On Not Being History Makers

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There are lots of self-discovery books and courses out there in the wide world. Some of the Christian ones are worth a look. When younger, I found John Ortberg’s “The Me I Always wanted to be” helpful as well as Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Dream Giver,” Joyce Meyer’s “How to Succeed at Being Yourself: Finding the Confidence to Fulfil Your Destiny” and Rick Warren’s ubiquitous “The Purpose Driven Life”. But I would caution people against getting gung-ho about pursuing their identity and purpose in the Lord. For just as it worries me to see churches investing so much time and energy in mission statements and vision steering committees instead of studying Acts and investing in unity, discipleship, mission and prayer; so it worries me too that many spiritual writers seem to think that we need to ask God for a mountain to climb, a hard path to travel or a monster to slay. Besides which, I want to be the me God wants me to be. That might be something quite different than I imagine. And my “destiny” might be to just sit in this room and pray a couple of times a day. It’s not often stuff that would make Cecil B. De Mille drool, is it, this life?

No, the Christian path, it seems to me, is quite hard enough as it is. The Lord and his guidance are easier to find if you approach them with a humble heart, meekly and in the knowledge that if there’s a mountain to climb, he will show you the way to the foothills first. Likewise, if there’s a great task to be accomplished, it will begin most likely in frustration, with a need for faith and trust. Let’s not rush things and ask for great things to do, we shall only fall at the first hurdle and feel like idiots. God shall say gently, “See?” and pick us up from the dust. Only give him your heart and your will, and all shall become clear. These are small and difficult enough beginnings.

Besides which, our destinies may end up looking from the outside, far less dramatic than some modern texts would have us believe. Let us not forget that Jesus described our role in the world as that of yeast and salt; unseen and unnoticed influences for the most part. Yeast works slowly and steadily to change things, it does not announce its presence from mountaintops.   Christians are most noticeable, for the most part, by their absence. A wonderful exposition of this point is found in Dennis Lennon’s book “Weak enough for God to use.”

We are inclined to look over the head of the commonplace, searching for divine fireworks in the night sky. But the Creator loves his Creation and honours it by coming to us clothed in its familiar ordinariness.”

For some of us, the heroics of the day will be getting our elderly mother onto the commode, or biting our anger back when she accuses us of eating the dessert she had half an hour ago and now cannot remember eating. The legacy we leave the world might be the patience and kindness we show when our alcoholic brother has snuck out of the house with our credit card for the fourteenth time. The good example we lead by could be the silence we choose not to fill with raging expletives in front of the children when their new puppy has shredded the cushions again. These might seem like small things, but they are not. It is in these holdings and gentlings, this giving space and forgiveness, that we are being Christlike, rather than in any great visible achievement.

This is why real love is our greatest teacher. Not the romantic ideal of fairy tales, or the apparent perfection touted on the cover of Hello magazine, but the down-in-the-depths, dealing with chronic illness, trying to do our best by people who will never appreciate it, thinking of small kindnesses, saying prayers for which no-one will ever congratulate us, sitting with someone we have never seen before or will ever see again whilst they wait for an ambulance, listening to the same story ten times in one hour from a loved one with Alzheimer’s and smiling with them each time, kind of love. These are opportunities to be ambassadors for Christ, and when we miss them, we miss some of the greatest chances we will ever have to grow in love.

Each tiny act of kindness, of calming our own inner turmoil before replying, of counting to ten and smiling, these are the stones, or even pebbles* on which Christ builds his church. I do not find it helpful when we are made to feel failures because we have not become missionaries in Lesotho or surgeons working for Médicins Sans Frontières, or when we read something that makes us feel like we missed our vocation in life because we didn’t get ordained or write a thesis on transubstantiation. Whilst all those things are wonderful, most of us aren’t going to be doing that. And that’s okay, and we didn’t necessarily get it wrong or miss the way.

We have ample chances each day to live out the love of God, and some of them we’ll miss. Others we’ll hit out of the ball park and no-one but him will see. It is not about being seen. It’s about the loving. And in that loving, we become the Body of Christ, a very real ordinary flesh becoming sacred “transubstantiation” ourselves. We may never be mentioned in the history books, but our names are written in another book, and that one will turn out to be far more important.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

(this piece was adapted from a section in my 2015 book, “Positive Sisterhood”).

 

*When Jesus renames Simon as Peter, he uses the word petros, meaning a small rock or pebble, such as might be found along a road, but then goes on to use the word petra, meaning a mass or foundation of rock, in the same sentence, as the base on which he will build the Church. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18 NIV

 

On Not Leading from the Front

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Leading from vulnerability does not usually take place on vast stages, from perfect PowerPoint presentations or from starting with an MBA. Only TED, where what is said is understood to be more important than how it is said, might be a worldly exception to this. But in the body of Christ, leading from vulnerability looks like smallness and suffering and the sharing of bread and delight in the Lord. It does not set itself impossibly high standards which it then fails to live up to, bringing the whole edifice crashing down. It sits with you, laughs with you, cries with you, and tells you about the time it sat in a deep, dark hole, to which it occasionally has to return. Spotlights are entirely absent.

Everyone in “leadership” makes mistakes, lots of them. Here at Lakelight, in so far as we are any kind of leaders at all, we want to be able to lean on you too, and admit our failings and ask for help, to be more facilitators than podium hoggers. Hold us to that, will you, please?

I saw a trailer for a Christian conference on leadership this week and it made me feel physically sick. The words “influence” “management culture” and “productivity” were used and seemed to sum up where the focus of the teaching would be, and I did not see or hear the word “God,” or even “Jesus” once.

Now, I can understand people in church leadership wanting to be good at what they do, to manage their churches and congregations well, to serve them better. There’s some healthy motivation in there somewhere. But everything about that is upside down. Churches have become businesses that need strategies, financing and management. This is a systematic failure and not one of leaders’ hearts. But teaching like this only reinforces this idea of Church as a business model, with a need for growth and targets.

We need change, and we need it to come from the ground up. Like Francis, we need to rebuild the Church. Lots of people are saying this, I’m sure. The body of Christ is an organism, not a franchise. Its needs are therefore organic, and more to do with living water and breaking bread than they are with commercial enterprise. We are necessarily a bit chaotic and vibrant, full of a Spirit who is unpin-downable and who moves mysteriously. We are not a chrome cappuccino machine, we are a cracked and leaky teapot, of more sentimental value than monetary worth. This is automatically attractive to a broken world, which does not need more shine, but more connection.

We need to come back to our roots, to stand with bare feet on the ground, hugging the earth with our soles, digging in to the mud of the ordinary with our toes, so that humility is always our foothold and our imprint.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Photo from Pixabay