I wanted to be a missionary for a handful of years, did I ever tell you that? I spent a good amount of formative time in a culture which offered few acceptable options for young girls. I could choose between being a teacher in a Christian school, a pastor’s wife or a missionary[‘s wife]. Getting married was a given and it was tolerable to be the wife of a layman so long as we were faithful to our local gathering. There was an uspoken heirarchy of life choices and the most obvious were at the top. Even our language belied our bias – there were those who “served,” who were “called,” who were “ordained” or “commissioned” or “in the ministry.”
There was little room for an ordination in the ordinary.
So I wanted to do the great things, the big things, the things that counted. Lip service dutifully paid to “being a light” in the secular world, but the real treasure was under the umbrella of the Church (capital C).
But when I hear these terms now I have to regain my bearrings. Because I am learning to see God in everything. I am learning to see my purpose in the mundane. I am seeing Light that is Life all over – not just where it’s supposed to be – and it has rearranged my orientation.
So when I hear “ministering” I think of angels feeding Jesus in the desert – hands to mouth, tangible help – and I picture making someone food or holding their hand at a doctor’s visit or dropping off flowers to cheer them up. When I hear “calling” I think of the way Jesus calls us all into Life – tediously breathes us into new people – and I picture kindness overtaking my critical heart, grace beoming a natural reaction, patience butting it’s way into my desire for Right Now. When I hear “serving” I don’t think of clergy, I think of a multitude of us Kingdom People rowing this boat together. I think of the millions of saints who came before and the millions who will follow pouring into this cup. I think of Jesus as King and us his loyal subjects, giving more and more of ourselves as we learn more and more of his love.
And when I hear “mission” I think of how to reach past the burdens and biases to communicate the glorious news that seems too good to be true. I guess I still want to be a missionary. I want other people to see what I am coming to see. I want other people set free by the Gospel which is setting me free. I want people everywhere to know it and I’ve lived here long enough to know that most people don’t. That often the people least experiencing God’s love are the ones who talk about it most.
And only God knows, but I suspect my desire to move to Africa had much less to do with a calling and much more to do with the way I wanted to be perceieved – by others and myself. Because living a life of obedience in the small things doesn’t look like much on paper. Congregations don’t want to hear your exploits in being nice to someone who doesn’t like you or that you give money without strings, off the books or the way you speak about other people or how your comfort zone is widening. And I wonder if our aversion to those stories is really an aversion to those normal acts of subversive grace. Because it is easier for me to distance myself from Kingdom responsibility when I set apart the “real” actors from the rest of us. And I wanted to be a real player. I wanted to be included in the Christian Economy. I wanted to be important and needed and just… a part of things. Yeah, sure, wherever I am, be a light for Jesus, but I really want to be involved in this thing, on the inside. I am sure the attention from others had to be part of it, but I also think I genuinely, deeply wanted to do something meaningful.
I am learning that we are swimming in Holy. Always. Drowning in it. We are breathing in sacred so regularly, so involuntarily, that we have a hard time pointing it out. And if we are indeed a Holy Priesthood than there is no “us” and “them,” we are all responsible, but not just that, we are all included. We are all valuable and needed and appreciated and called. We are all on the inside. God, it would seem, doesn’t play favorites and neither should we. God pulls the outcasts inside and then has them teach and lead. We can all lead meaningful lives regardless of our proximity to the Church.
I don’t doubt for a second that God is using the Church (with a capital C) to bring Light into darkness – and I am sure that people are genuinely called to those things – I know people who are answering calls to foreign lands and clergy roles. But I no longer think they are the only parts of the Body that matter – nor do I think the official Church is any more significant than the unofficial church. God uses all manner of communication – from the best humans to the worst. Through broken, tired institutions and vibrant, buzzing ones. Out of the mouths of preachers and drug addicts. With 5-point sermons and 5-second conversations with the checkout clerk.
So I no longer have any desire to live in Africa, but my desire to be a part of this? Stronger than ever. I no longer care what is sanctioned by the Church and what isn’t because the Gospel is everywhere and I don’t want to miss it. I am grateful for the good that has been done by the people with titles, but I don’t want to put them on pedestals that are unreachable for me. Because the truth is that in my context, I can live just as bravely as Corrie Ten Boom and just as generously as Mother Theresa. I can be just as contemplative as Augustine and speak life just as well as Bruxy Cavey. The truth is that God isn’t establishing an institution, he is bringing back his intended economy – fully loved and fully free – and we are all players here. He breaks chains to break bread and I don’t think he cares who did the sautering and who does the cutting.