"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
"The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will decare me guilty?" - Isaiah 50:5-8a
During Holy Week, my thoughts turn often to what courage is.
Usually, I think of courage as heroic in a broad, even loud sense. When I think of courageous people, I think of people who made broad stands for justice. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi. People who heard the call of God, whose ears were opened by the Lord God and who were not rebellious, who did not turn backward, but faced the music and said "Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me." Or, in more contemporary language:
BRING IT ON!!!!
I think these things are all true. But it's a dangerous line of thinking. Because I often start believing that the only way to follow Christ is to do something loud and broad that the world will see as GREAT.
It's seductive. It's seductive in the same way that the devil's voice was seductive when he asked Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Think of the good you can do! Think of all the people you can feed! Think of all the lives you can change!
For me, it's easy to get tempted by what passes for greatness in the church (what a stupid place to look for fame, BTW!) Rector of a large parish. Bishop. Think of all the good you can do! Think of all the lives you can change!
It's not that those positions are bad. It's not that it isn't good to do good, feed people and change lives for the better. But to do so in quest for greatness is not only wrong, it's really, really dumb. It's trying to be great in the eyes of the world while clothed in the garments of Christ. It's enough of an irony to keep your head spinning for decades!
It's all about trying to figure out where God is calling you. Sometimes we are at that crucial moment in time where God calls us to something high profile. We are that Indian lawyer in South Africa who finds himself compelled to stand up and lead others to standing up against the government and soon finds himself leading a revolution in his native land. We are that woman who makes a simple stand that she had every reason to believe would just get her slapped around and not start a HUGE movement and yet when her not going to the back of the bus did start a huge movement did not shy away but quietly, gracefully, stood by her stand.
And if we are those people, then we need to draw upon all our own strength and, more important, draw upon all of God's strength. But most of us will not be those people, we will be the people without whom those people would be unknown because the work never would have been done. We are the ones whose calling was to be the anonymous faces in the march to the sea to make salt. We are the ones whose calling was to stand up when others were saying "nigger" and say "don't EVER say that word around me."
The truth is that we all have heard the Gospel and, if we are listening, we hear it anew each day in many different ways. God has opened our ears. Let us not be rebellious. Wherever we are right now, let us be faithful and make the courageous stands that will never make the history books but that, when all put together, will change hearts and change the world.
And if we never are great in the world's eyes. If we never have that one big stand that we can point to with pride, maybe that's even for the best. If all we do is live our lives in quiet faithfulness but unflinching faithfulness, what a fantastic thing is that. Maybe we aren't the face of the body of Christ. Maybe we're the small intestine or the right ventricle or the aorta or any other part that nobody notices but without which the body would be useless.
One of the things I love about ECM ... one of the MANY things I love about ECM ... is that I get to have a bird's eye view of this community and often see the many, many ways that members of the community quietly give of themselves for the glory of God. Even those who are in "official positions" don't trumpet it. Especially during this sabbatical as I peer in from time to time and see and hear about everything that is being done, I am so moved by the faithfulness, by the lack of complaining, by the joy.
If you're reading this as one of those people, thank you. It's not easy to be a Christian in today's America, on today's college campus. And you do it with grace and power.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."