I was driving to class today, thinking (as I am inclined to do while driving with the radio off... God, sometimes I think too much...) about life and where I am now on my journey, who is with me in this journey, who has been left behind, who I have helped, who I have hurt, whether my life really matters or not.
You know, whether for selfish reasons or for true virtue, I want to live the life Jesus talks about... "life and life to the full," but I find myself in a rut. I was thinking about this whole Thailand thing and wondering if it is nothing more than a desperate plea for my life to matter... to count. Perhaps.
I was also thinking about how I got to this place that I am at these days: cynical, yet hopeful, attempting to die to self while still holding on to so much, re-exploring who I can be while still being who I am.
Some of you may know that several years ago I toured with a band, Timber. One summer we decided to join a mission trip group to Romania where we would be the band for the trip. We did these concerts (which somehow drew people who had never heard of us) and then afterwards, our team leader did a 'altar call' kind of thing where he invited people to come forward who wanted to know this American Jesus and get some free t-shirts. Who would not come?
That week has never set well with me (or Holly... or any of us from the band), and I think about it from time to time. I think it was a starting place for this journey that I am on in rediscovering Jesus.
You see, this was the first time that I identified a Christianity that seemed so different from Jesus' way, you know?
I began reading some books, having some conversations. (I could never thank Tim, our violin player, enough for always challenging Conventional Wisdom... I needed that.) Some books led to more books, more questions. I remember even sending my grandmother a book I had read... don't know what she thought of it. I also sent my dad a book that changed me called Your God Is Too Safe. Not sure that he ever read it. You see, these books cost you something. They cost your interaction with the ideas, but often, they cause you to change the course of your life or face the consequences of the old addage, "with much knowledge, there is much grief."
Ignorance is bliss until you know better. Then you can't shake it.
Next came this Christian camp we were a part of... several camps actually. Good times, good people, but the same old-same old. Is Christ's life and death really just about going to heaven after you die by believing a couple of propositional truths? I couldn't shake the idea that it was bigger.
The next step: My band gets invited to play a national touring student conference for Evangelicals. Wow for us then. But it was not all that. It led me into a deeper time of questioning and doubt as I heard people say things like, "Sure Ryan, you are right, but people aren't ready to hear that... even if it is true." or "The Church is a big boat... you have to move very slowly in changing things."
I was also parts of other churches, working on staff or helping out. I'd hear things like, "Hey Ryan, I appreciate that book you let me read about inclusivism... it really makes sense, but tonight I am preaching on exclusivism because of my gut feeling."
When Timber dissolved, I was left indentity-less, except that I could still be a 'worship leader' and I was still a husband to Holly (that has been a saving grace the whole time). I was enlisted to be a part of a church plant in Oceanside which is slowly winding down, for better or worse. My identity is gone again with regards to having a formal place within "the Church" or "the Ministry", you know?
This morning's drive included alot of that history in my memory. And I found myself kind of depressed. Men, I'm told, derive much of their significance by their work identity. I am a producer and a design manager, but this is not enough for me. Back to the first thought I was having, "I want life to the full."
And I am so afraid that our possibility for being in Thailand all summer will fail. I want change in my life (in our life, Holly's and mine). I want to be a person on the inside track of changing the world for the better, for making a difference, for carrying out Jesus' commands to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and so on. So this morning I begged that God would encourage me somehow.
Well, I was walking out of my Spanish class and received a phone call. This man from Wisconsin was visiting San Diego and picked up a copy of the SD Reader and read my article. He was so moved, he had to call me to encourage me. "I don't normally do these kinds of things, but as I read the article, I was moved to call you," he said. "I want to tell you that what are doing is more in line with following Christ than what many churches I know are doing." Wow. Wow.
After a 10-minute conversation, we hung up... and I began to weap. I had begged for God's encouragement and he sent it to me in the form of a 50- or 60-year old retired Lutheran minister. Thank you God. Thank you.
That's it for now. End of story. Gotta get to my religion class.