Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Calling, Vocation, and Youth Ministry: Moving Beyond the Collar and the Stole

I remember a few years ago, as I prepared to begin the daunting quest towards ordination within the PCUSA, being asked to share about my sense of call. The session and presbytery wanted to hear, as they should, about how I felt convicted and led by God to pursue a life of ordained and pastoral ministry within the church. I admit, this was a fairly easy question for someone like me who is "called" into pastoral ministry, committed to theology and the church, and well versed in church speak. I have been asked this question more times than I can count. However, I wonder what would have happened if the tables would have turned and I would have asked any one of them about their "call story?" I wonder what they would have said if pressed to share how they discerned God's leading to be who they are where they are for the glory of God and the hope of the whole world?

The concept of one's calling has far too long been limited to individuals who pursue professional careers within a particular congregation or Christian institution. Furthermore, a person's vocation has also been reduced to one's means to receive a paycheck and pass time between the hours of nine and five. Yet, both calling and vocation are deeply integrated with one another; they are limited neither to the stole nor the pay stub. Instead, each of us has a calling that stems from God's good gift of a Christ-centered vocation. Frederick Buechner says it this way:

"Like 'duty,' 'law,' and 'religion,' the word 'vocation' has a dull ring to it, but in terms of what it means, it is really not dull at all. Vocare, 'to call,' of course, and our vocation is our calling. It is the work that we are called to in this world, the thing that we are summoned to spend our lives doing. We can speak of ourselves as choosing our vocations, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of our vocations choosing us, of a call's being given and lives our hearing it, or not hearing it...And in the end that is the vocation of all of us, the calling to be Christs. To be Christs in whatever way we are able to be. To be Christs with whatever gladness we have and in whatever place, among whatever brother we are called to. That is the vocation, the destiny to which we were all of us called even before the foundations of the world."

---"The Calling of Voices," Secrets in the Dark, pp. 37, 40

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

10 Living Hopes for Class of 2012...and the rest of us, too.

"[Christians] do not merely live under the promise, which could be said of all men [and women]. They live in and with and by the promise. They seize it. They apprehend it. They conform themselves to it. And therefore in their present life they live as those who belong to the future."

---Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, p. 120

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

---1 Peter 1:3ff, NRSV

As the youth ministry's spring calendar begins to draw to a close and yet another senior class is about to graduate and move on to exciting new chapters, I thought I would write up a few "living hopes" for the Class of 2012. These hopes are framed in light of both Barth's announcement above and 1 Peter 1:3-9. They are prayer-filled invitations not to leave their faith in high school, but to seize and conform all the more to it as God calls them to new places and fresh opportunities to be God's people in the world.

10 Living Hopes for Class of 2012:

Calling > Career: "Life is more than money...Life is more than hundred dollar bills" (Switchfoot, "Gone"). Yet, when I ask students about their dreams, many times responses revolve around a good job and the quest to make money per American dream. Is that all there is? At a conference a few years ago I heard someone say "your vocation is not what you do to get paid; it is how you live into the conviction that God is love." So, what's your vocation? How will God call you to live out this conviction? What kind of teacher, lawyer, preacher, or peacemaker will you be? How will you love God and neighbor as a doctor, engineer, graphic artist, or mechanic? What kind of new business venture can you start that benefits the poor and oppressed, maybe even lobbies for justice in an oppressive context domestically or globally? Look for God's calling, not just a career. [See video below]

Be Creative. Be Amazed. One of the most beautiful ways to understand God is as Creator. We, too, are called to be creators. Each of us has gifts, talents, and something to offer the world as we live into the new creation already here and yet-to-come. Look for opportunities to create beauty out of devastation, light out of darkness, and hope out of despair. Color outside the lines and live life outside the box. Take risks. Refuse to settle for the same old same old; allow God to lead you towards innovative and fresh expressions of the new life found as a disciple of Jesus. Even more, refuse to allow anything or anyone to rob you of your sense of wonder and awe in regards to the simplest and most audacious evidence of God's love at work in, around, and through you.

