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Swept to Big Purposes

Like many, I have been watching the 2010 Vancouver Olympics off and on for the last several days.  Much as I would like to pretend otherwise, I have found myself to be a bit of a sucker for a euphoric flag raising ceremony or a powerful biographical vignette or an emotive speech or any of the other carefully crafted media productions intended to produce some kind of transcendent sense of being Canadian.  It’s been unsettling to see how manipulable I am!  Medals won by people I do not know in events I have virtually no interest in outside of two weeks every four years suddenly have the capacity to make me feel like an important part of a grand and momentous red and white wave of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.

So after a day off spent watching a fair amount of Olympic coverage, my spirits and sense of national belonging rising and falling with Canada’s results, it was good to read these reminding words about identity, citizenship, vocation, and purpose from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People:

You call and we have a vocation.  You send and we have an identity.

You accompany us and we are swept to big purposes: chosen race, royal priesthood, your own people, receiving mercy.

But we, in our restlessness, do not want to be so peculiar.

We would rather be like the others, eager for their wealth, their wisdom, their power.

Eager to be like them, comfortable beautiful, young, free.

We yearn to be like the others, and you make us odd and peculiar and different.

Grant that we may find joy in our baptism, freedom in our obedience, delight in our vocation.

The same joy, freedom, and delight that so marked or Lord, whom we follow in oddness.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    I think things are different here in southern California, not from your feelings watching the Olympics, but from the people in Brueggemann’s prayer. Not only to we want to be “beautiful, young and free, rich, wise and powerful,” we also want to be “different.” I think this urge to be different is something that is partially satisfied by Christianity here. And Christianity (discipleship, or whatever) is consolation for perhaps not being as beautiful, rich, etc., or especially different, as we might desire. It is a way of nursing the wounds of such disappointments and of telling ourselves that we are, nevertheless, the superior people we want to be.

    Maybe I am wrong. Maybe those are exactly the feelings Brueggemann is praying about. Maybe he had us in mind. If so, then his next to last sentence makes me pause: “Grant that we may find joy in our baptism, freedom in our obedience, delight in our vocation.” It implies that we don’t find such joy. I hear pity in his prayer.

    And about the “oddness” of Christ. I think a lot of people here would not mind being Christ at all. What a superstar.

    February 16, 2010
    • I don’t doubt that your description is accurate in some cases, but it’s a bit cynical (even Nietzschean?) as a general statement. I don’t think people simply embrace Christ as a consolation mechanism for when they can’t obtain the things they really want in life. There are many who enjoy precisely the benefits described in the quote who are nonetheless drawn to the man of sorrows, the one from whom we are tempted to hide our faces.

      At the risk of oversimplifying, I would suggest that if people are drawn to Christ for something like a “superstar” factor they may have misunderstood some important things about him. At some point, one has to come to terms with the “oddness” of how God has chosen to work.

      February 16, 2010
      • Ken #

        Okay, I can work with “some” and Nietzschean, although I wish you would give a few more than some, and take away cynical:)

        What struck me as foreign in Brueggemann’s prayer is the idea that we do not yearn to be different from the others. Down here, at least, we do. And Christianity helps in that way.

        In addition, what sounded strange to me is praying that “we may find joy in our baptism, freedom in our obedience, delight in our vocation.” It sounds like finding joy is something of a struggle for Christians in Brueggemann’s experience. It sounds like Brueggemann is feeling pity, perhaps for himself and perhaps for Christians. My impression is that most Christians are pretty happy about being Christian, whether the reason is divine or Nietzschean.

        It is possible that our worlds are quite different, and this affects how we see Christians and Brueggemann. I happened to be reading part of a Brian McLaren book yesterday at a bookstore. I could tell that his world is quite different from mine. He is writing to an evangelical reader. He is not writing to me, and his world is unfamiliar. I was also reading Annie Dillard yesterday. Her world is like the one I know. She has much joy associated with Christianity, although the source is not the same as it is in Brueggemann’s prayer and her Christianity is quite different from that of McLaren. She seems to write for a different reader.

        February 16, 2010
      • I don’t think praying that we find joy in our baptism, etc necessarily implies that we are presently joyless, or without freedom and delight. These are things that we (or at least I) continually need to be reminded and renewed in, and in different ways at different times and places in my journey. I don’t hear pity in Brueggemann’s words; I simply hear a reminder.

        I don’t doubt that our “worlds” have their differences, but I don’t see the chasm as being too huge. I think McLaren’s world, Dillard’s world, your world, my world, whoever’s world—they all have shared features. We all have the same kinds of existential needs. We all ask questions about the same kinds of things. We may emphasize different aspects or see certain things in different ways, but we’re all part of the same human community.

        I have read a bit (probably enough) of McLaren, not enough of Dillard. She is on my ever-lengthening list of “people I must read.”

        February 17, 2010
  2. Ken Eastburn #

    Wow, Brueggemann’s words are so deep, so provocative. It is easy to brush past them, but how true they are. I think were each of us to pause and reflect on those words, we’d find just how true they are for us, even the most pious among us.

    We are utterly enamored with everything we are not, believing that if we could just seek the Kingdom and have the world, too, we would have the life we’ve always wanted, we would be free.

    But truly Scripture tells us the things that make us feel good, that seem so life-giving eventually suck the life right out of us. But they do it so slowly, so subtly that we hardly recognize it at all.

    Thanks for sharing!

    February 16, 2010
    • Thank you Ken. I don’t think God has anything against us feeling good—sometimes things feel good because they are right and healthy and true—but I do think that God reorients and sharpens how we think about the link between what feels good and what is life-giving.

      February 16, 2010
      • Shawn #

        Gee Ryan, this is all very heavy for me. I wanted to post about the merits of skin tight sledding suits and whether snowboarders are required to sound stoned.

        February 18, 2010
    • SOOOOOO true! 🙂

      February 18, 2010
  3. “We are utterly enamored with everything we are not, believing that if we could just seek the Kingdom and have the world, too, we would have the life we’ve always wanted, we would be free.”

    What we’re called to looks different than that. Humility is not popular, decreasing is a killer, embracing all things Matthew 5 won’t get your name on the cover of Christianity Today- but it will change a mind about what greatness is.
    It’s hard and we need help.
    We really have “…gone along from mountain to hill…” looking “…in our restlessness” for short cuts around the process- from grit to glory. But there aren’t any- the way up is down. The way to freedom is complete dependance. But “We would rather be like the others, eager for their wealth, their wisdom, their power.” And it’s exhausting! No rest.
    It’s also true “…that God reorients and sharpens how we think about the link between what feels good and what is life-giving.”

    Good is enemy of the best.

    Jeremiah 50:6
    “My people have become lost sheep;
    Their shepherds have led them astray
    They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
    They have gone along from mountain to hill
    And have forgotten their resting place.

    February 18, 2010

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