Crazy, holy, hungry ones

Recently I was introduced to a singer-songwriter, Carrie Newcomer. In her song, “Where You Been”, she has a phrase that just grabbed me: “all us crazy, holy, hungry ones who still believe in something better.” As I’ve listened to that song several times, I have found this verse wanting to make a home in me. It’s a phrase that I think Jesus would have loved, because I think he lived the truth of it profoundly. Indeed, I think that songwriter felt the same way (listen to the whole song, and you’ll see what I mean). And as I’ve lived with this phrase for a while, I want it more and more to be the tag line for the Christian movement. Think about what it might mean:

crazy = a word used to describe people who don’t see or experience reality the way most people do. Jesus didn’t see reality the way everyone else did. He kept talking about a kind of alternative reality, the kingdom of God, that lay just beneath the common cultural reality and yet was more real than any cultural reality could ever be. To follow Jesus is to try to see the world as Jesus saw it, and, as the song says, on the basis of that vision believe in something better.

holy = a word that we too often define as some kind of purity or perfection. Recently, however, I was reminded that it can mean something quite different. In the biblical book of Leviticus, chapter 19, the people of Israel are called to be holy: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” The passage then goes on to suggest what being holy might mean, and rather than speaking of purity or perfection, the passage speaks of fairness, justice and loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s the kind of holiness that heals both individuals and communities. When we embrace the holiness of justice and love of our fellow human beings (which Jesus, in the gospels, links with love of God), then we truly are working with God to bring the holiness of wholeness into the world.

hungry = a word that we use to indicate our own emptiness and our desire to be filled. It’s not a word that applies only to our stomachs. It also applies to our deepest yearnings and longings, the ones that we find at the depths of our own beings. Some have described it as the God-sized hole within us, the one that only God can fill. The world is full of people who are hungering for the holiness of wholeness, for love and justice, for an experience of the God who is both transcendent and immanent. Every day, people try to satisfy that hunger with addictions or obsessions of various kinds: food, buying stuff, drugs, etc. Yet, they are never filled because what they are consuming is incapable of answering that deep hunger.

The Christian community is, I believe, called to be a community of these crazy, holy, hungry ones who still believe in something better — that is, who still believe that there is more to the world than there seems to be, a deeper reality and a more profound truth rooted in God. It is just these crazy, holy, hungry ones that Jesus gathered around himself. He showed them that their belief in something better was not unfounded. He liberated them from all that burdened them, he freed them from stifling cultural realities, he loved them into greater holiness and wholeness and he fed their deepest longings.

I’m thinking of putting a new sign in front of my church: “Everyone’s invited – including you crazy, holy, hungry ones who dare to still believe in something better.”

A Deeper Unity

In my last post, I talked about an upcoming CREDO conference that I have just completed.  I talked about that term “credo” as coming from Latin and, while we commonly translate it as “believe”, it really means “to give one’s heart”.  And so my conference this week was a bit of an examination of exactly what it is I am giving my heart to and where God might be leading me to give my heart in new or fresh ways.

One of the gifts of my time at CREDO this week was my small group.  And, I do mean small:  there were three of us.  We each came from a different region of the country and we came with somewhat different perspectives.  I am relatively confident that if we had engaged each other on what I might call this surface level we might have found ourselves at odds in a way that might have kept us from a profound experience of relationship.  But that is not the level at which we chose to engage one another.  Rather, we recognized in each other a deeper unity that connected us:  the common experience of ordained ministry, our family connections and concerns, and a shared commitment to the Gospel of Christ.  I think it likely that we might not speak of that Gospel in exactly the same way, but we chose to focus on the unity of our commitment rather than the diversity of how that commitment might be expressed in our lives and ministries.   And focusing on that unity allowed us ultimately to appreciate our diversity in a non-judgmental way.

In this deeper unity of our small group, I found both sadness and hope.  Sadness, in that the ability of our small group to engage one another around this deeper unity reminded me that much of the conversation in what I would call the larger church and society tends to flow from a different place:  an engagement with others on a surface level that leads us to engage our differences and proceed from there.  The result is a great deal of violent talk and, frankly, bad behavior.  But the greater gift of our small group was hope, as we became a living example of the fact that people who may seem rather different on the surface can indeed find a deeper unity if we are willing to engage one another around what we hold in common.

This small group experience reminded me of Jesus’ promise that “when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Christ was truly present in the midst of we three, creating connections of care, concern and support.  My prayer is that this deeper unity we found in our small group might be a unity all of us become committed to seeking in larger contexts both religious and secular.   For I know that it can happen:  the Spirit is willing and our flesh need not shrink from the task.

Embracing Vocation

Next week, I am attending a CREDO conference.  Designed for the clergy of The Episcopal Church (and now they have one for lay professionals working in the church as well, I believe), it is meant to be an opportunity to reflect with others on issues of health, vocation and spirituality.   In preparing for that conference, I was struck by how often we speak of “vocation” in the church – and how we almost always apply that word to clergy and perhaps sometimes to lay people who are working for the church.  Seldom, however, have I encountered this term used much outside the world of the church.

One of the definitions of vocation is “an inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work; a calling.”   The definition goes on to say that this word is used especially in a religious context, but that is out of a habit of use rather than out of any necessity.  If you look at this definition of vocation, it is clear that it doesn’t require one to do religious work; what it does require is a sense of being called to some kind of work, a type of work that one feels drawn to “as if in response to a summons”.

So here is the question:  does the work that we are doing have this quality of calling to it?  Are we doing the work that we are doing “as if in response to a summons” from deep within us?  If so, then our work and our vocation have intersected, and it is likely that we are bringing to our work our best selves, our best energy.  It is likely that most of our work is characterized by a sense of joy and meaning and fulfillment.

If not, however, then it is likely that we experience our work as anything but joyful, meaningful and fulfilling.  It is likely that it has more the quality of drudgery than anything else, and we are  likely to find ourselves looking forward to that moment when we can lay our work aside and move on to something that really fulfills us – assuming we have energy left to do so.

It seems to me that perhaps finding this intersection between vocation and work is not so common.   A lot of people – too many people – find themselves in a job that gets the bills paid but little else.  In this time of unemployment and underemployment, it is perhaps especially the case that people find themselves in a job that has little meaning but keeps food on the table, if they have a job at all.  When people are in survival mode, it is hard to imagine oneself finding a path that leads to fulfillment.

Yet, I have always tended to believe that each life has a God-given purpose, which is what our vocation really is, I think.  Some are fortunate enough to find that purpose early in life, others find it much later.  Sadly, many people never find that purpose.  Sometimes vocation comes with a paycheck, and sometimes it does not.  But if we are to find a more lasting, deeper happiness, I think we have to keep searching for that purpose, seeking that vocation which is uniquely ours.

I am fortunate to have this opportunity next week to reflect on my vocation and fortunate that the church supports such reflection on the part of us religious professionals.   It has gotten me to thinking, however, about how we as church can support everyone in their vocational search.  For what more important mission could there be than helping people to find their God-given purpose in life?  Imagine how the world could be transformed if we could all find our life’s vocation.