I struggle between American culture and my call to follow Jesus. The culture in which I live tells me that my value is based upon doing, upon fiscally-defined success, and upon accumulating and consuming possessions.
Unlike many self-described Christians, I see very little in the biblical text to support our capitalistic culture that elevates individualism to hero status. Rather, the broad strokes of the Christian canon emphasize communal living, sharing possessions, caring for the poor, working for justice, welcoming the stranger, and an ever-expanding circle of inclusion.
I fall short in all those ways of being. I give too little. I share less than I’m able. I want when my belly is full and a little bigger than it ought to be. I fail to tithe when creditors harass me. Still, God calls me to leave behind the security of my possessions and my financial security as Jesus’ disciples did in the gospel narrative.
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Mark 1: 16-20 NRSV (Read in context.)
Leaving behind the metaphorical fishing business requires me to be open to the Holy Spirit’s luring, to God’s claim on my life. And wouldn’t you know it, God can be irritating! God means this shit!
The trouble for me is that I was raised within our consumer culture. I was raised in a culture that says responsible people build future security in pensions and property. I was raised in a culture that says paying a bill is more important than giving a dollar to a beggar or – GASP – giving up some of my comforts so that others might have needs met.
Having given away all of our possessions except 23 boxes of books and “what fit in two cars” when we moved to Oregon last year, I’d hoped for some respite and security. “Hey! Look at us! We gave away all our possessions!” Except we didn’t.
We arrived in Portland one-year-ago with two cars, two computers, an iPad, a Kindle, two iPhones, and boxes of mementos and things we just couldn’t live without. We proceeded to buy bookshelves, a sofa/sleeper so we had a place to sleep, and a chair for good measure.
In fairness to our efforts, we sold a car and recently gave up our iPhones. Still, I wonder if Simon and his brother Andrew ran back into the house to collect their phones and laptops? Mark doesn’t tell us whether or not Simon said, “Jesus, can we stop by Ikea when we get to Jerusalem? I need to pick up a Poang armchair for my achey back.”
Having grown up in our culture, its voices are very strong. I feel sorry for myself that I gave up going to a couple conferences this year because of money and that I may have to miss my nephew’s upcoming wedding. I struggled with our move out of Portland to the Columbia River Gorge and what it means for my image of ministry. I feel sorry for myself that we have to juggle our lives with one car. I yearn to have a regular job though I believe I am on the path on which God calls me, unpaid lifestyle and all. I desire the accolades of professional peers and I catch myself defining my self-worth by doing when the Holy Spirit nudges me to be. I fail to trust.
I hear your call,
and I make excuses.
You call me to take seven steps,
and I take one-half.
Help me to trust you,
help me to quiet the voices that tell me your culture,
is less important than American culture.
Hold my hand,
as I take each step for being who you created me to be.
Smile and applaud,
when I take my half-step,
encouraging me to take a full step even though it’s hard for me.
Open my eyes and heart that I might put my wants,
the demands of our economy,
and my cultural rationalizations behind the needs of others,
behind your will.
In the name of Jesus,
the One who took your very breath inside,
and breathed your love on all whom he met.