Saturday, July 01, 2006

Purpose Driven Country

Here's a column by my friend Kevin (the "other pastor Kevin") at Eastminster United Church in Toronto.

“I just don’t get you”, she told me. Her eyes were narrowed into a look of annoyance and confusion. And she was right. It is a look I am getting used to. At one time I could easily be understood, here was a man who wanted to be liked by everyone, all the time. But more recently I am being transformed into something else. Something other.

I’ve tried to explain this in sermons but the words elude me. There is a difference between inspiration and transformation. The former is great, it moves us to do and be more. But there is no change. We remain as we are, just more so. Transformation is a gateway to something new, a new way of looking at the world.

And I sense I am not alone in this hunger for transformation. While most others I know are not consumed by popularity, it is obvious our affluent country is focused on the drug of consumption. Why the obsession with SUV’s, flat-screen TV’s, spas, Home Depot renovations? Because someone told us that is what we are, what we must have. The Bible says, “for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” I think William Willimon got it right when he said our culture suffers from “affluenza”.

And yet the more we have the less satisfied we are. Upon climbing the mountain of our possessions we then become obsessed with protecting what we’ve got.

The transformation I feel occurring within me has everything to do with a search for a purpose driven life. And I am not alone, witness the astounding success of Rick Warren’s books by the same name. No, whether it is relationships, work, or recreation, I find myself looking for the end game, the purpose behind these experiences. What is it all about, why are we spending time doing this?

When I ask this question, why are we doing this, I usually get “because it is expected of us” or “because it will feel great” or “because I care about him/her” or “it will lead to something even better for me down the road.” Rarely do I hear the existential reply “because it advances the Kingdom (Reign) of God”. No wonder people don’t get me.

When I was growing up in Halifax the military was everywhere. In an economically depressed area they were a dependable source of employment for thousands of able-bodied women and men. But when governments of all stripes were forced to make priorities the military were an easy place to cut. And because we lived next to a superpower there hardly seemed the need to spend a lot of money on military hardware, the Americans would do that for us!

But something began to change. The “peacekeeping” work performed by Canadian women and men in uniform began to transform the military from a job-creation institution into a peace-making institution. I began to sit up and take notice. And then I read Romeo Dallaire’s book “Shake Hands with the Devil.” Not only were our Armed Forces keeping the peace now we were creating peace by chasing down the aggressors in documented cases of genocide and protecting the victims. The search for meaning had drawn me into a new and surprising place!

I began this column by disclosing that some don’t get me, that I was transformed from popularity junkie to purpose-driven existentialist. It has affected the way I carry out my ordered ministry. No longer will I assume the yoke of Christ to serve a social club or be addicted to warm fuzzies from an adoring congregation. The ministry itself has to be about something bigger than me or them or us, it has to lead to a new vision, one where we assume our rightful place as sisters and brothers of those we hardly know, like the people of Sudan.

All of this has led me to consider a vocation I never ever imagined. The military. After repeated requests by recruiters to consider becoming a Reserve Chaplain in the Canadian Forces I have signed on the dotted line. I will be a Padre.

Starting in September I will be pastor by day and reservist by night. I would even consider being deployed to a political hotspot like Afghanistan, Haiti or the Sudan if I could convince my congregation and family to let me go. In each case the Canadian Forces would be present by invitation, by the intention of enforcing a difficult peace, to protect the victims of genocide. And in each case more than enough purpose to satisfy my hunger for a meaningful life.

On this Canada Day as we reflect on what makes us unique as a nation I ask you to consider what larger purpose we serve. Who are we and why do we exist? And more personally, who are you and what purpose do you serve? As a follower of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves I look for signs of meaning in my relationship to the other, particularly the other as refugee, the mentally ill, those in poverty, the same people Jesus named as his neighbour.

And for this reason and this reason alone the Canadian Forces “get me”, in more ways than one.

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