Remember God's special concern for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Mark 10:31). The Son of God underscored and incarnated an upside-down kingdom whereby those often excluded, offended, forgotten, abused, and oppressed are considered blessed, honored, and beloved children of God (Mt. 5). As a disciple of Jesus and pilgrims on The Way, be sure to extend welcome, live in solidarity, and work towards the liberation of the world's most vulnerable citizens. This may be unpopular, risky, and against the grain of a culture that says blessed are the rich and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but it is no less The Way of Jesus.

Remember the Sabbath: We live in a hurried culture that leaves little to no room for a rhythm of rest. The temptation is to be lured into this ridiculous pace and oppressive pattern, a race to nowhere, only to be left drained of all life and robbed of all sense of joy. You cannot do it all. You do not need to do it all. The world does not revolve around you, nor does it depend solely on you. Learn to say no to things. Take a regular day off to rest, to play, to pray, and to laugh. After all, Jesus did (Mk 1:35).

Birds Will Land On Your Head; They Don't Have to Build Nests [1]: I heard this on a mission trip to Mexico in high school. The gist was this: you cannot always control circumstances and experiences, but you can refuse them residency in your heart and life. When sufferings, trials, and tribulations come, and they will, know that God is with you in and through them all; God will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5). Still more, look for redemptive moments when God may use the most horrific of experiences to share the good news with another. This is the power of the resurrection!

Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus: We live in a world that demands so much from us and then the moment we mess up, show signs of slowing down, or fail to live up to exceedingly high expectations we are cast to the wind and replaced like yesterday's news. Yet the gospel is quite different. We are reminded that no hardship or employer, no persecution or final exam, no famine or resume, no harsh word or violent act, no roommate or season of doubt, no screw up or financial difficulty, nothing in all of creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:18-39).

Inward-Outward Journey: Spiritual formation is vital. It is easy to be caught up in tasks and schedules that we neglect the nourishment of prayer and meditation, especially as guided by regular reading of Scripture. Pursue opportunities to journey inward as a disciple, even alongside others. However, be reminded that we are only formed inwardly so to journey outwardly as we live into the dreams of God for us and the whole world. The moment we cease missional living, we have turned spiritual formation into the most oppressive of idols.

On Earth As In Heaven: Live a life that demonstrates to the world that you indeed belong, heart, mind, and body, to the one who created and called you. One of my favorite declarations in our faith tradition is, "The church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all of humanity." (PCUSA Book of Order, G- 3.0200). This is true of both the collective whole and the individual member of Christ's body. May all that you say and do be a reflection of The Way of Jesus and the kingdom of God already here and yet-to-come. Refrain from checking your faith and discipleship at the youth ministry, church, or Bible study door. Instead, live an "on earth as it is in heaven" life- 24/7/365.

Community Connection. You cannot do life alone. Wherever God sends you, latch onto a community of faith and collection of disciples called the church. Be sure this community is made up of people not only like you, but also and especially different from you. Cross generational, economic, and racial divides and encounter the work of the Spirit in multicultural expressions of the kingdom. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Get connected and serve alongside God's people near and far as a reminder that we journey and engage in the dreams of God together. If there isn't a faith community where you are- start one!

Imago Dei: Finally, the great declaration of our youth ministry is that from the very beginning God created humanity in the image of God (Genesis 1:27-28). There is no other identity, no cultural trend, no test score, resume, slander, offense, or purchased image that can trump or take away imago Dei. Still more, you are not the only imago Dei; all of humanity shares this common reflection of the divine. Expose it, I dare you to uncover it, in neighbors, friends, and enemies near and far, reminded that in Jesus we see the fullest portrait of the imago Dei (Colossians 1:15-20). May you follow this Jesus today, tomorrow, and everyday thereafter, as a beautiful reflection of God's love and grace. You have indeed been called co-laborers and covenant partners [2] with God in anticipation of the day when God will make all things and all people new and right again!

Grace and Peace Class of 2012...and all the gathered and scattered people of God!

