I find myself wondering about the disciples who first followed John and then caught up with Jesus in this week’s Gospel. Of course, we have no way of actually knowing for sure, but I am wondering about the world that shaped them and the influences which prodded them, filling them with such a hunger for something ‘more’ that they find themselves on this quest today.
Was it the experience of being occupied by a foreign power and all the indignity and injustice that meant?
Was it the piety of their parents or their grandparents?
Was it having seen someone suffer from the inevitable ravages of aging or someone struck down young by accident or disease?
Was it a beggar outside the temple, the hungry in the streets, or one they loved being considered ‘unclean’ because of disease and so never able to come home?
Was it something in John (the Baptizer’s) words or way of living that first awakened them to something more?
Was it part of this, all of this, or just an inexplicable small voice which would not let them go?
For it has to be something, right? Something must have pulled them, must pull us, off the more ordinary tracks our lives seemed destined to be on, in order to go after first John and then Jesus.
So it is this month I am spending some time teaching about Faith and the Civil Rights Movement. (We are prepping for a trip to visit parts of the Civil Rights Trail in June.) The primary resource which is guiding our conversation is The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From the Civil Rights Movement to Today by Charles Marsh. In it the author explores the calls of Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Jordan, John Perkins and more. What a gift it is to go deep into what can be known of the backstories of these heroes. What a wonder it is to hear about the different ways in which their faith shaped their decisions and grounded their lives and hopes. And what a legacy for all of us who follow Jesus to realize that the faith we hold dear was not simply ‘used’ by these courageous leaders, but was central to all they said and did. Indeed, what might that mean to those of us who heed the same call today?
I also picked up a copy of another volume of such stories: Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice. Edited by Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle and Daniel P. Rhodes, this wonderful book offers monographs about well known activists such as Cesar Chavez, Howard Thurman and Dorothy Day, but also lesser known ones (at least to me) including Howard Kester, Frank Stringfellow and Richard Twiss. As I read each of their stories I am struck by how many stood behind or faithfully worked ahead of those who are better remembered by many. I also marvel at how powerfully shaped they were by events which were theirs to experience when they were young and by both those people who encouraged them as well as those who sought to stand in their way. Some came from powerful privilege, many did not. For all of them, it seems, the flame of their passion was fed by a deep awareness of their own wounds, wounds which guided and deepened their own deep sense of call. It helps, I think, to read the stories of others — not for mere intellectual understanding, of course, but to help us look at what has shaped our own calls, what feeds our own passions, what drives us to get up one more day and try again.
- And so I am wondering what it was for you?
- What unique blend of circumstance and/or experiences drives you to keep going after Jesus? What has you seeking for deeper understanding? Where and how do you find yourself digging in and experiencing more and more profound meaning?
- So far as you understand, from where did your own ‘call’ come?
For me, at least, it was a variety of things…
- I grew up in a family for whom Sunday worship was non-negotiable. And yes, I grew up in a time and a place where it was just ‘what you did.’ (In the 60’s and 70’s there were few other options, of course.)
- I grew up in a congregation which always, always encouraged me to share my gifts. Whether it was accompanying Sunday School song time on the piano shortly after I began to take lessons, teaching a preschool Sunday School Class when I was in high school, or singing in the choir, over and over again I was encouraged to participate fully in the life of the congregation.
- I also grew up in a congregation which was rife with conflict. I came away with a deep understanding of the wounds which can land on people’s hearts, the damage that can be done to people’s faith when such pain exists in a place where we least expect.
More than these expected things though…
- I grew up on the south side of the tracks in a town where the south side was considered ‘less than’ the north side. I endured the kind of teasing children inflict on one another as they sort out who fits in where. Oh, it was so much less than what many experience, but it did lend me a kind of sensitivity for those who find themselves on the ‘outside’ or on the margins.
- All of my life I expect I will remember standing on the steps of the funeral home when I was in the 8th grade. It was Christmas Eve. It was raining. We had just shared a family service for a beloved grandmother. Since she and our grandfather did not have a faith home and apparently did not want clergy present, all we had was my dad saying a few words. I can’t imagine how he did it. And yes, remembering the loneliness of that, if at all possible I have always agreed to officiate funerals whenever I am asked. If I can help it, I have never wanted another family to go through that alone.
- My understanding of grace grew and was deepened by my own experience of grief at a young cousin’s suicide. I just knew that God could not condemn a young man who had suffered so long. On many occasions since I have been called upon to comfort those who grieve such as this with God’s promise of unending love and I have not hesitated to do so.
- And somewhere along the way I was taught that if you just ‘show up’ it’s a lot. This willingness to do so (even when I was afraid and that has been often) has led me to
- participate in an AIDS support group in Joliet where (mostly) men who had contracted the disease in a variety of ways were powerful community to one another…
- sit in a hospital hallway with a mother whose second infant child had just died, unable to pick herself up off the floor…
- go to visit a woman at the county jail and later state prison and watch as she bears witness to the faith that sustains her…
- and yes, even now in the community where I live and serve, ‘just showing up’ helps me enter into conversations about race and justice in ways that I hope will matter.
And so again, I am wondering with each of you…
- What has compelled you to follow with Andrew and Peter and the rest?
- What has you going after Jesus?
- And what in your life has shaped the unique ways in which you find yourself doing just that? What particular joys and what powerful hurts have given your call its own unique texture?
- What has your ‘call’ looked like as it has been lived in the unique way you have lived it? And to what or to whom, I wonder, are you being ‘called’ to next?