True Yes

This weekend I was at a United Methodist church in Northfield, MN, teaching on the theology of justice and helping bring the ONE Campaign to a CROP walk. It was a great experience at the church and I had some solid feedback and questions from the adults in the audience; including trying to tackle tricky issues in the church, and how to know what your call is related to compassion or justice, and what limits there are to wedding faith with politics.

The sermon I heard that morning was a great reflection on the story of the two sons in the vineyard – the one who said yes, he would go work and then did not, compared to the one who said no, he would not work, but then ended up working. The pastor phrased this in the context of letting our commitments be a “true yes” or a “true no” – meaning we have to do what we say, and find what we’re called to, and then follow through.

Between the comments in the class I taught, this sermon, and my recent work trip to DC (where we talked a lot about both expanding and limiting our work loads), I am thinking through what my true yes and true no looks like in this season of life. Of course this is related to my recurring growing edges around boundary and discernment issues – but even deeper than that, this reminds me that there are ways to say yes, but not really be present in the work or the call; there are ways for me to say no, but then still really carry the worry or burden or work all the same. A true yes, I think, comes from excitement and gifts and calling – not guilt or competition or expectations. True yeses (sp?) need to be connected to fulfillment and joy.

My bro Tim and I were comparing notes on this last week – how sometimes the message the church gave us was that you have to be ready to suffer, leave what you love, or do awful things in the name of the cause of Christ. We agreed that yes, sometimes discipleship involves carrying the cross, and suffering (especially with others who are broken or in pain), and doing things that we wouldn’t normally choose to do because we know it’s the right thing to do. But even in those examples, there is a calling and a deep fufillment that often results. There is also a lot of biblical evidence that points us toward doing what we love, what we are wired to do, what God has gifted us to do and given us desires and connections to. I think if we turned toward what we enjoy, and what brings us fulfillment, what we have fun doing and love and is beautiful and true – that is part of how God made us to carry out our callings. God is in all of us who try to find the way and discern how to live into our call – God is already in my academic and activist interests, in my brother’s electrical and musical abilities, in my friend’s call to serve HIV/AIDS patients. Why turn away from our gifts? Feeling free to go toward whatever our calling is, for the cause of Christ, is part of Paul’s call to freedom, part of the description of the diverse body of Christ who is gifted in various ways and each must be true to that. Hands should be hands, feet, feet; ministry and calling can be found around every corner and every time we respond to life with a true yes, not just in knee-jerk, formulaic or extreme scenarios.

Then, my theory is, this let’s us also figure out our true no’s! If we know what we love and are really good at, maybe the “no’s” become more natural and obvious where they interrupt the busyness and people pleasing. I will still be who I am, with my stregnths and weaknesses, no matter what the window dressing is. Maybe some of it is saying yes to our true natures, affirming what God has already done, and following that with an openness to learn and an availability to be used (this would be instead of the ‘suffer and plod ahead for Jesus’ model). And it’s a tricky area, because the desire to be comfortable and not suffer or do hard things for God is also real for many of us – it just seems to me that the joy and the fun of following needs more air time too.

The Westminster catechism states that, “the purpose of life is to know God and to enjoy Him forever..,” enjoy God – I love that. True dat.

PS – My friend Holly has a similar (and very beautiful) reflection to this called “quarter life crisis” at her site – another great voice for this conversation!

For All Workaholics…

In C.S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra, one of the angels says that humans are both “infinitely necessary and infinitely superfluous in God’s eyes,” reflecting the paradox of humanity’s need to be active and to rest.

On the one hand, we are called and created to be active alongside God, to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth and to work out the passions and frustrations we have. To respond, to love others and love God, to be moved by anothers’ suffering and by our own joys is to be human – its necessary. On the other hand, we alone cannot really do anything. We are part of a larger picture that is dependent not on us fixing or saving the world but on God’s work and activity. To think that we can never break from , or rest from that work, or that it is up to us to get it all right or help everyone or minister to everyone, is faulty. God is fully able to accomplish his work without us – although our work is necessary and part of our call.

This paradox is one I wrestle with and find great joy in – thanks Clive Staples!

Lamenting “Being Poor”

I just cried while reading this reflection, and I’m not sure of all the reasons why – but I think its wrapped up in what I can and can’t identify with, and the every day, deep human pain that I want to be wounded by and work against – but also sometimes want to ignore. That reality is difficult for me to live through some days; and it probably should be.

By John Scalzi
September 15, 2005

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.
Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.
Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.
Being poor is living next to the freeway.
Being poor is wondering whether your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.
Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.
Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.
Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have to make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.
Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.
Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.
Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad begging him for the child support.
Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.
Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the
bread, and you looking over to see whether your kid saw.
Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a difference.
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.
Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.
Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at
your clothes.
Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.
Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.
Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.
Being poor is $6 short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.
Being poor is picking the 10-cent ramen noodles instead of the 12-cent ramen noodles becuase that’s two extra packages for every dollar.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.
Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your children make the same mistakes you did and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.
Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.
Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.
Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an associate of arts degree.
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.
Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

John Scalzi is the author of “Old Man’s War.”
Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune