Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Troubled Waters

This past Sunday I returned from the Fund for Theological Education's (FTE), Leaders in Ministry conference hosted by Dillard University of New Orleans. For four days over a hundred undergrads, seminarians, and current leaders in ministry talked, laughed, and sang their faith. Readers, I was astounded by the energy, talents, and love I saw in these people. The FTE fellows, staff, and the pastors, social workers, and activists working in New Orleans are so inspiring, I was frequently lifted out of my seat by the elation I felt at being around them. If these are the future leaders of the church, I have a renewed sense of hope that the church will be a positive force in the world.

I can only describe my experience in New Orleans as life-shattering. When a shy undergraduate with a voice so small you had to lean in to hear him stood up, and, on fire with the Holy Spirit, spoke thundering words of wisdom to a crowd of over one hundred, I realized that fear is never an excuse. When the tiny Reverend Dejean belted in her beautiful voice that "God is real," I felt His hand sweep across the room, touching the hearts of every person there. When I talked with the other fellows, and heard their plans for ministry, their dedication and commitment to serving others, I realized that I wasn't alone. When I listened to the panel discussions on serving the community I was reawakened to a sense of urgency to provide relief from disasters and help for those who need it most.

Most of these experiences sound like things that should affirm my life goals, not shatter them, and, in a way they do. Since I felt a call to ministry two years ago I have never doubted that this was my place in the world. Yet, I've always had doubts. Doubts in my ability to effectively help others, doubts as to where in the world I'm called to go, doubts as to what I should do with my gifts. I doubt that my body is capable of handling missionary work in remote regions; I doubt that my mind is strong enough to overcome burnout, disillusionment, despair with the state of the world.

I was comforted to discover that many people who feel called to ministry experience these doubts. However, the conference put none of these questions to rest. As Reverend Dejean quipped, "another level, another demon." As I reached a new level in commitment to a life of service, the path to that life became even more muddled and riddled with insecurities.

Many critics of faith in God describe religion as a human fabrication created in order to somehow validate our own lives as human beings. God is seen by many atheists as a false father-figure, making all of our decisions and pacifying our fears with moral platitudes. Life with a god, they reason, is an easier life. They couldn't be further from the truth. God does not pacify, God ignites. God unsettles. Believing in God and his authority in this world does not make our role any easier, it makes it infinitely harder. We immediately become accountable for our actions, held to the highest standard possible: that of being like Jesus, the only perfect human being. We are, in a phrase, called to do the impossible.

Lately I've been feeling a lot like Moses. For the past week, New Orleans was holy ground. Even though I was faced with a burning bush, a miraculous space of religious experience, like Moses, I found myself asking God "Who am I, God, to do this work?" What if no one believes me?" Surrounded by so many talented preachers, so many young people with the gift of speech, I find myself echoing Moses' lament: "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4: 10). Faced with the challenges, the burning questions, and the back-breaking responsibility of a life of ministry I, more than once, have asked God: "O Lord, please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13).

Inability will never excuse us from what we must do in this life. When God calls, we answer. In the face of our overwhelming fear, our sheer inadequacy, God steps in, gives us a shove of encouragement in the small of our backs, and hands us the tools we need to get the job done. He answers us as he answered Moses: "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say" (Exodus 4:11-12).

No comments:

Post a Comment