From what I can tell, based upon the standards often used to measure one’s ‘calling’, I am not, and never have been, called by God to journey alongside of poor people.
- Based upon my family background — growing up in a quiet suburb with debt-free parents who were wealthy enough to send all four of their kids to a private Christian primary school; living an extremely sheltered childhood, basically cut-off from peers and non-Christian influences (like TV, or movies, or video games, or participation in things like Halloween), etc. — you would think I was being prepared to be called into some sort of sheltered, comfortable Christian life.
- Based upon my personal disposition — being an extraordinarily frightened child (something as simple as being left in a Sunday School class would cause me to cry uncontrollably); I am still fairly shy and introverted, not to mention socially awkward in a good many situations — you would think I was being prepared to be called into a profession that didn’t require much engagement with others, and certainly not any engagement in high stress or violent situations.
- Based upon my personal interests and talents — I’ve always loved reading and learning, nature and animals (I wanted to be a vet for years) — you would think God was going to call me into professional Academic work or perhaps work away from the city and out in the wild, where I love to be.
- Based upon the lack of any ‘call experience’ — the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was having a call experience was a dream I had when I was thirteen that led me to believe God was calling me to be a missionary to ‘Africa’ — you would think that moving into something so terrifying (to me) and so different than all that had come before would be out of the question.
So, based upon my family background, my personal disposition, my interests and talents, and the lack of any sort of ‘call experience’ I can only conclude that I am not, and never have been, called to journey alongside of poor people… but I want to challenge the way in which we approach this topic.
It seems to me that the notion of ‘calling’ is generally used to justify the pursuit of that which is advantageous to ourselves.
Thus, we see our background in places of privilege as rooted in God’s choice to put us in those places, which means (of course!) that we are called to remain in such places. Or, we take our personal disposition as a sign of the way God wants us to go, and therefore remain within our comfort zones. Or we take our personal passions and talents as ‘gifts’ God has given us to develop and so we pursue what we want to pursue. In this way, all of these things are interpreted as the ways in which God ‘calls’ us — although markedly absent is any sort of call experience similar to that experienced by Paul or Isaiah or Abraham or whomever else. Indeed, the absence of such an experience is taken as further proof that we are living ‘withing God’s will’! Unless God appears to me in a dream or vision and says, ‘Go live and work amongst the poor!’, I’ll rest assured that I can take my place amongst the wealthy and privileged.
I trust I am not alone in noting that this ideology is conveniently and profoundly self-serving.
So, here I am, coming up on ten years of moving out of my background, challenging my disposition, and relinquishing my prior interests and talents, in order to attempt to journey alongside of the poor. Why? Because, to me, this is what it means to be a Christian. Even more, I think that this is what it means to be truly human. Our identity, as disciples of Jesus and as bearers of the divine image, is caught up in, and defined by, mutually liberating solidarity with the marginalised. This journey has nothing to do with a sense of personal vocation, and everything to do with a sense of our communal identity as children, heirs, and ikons of God.
This is why ‘call narratives’ don’t take place all that often in the Bible. A few individuals — notably those within the prophetic tradition — experience radical theophanic call events, but most people do not. This is because the biblical narrative is already pretty clear on who we are to be and what we are called to do. As Christians we don’t need to be ‘called’ to journey alongside of poor people, our Scriptures already make it plain that this type of life is essential to our identity.
If we miss this ‘call’ then the chances are that a theophanic dream or vision wouldn’t do much to change our minds. Hence, I am reminded of Jesus’ parable regarding the rich man and Lazarus. After the rich man dies and heads to torment, while Lazarus is welcomed into Abraham’s bosom, the rich man pleads that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers. This is Abraham’s response: ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ The same, I think, applies to us and whether or not we believe we are called to journey alongside of poor people. If we do not listen to Moses and the Prophets (including Jesus), then I suspect that we would find ways to get around any other ‘call’ experience.