Why (I) Bother?
I have always been a lousy sleeper and I lay awake at night a lot. This proves to be fertile space for all manner of thoughts to flit in and out of my brain, some good and useful, many not so much. I think about my kids and their future. I think about philosophy. I think about soccer. I think about people who are suffering. I think about the meaning of life. I think about the many people who I have been blessed to know and who are a part of my life. I think how we end up in the places we do, doing the things we do and about what the point of it all is.
I think often about how I have ended up in this crazy role of pastor. I’ve written about this many times before (here, for example), but “pastor” was never high on my list of estimable vocations. It was never something that I aspired to. Even in my last year of grad school, it wasn’t really on my radar as a likely vocational choice. I’ve been doing it for five years now so it certainly seems less strange than it once did. But I still periodically wonder, “How did I end up here?” Of all the different ways that we could decide to spend our days, why do some choose this?”
It’s not for the prospect of lucrative remuneration. It almost goes without saying that a theology degree is not exactly a license to print money.
It’s not for the prestige or the social status. There was undoubtedly a historical moment when the pastor or priest enjoyed considerable respect and prominence in the community and was looked to as an authoritative, well-respected voice, but 2013 postmodern Canada is clearly not that moment.
It’s not for the power. I am a Mennonite. You know, priesthood of all believers and all that. We tend to neutralize potential power grabs through an interminable succession of committee and congregational meetings and a labyrinthine maze of required approvals and checks and balances. Just kidding. Kind of. Also, I am suspicious of power and have precisely zero desire to wield it.
It’s not because I have a relentless zeal for proselytizing and bringing in the lost sheep. I have never been very good at “closing the deal.” I think the word “evangelism” is in desperate need of fairly thorough rehabilitation and that the church has a lot of explaining (and repenting) to do regarding how it has understood and practiced evangelism historically.
It’s not because I want to prop up the “institutional church.” I am well aware that many of our inherited institutional structures might prove to be unsustainable in the twenty-first century. And that this might not be a bad thing. I am not much good at managing an institution anyway.
It’s not even because I want to help people. I like people and enjoy being with them, for the most part. I truly want what is good for people, but I am well aware of my limitations. I know that there are counselors and therapists who can often offer far more concrete help to those in trouble than I ever could. I know that there are political and social agencies that are far better equipped to tackle issues of injustice than a church ever could.
I am not much of a manager of people.
I am also not much of a manager of God.
I can’t make God heal people or fix their lives. I can’t make God speak to people or answer their questions. I can’t make God palatable to postmodern sensibilities. I can’t make Jesus less enigmatic nor can I present the life he calls us to as less bracing and demanding. I can’t explain how/if prayer works or unlock the mysteries of providence. I can’t explain why so many people suffer. I have no special access to divine mysteries that are unavailable to others.
That’s a lot of “I can’t’s” and “It’s not because’s.”
So why bother?
The full answer would probably be very long and very complicated (and probably very boring), but I suppose at the end of the day it is because I am convinced, deep down in my bones, that there is a story about our lives and about our world that needs to be told. It is a story that easily gets crowded to the sidelines, pushed aside by other stories of progress and upward mobility and development and accumulation and pleasure and security and myriad other Towers of Babel that stretch optimistically to the heavens. It is a story that is easily misunderstood and abused, easily pressed into the service of false and destructive ends. It is a story that we have done and continue to do our best to forget or ignore or impugn. It is a story that simultaneously repels and attracts us. It is a story that calls us to die that we might live.
This story calls to us in the midst of every day life. It beckons us when we are playing with our kids or staring down a cancer diagnosis. It speaks our name when we stare enraptured into the starry night sky or when something (or someone) we love is taken from us. It haunts us when we are tempted toward revenge and ridicule. It enfolds us when we welcome new life into the world and preserves us when we work to nurture this life into the future. It holds us up when we pray into what seems like an unbridgeable chasm of darkness. It protects us when we can no longer believe, when we are desperate for another, easier story to be a part of.
When we truly love, this story agrees with us.
It is a story of salvation. It is a story of a God who came to suffer and die and live that his world and his people might truly experience life. It is a story of undeserved forgiveness, selfless love, and lasting hope. It is a story of newness and possibility, a story that tells us that no matter what things might look like, there is a purpose to this whole show. It is a story that beggars the imagination, a story that is impossible to believe and impossible to ignore. It is a story that is too ridiculous to be true. It is a story with news that is too good not to be true.
And it is a story that will always need to be told.
This is why I bother.
Image above courtesy of Ruth Bergen Braun.
But what if its a single story
What if, indeed.
I guess the Amature psychologist in me would probe this a little further and ask what is the driving motive behind this felt need to be another one of the thousands and thousands of story tellers, and more importantly,by what Authority does one presume to professionally speak for God. Calling? most professional Bible story tellers will insist that they are “called” but what does that specifically mean?. does it mean God himself literally supernaturally appointed them by some means beyond any questionable doubt?, I doubt that very seriously. What’s even more curious to know is how the professional Story teller arrived at his/her detailed version of the historical account out of the thousands of contradictory versions (denominations) all claiming some exclusive portion of Divine Truth/Knowledge.
I think it should be a mandatory stipulation that all professional Preachers have a Blog and post on it regularly so as to be.. well..”Tried by Fire” so to speak 🙂
I have always struggled mightily with the language of “calling.” I can’t point to any deep, burning “call” to pastoral ministry or some moment when it all became clear to me or anything like that. Whatever authority I have to tell this story has been granted to me by the communities I have been a part of who have pushed, prodded, encouraged, and supported me.
(I like your mandatory stipulation. I think. :).)
Ryan. Just stunning. I love all the reasons you aren’t in ministry. Power. Fame. Glory. And laughed when you said, “I’m a Mennonite” to make an exclamation point.
And I’m sure there are frustrations — you pour your heart and your soul out into people’s lives and they just don’t *get it*. Sunday after Sunday, glazed eyed, often critical. As congregants we are terribly humane and don’t take advice well.
And I’m sure you are hurt when people’s lives go off rails despite your best counsel. They sink deeper into sin, into debt, into adultrey, into slander as if they didnt even bother seeing the “bridge is out” sign.
I’m sure there are joys and successes and I hope they keep you awake at night too — joy in your darkness.
Bless you. And thank you for being there despite who we are.
Thank you kindly, David. I very much appreciate these encouraging words.
The only thing I would add to what you say above is to thank those who participate in the life and the mission of the church, despite the blunderings of those to whom they entrust positions of leadership. We’re not always so good at “getting it” either :).
Here from High Calling. Loved this. Sometimes I forget, after 30plus years, why my husband and I are in this. I needed this today.
Thank you, Elizabeth.
Just do and know this:
“Maybe Christians are simply to pursue living well and invite others to do so according to how God has ordered the universe.” – Bob Robertson
“A ripple-effect always works best at its center then away from it.” –
I share these quotes with you Ryan, because your answer to your own question is both deep and wide. The simplicity of God is too but not on its surface.
Thank you, John. I appreciate these words.