Between Two Worlds Day 8 (of 40)
“Please continue your daring bravery.”
Those were the words that reader, Renee, wrote in a brief and very supportive post on Friday in response to the “When Sunday School Faith Rules.” I knew exactly what she was referring to. The words that I have written and the sermons I have preached at my current church have been stepping out beyond the comfort zone of many people. At times I too have had to take a big breath as if I was jumping off a diving board unsure of whether my landing would be beautiful and graceful or a painful and embarrassing belly flop.
I knew I wanted to write in response to Renee’s words. I knew the intention of her words, but I also found myself thinking, “This is not bravery you are seeing” even as I was unsure exactly what it was. In fact, I am using this post to write myself into giving it a name. This is an opportunity for me. I do know that there is some history that belongs to my response to her comment.
The truth is I remember very clearly when I could tell that what I was doing was brave (maybe naive is the better word). In fact I think I even wanted to be seen as brave. Somewhere between college and seminary my writing and voice went from a growing confidence to pushing the envelope. At first I was just tickled as could be that professors were pleased with my work. The more affirmation I received the tougher the topic that I would pursue. In college it was a full year of honor’s research and writing on “The Protestant Response to the Holocaust”. By the time I had reached seminary I had a sort of cocky confidence that only grew stronger as I wrote papers on “The Death of God Theology” and again was given A’s for my work and originality.
In my early years of ministry I was able to preach theologically astute sermons that were far beyond what church members were ready for. I often had the theology right and the pastoral sensitivity wrong. But I flirted with not caring. “Didn’t they know that my professors had given me A’s for this stuff,” I subconsciously thought. In those days I was both brave and naive. In some ways I was using the church to build a professional career and reputation.
Which is why Renee’s comment really struck me. I don’t feel daringly brave anymore. Rather I feel a deep commitment to the truth. It is important to say this because in my early years I could rationalize that I had a commitment to the truth, but the real truth was that I had more a commitment to my ego. I wanted to be an outstanding pastor and an exemplary theologian. Today I do feel pastorally sensitive even though I know that some of what I write and say will sometimes hurt like hell, at least at first.
I do think my years in hospice and probation work tempered my ego. Both of those worlds required a purity of heart, a brutal honesty and a commitment to the well-being of each person with whom I was working. To the tell the truth to a dying patient without pastoral sensitivity is simply cruel. And to require a juvenile delinquent to face the reality of their lives without caring about them as a person is a recipe for failure. I am probably overstating my lack of pastoral sensitivity in the early years, but deep in my soul I do know that much of my work was motivated by ego. Now my motivation is feels more rooted in a radical trust in the truth.
What I do does not feel like bravery. It feels like service, compassion, and sacrifice. It feels like my gift to the community, to the church, to all of you.
Renee, thank you for your kind words. Believe me when I say, “The privilege is all mine. This is not bravery. This is calling.”
Wow…I wrote my way into clarity. Thank you for listening!
Question: What do you believe Life/God/the Universe is calling you to? What things can you not NOT do?