Greg Klimovitz



Vocation 101: What Do You Mean by Vocation? from FTE on Vimeo.


[1] This quote is often attributed to Martin Luther.

[2] Another great Karl Barth-ism, when referencing God's work of reconciliation, is "covenant-partner" (e.g. Church Dogmatics IV, p. 89).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Evangelism, Advocacy, and Church Growth: Ulterior Motives to Neighborly Love?

I have often labeled myself as a "church mutt." My theology and Christian witness are the products of a plethora of relationships with various expressions of the Christian tradition. In other words, if my Christian heritage were noted on my Facebook status, "it's complicated" would be the selection. Lutheran (ELCA). United Methodist. Episcopalian. Evangelical Community Church. Independent Baptist. Presbyterian (PCUSA). These are just to name a few. Again, it's complicated.

My involvement within each of these denominational settings, both lay and pastoral positions, has assured me that, when it comes to sharing the gospel and the pursuit of evangelism, we are not on the same page. [1] Evangelical churches often believe the sole obligation of the church is to "win souls" and to seek and save "the lost." Mainline denominations tend to prefer social engagement under the guise of the Franciscan mantra, "share the gospel always, if necessary use words." So, is the church called to verbal declaration or social transformation?

The dichotamy is false.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Beatitudes Remixed

As I prepare to lead a study on Jesus' bold declaration, "blessed are the peacemakers," I thought I would (re)post my midrash of the Messianic hillside announcements, known as the beatitudes, which I originally wrote to and for youth:
Blessed are the religious doubters, seekers, and those who have more questions than answers, for God’s dreams for the world include you;

Blessed are those who grieve the loss of loved ones, whose parents have split-up, whose relationships are strained, for God’s love, peace, and presence extends to you;

Blessed are those whose voices go unheard, whose self-worth has crumbled, and those who no longer feel comfortable in their own skin, you are made in God’s beautiful image and welcomed members of God’s new world already here and yet-to-come;

Blessed are you who long for the world to be made right, who seek the end of poverty, homelessness, disease, hunger, and all forms of injustice, for you will find hope and freedom in the good news that God is putting the world to rights;

Blessed are you who offer second-chances and forgiveness, even to your worst of enemies, for in the same way has God offered you new beginnings and fresh starts;

Blessed are you who choose peace over violence, love over vengeance, and grace over retaliation, for you have indeed understood what it means to be called God’s people in the world;

Blessed are you who have been cut from sports teams, marginalized by systems, isolated from crowds, rejected by supposed friends, abused by those claiming to love you, misunderstood and gossiped about, even for your commitment to the way of Jesus, for you are not alone and will find joy in the resurrection parade of the Messiah and the movement of this gospel.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Happily Ever After? How to End Modest Musings on Mark

I was not sure how to approach a final post for my Lenten journey through the Gospel of Mark. There is so much that could be said about Jesus' cursing of a fig tree that buttresses (and interprets) his temple cleansing fiasco. I could play with Jesus' encounter with the scribes, both those who are "not far from the kingdom of God" (12:28-34) and those condemned for the unjust, hypocritical, and exploitative "religious" practices (12:38-41). I could underscore the contrasting faith and generosity of the widow, despite being trampled upon by the same scribal class (12:41-44). Still, this does not even scratch the surface. There is Mark's epic apocalyptic references, hints and guesses of a pending temple destruction, another fig-tree object lesson, the Syrophoenician woman, a woman's annonting of Jesus in Bethany, and the Passion narrative- from betrayal to cross, burial to empty tomb. Again, there are so many elements left to explore. How should a blogger end his modest musings on Mark?

What I know is that if I was the writer of Mark's gospel, I would not have ended my modest musings the way he did:

"So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (16:8).

In fact, I suggest that there may have been members of the early church that were also dissatisfied with Mark's ending. After all, what legacy would be left in regards to the disciples and early church when the final words of this gospel illustrates disciples, upon an encounter with an empty tomb, still in disbelief, fear, maybe even hard-hearted? It offers no resolution and no clean and orthodox theological exhortations.

So they added their own. [1]