea of sin as isolated good and bad acts and see it as part of the matrix of life, this question of living faithfully takes on a different, slightly more complex twist.


  1. The writer says, "So what part of your experience of God tells you that God wants you to be miserable?"
    My answer, the theology of atonement seems to teach that. Jesus was sent to be miserable on the cross so we should be miseable in response. That is not how I experience God, but that was the teaching I had to let go of to find out that God intends us to experience life as a blessing. God helps me find a way out of my misery not into it.

  2. This is partly why I always say atonement theories end up grossly unsatisfying. I think we find God is with us in suffering, and I believe there is real suffering and misery---even worse than being a bad job!---and I also believe there is abundant life to be found.

    The main point of where I was going with this memoir was "What is the Good News of Jesus?" In the first chapter, I related my friend Pete's death and how he sought Jesus for healing, that he heard that as good news, but good news that didn't serve him as he wanted. In my current health scare, I didn't hold any illusion of miraculous healing but was bracing myself for the worst and watching for where God would be in it---not bringing the suffering, but bringing the hope, the abundant life and what those might mean in that situation. It's a concept that is hard to explain if it isn't in you. It's unsatisfying if what you really want is healing.