I haven’t really talked about some cataclysmic changes that have been taking place in me in the last nine months or so. Not directly anyway. At the end of the year I made the very difficult decision to change vocations, from serving in publishing and teaching at my church to putting it all on the table and just asking to serve elsewhere where the need is greatest. Well, I started my new job today. I’m working in a mission business setting with other Christian volunteers in the roofing industry.
I’m actually back to doing what I was doing eight years ago before working in book publishing. I packed up my little library of Barth and Bonhoeffer books and brought them home, I stored whatever else I needed, and I just donated the rest to a future library. I’ve gone from sitting at a desk surrounded by books in an office wherein I stare at a computer screen most of the day, back to standing at a bench hovering over customized gutters, soldering seams and endcaps. And you know what? I feel so much lighter. On my own I tend to carry the weight of the world day and night, setting my own expectations and never living up to them. Working with my hands I must be careful and deliberate, I must notice others and my surroundings, I must believe in the inherent goodness of God in the moment. Every day is a miracle again and I can love God with all my strength in what I do. My new coworkers really don’t care about my theopolitical vision, my knowledge of obscure biblical textual variences, or whether Karl Barth was too close to his secretary. They’re genuinely happy with finishing simple tasks and new spins on old jokes over PB&J in the breakroom.
It’s kind of funny, I went in today for a routine physical and drug screening given to all new applicants. Upon surrendering my urine after numerous security hurdles, the nurse slowly revealed the results by peeling off the label. All seven tested negative, one by one. (I don’t even know what the seven drugs are!) She broke this warm sunny smile and gave me a thumbs up. I thought she was going to give me a hug. I wanted to laugh out loud. It’s the simple things in life that I take for granted. I’m sure this woman has seen everything. I think I’d have to be pretty stupid to want to work with sharp objects and hot irons while on drugs.
I’ve learned a lot from this recent decision. I’ve come to find again that the community where I live and serve is capable of loving and carrying me through big and small changes. That’s no small thing. Instead of being told what to do, I asked to be moved for my own emotional and spiritual well being. The change in me that allowed that decision was a long time in coming. My wife tells me she wanted me to do this a year ago. I don’t regret the past anymore than I doubt my decision. I’m grateful for all God has done in my life in whatever my task here in community. There’ve been some painful lessons, some serious failures, but also some wonderous grace and astounding miracles. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. This is what makes spiritual autobiography so difficult for me to write. I have to assume I know what God was doing where and when. I figure I always see only a little part of the picture.
I’m learning that success is not measured in dollars, or blog hits, or praise on the lips of friends. Neither is failure measured in loss, change, being ignored, or severe criticism. In the end I’m not the one who gets to make the call on my significance in God’s Kingdom. That’s a wonderfully liberating thought. So much of life is simply showing up and showing you care. Where there are no real answers I’m learning to affirm God’s goodness and ask for the mind of Christ.
I’ll certainly still be blogging here. Wendell Berry has been such a good teacher for me lately. He’s opened my eyes to my apparent weakness in not recognizing God’s good creation and the good work with my hands there is to do. I’ve so much to learn about good story telling, a good joke, a good lie, and just the playful wonder in life. Oh, one other thing, I read recently that Mr. Berry resigned from his position as professor at one point, doubting he had anything to offer the world of literature such as it was. And then like a decade later he came to believe that maybe the literary world needs doubters and accepted the post again. There’s a lot of courage there that inspires me now. Faith and doubt can both be used by God when I stay open. Berry’s approach to work and writing as conjoined vocations is nurturing me now. I pray for the courage to continue in both.