Posted by: Dan | November 24, 2006

Personal Calling and the Calling of the Church

On several occasions I have been challenged by readers of this blog about my assertion that the Church, as a whole, is called to journey alongside of those who are in exile today. More than once, readers have asserted that I am making the mistake of confusing my personal calling with the more variegated universal calling of the Church. As I have turned this thought around in my mind I have come to a few conclusions.

(1) It is true that, in my desire to emphasize that the whole Church is called to journey alongside of those who are poor and oppressed, I have often downplayed, or totally neglected, any suggestion that this could be a part of my personal calling. I have since realized that this is not the case. There are ways in which I have been personally called to this journey (significant in this regard is an especially vivid dream that I had when I was quite young). Furthermore, I recognize that I have been granted certain “chance” life experiences — experiences that others have not had — that have trained me for this particular vocation. Thus, I can only end up affirming those who argue that I am (in some ways) speaking of a personal calling, and a calling that has not been extended to all Christians everywhere.

(2) However, even as I affirm that, I remain adamant that the calling of the entire Church is to journey alongside of those who are in exile, and those who suffer — the Church must be an agent of transformation, healing, reconciliation, and salvation. Therefore, I still maintain that there is a Christian priority: the Church must prioritize those who are especially vulnerable, wounded, and isolated. Furthermore, I continue to maintain that the place of the Church's rootedness must be with those who are on the margins of society. All of this, I think, follows faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus, and faithfully reflects the priorities of God, as they are provided for us in the Scriptures. However, I want to now further fill out this statement by explicitly stating that the Church must also be missionally present in other areas of society as well. There must be those within the Church who are called out to live missionally amongst those who are quite comfortable, and privileged. After all, many of those who are wealthy are also suffering and are only further isolated by their wealth — I think especially of the children of wealthy people. I think of a friend of mine who underwent some life-shattering trauma and never told his/her parents about that event because s/he felt that the parents had done so much to give him/her a “perfect life” that s/he couldn't ever reveal that s/he was “fucked up.” Thus, s/he ended up carrying the wounds of that trauma alone for several years. Having spent some years working with Christian youth at a summer camp, I have learned that there are many, many others in the same situation.

(3) This means that I envision a bit of a reversal in how Christians have traditionally engaged in missions. Traditionally, Christians have been rooted in comfortable neighbours and have extended missional branches into marginal places. Furthermore, it has traditionally been assumed that places of privilege are the default place for Christians to be, and one must receive a special calling to go to the margins. By reversing this I am arguing that the Church should be rooted in the margins, only extend missional branches to more comfortable neighbourhoods. Furthermore, I tend to believe that the default place to be is on the margins, and one must receive a special calling to go to places of comfort (alhtough one should receive a calling for any vocation). Thus, just as with any calling, a great deal of communal discernment must go into determining who is called to live where. Of course, I should be clear that even those who are called to live in more comfortable neighbourhoods are called to live as a subversive presence, embodying an entirely different set of privileges and values. To say that some are called to live among the comfortable, does not mean that we are called to live there comfortably.

(4) In this regard, we must be careful about confusing life experiences with calling. I can imagine those who have always lived in a place of privilege arguing that this has uniquely trained them to minister among the privileged — just as I can imagine those who have always lived on the margins thinking that this has uniquely trained them for ministry on the margins. However, this is not always the case. Let me provide an example of what I mean. I happen to be friends with an older gentleman who spent a good deal of his life in prison, addicted to drugs and active in crime (a notorious bank robber, he was, at one point, Canada's most wanted!). However, this gentleman had his life transformed by Jesus some years ago and, although he continues to work with addicts and street-involved youth, he can never live in a neighbourhood that is riddled with drugs. This is so because he knows that the temptation would be too great and that his addiction would, over time, overpower him once again. Thus, although involved with the margins, he is rooted in a comfortable neighbourhood. I think he is a great example of the sort of person who is called to live amongst those who are more privileged (although he's not living in a mansion in a gated community… and I continue to maintain that no Christian is called to such an ostentatious lifestyle as that; heck, he lives, with his wife, in a townhouse). Similarly, I think that there are other (more socially acceptable) addictions that come from being raised in wealthy environments, so I suspect that such people are more often called out of such neighbourhoods. Remember: it is the rich young ruler that Jesus calls to surrender all and follow him, and it is the demoniac who lived among the tombs that Jesus heals and sends back to the village from whence he came.

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