God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.
In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.
Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.
Faith and I frequently explain that buying our home in Northeast DC was an act of submission to God. This is strange. To one as ascetically-minded as me, it seems counter-intuitive that acquiring a substantial material asset could be a step forward in spiritual growth. But for us, our house represents a profound commitment to the work that Christ has called us to in our city. It is our pledge that we are here for the long haul, and that we will not leave this city unless and until Christ directs us to do so. It is my submission to particularity, to being bonded to a specific place and accepting that living things are also dying things.
As a result of this commitment, I am doing things I never thought I would do. I am juggling multiple paid jobs, in addition to serving as an organizer for a new Quaker church. I do not bother with the title, but I am essentially doing the job of a pastor – a role that, back when I was in seminary, I was sure I had no interest in. I am learning that just because something makes me uncomfortable does not mean that God is not calling me to it.
These last years have involved a lot of pruning! Yet, at the same time, I am feeling strangely inspired by my younger, less-pruned self. I recently came across a set of photos that I took back during my first weeks at Earlham School of Religion. I took pictures of the rented room where I would spend my first semester studying in the MDiv program. Regarding these photographs takes me way back. I had almost forgotten how materially austere my life had been back then. And I was so bold and passionate! Sure, there were all sorts of rough edges that needed to be sanded down – but such intensity!
As God continues to soften me, I do not want to lose that fire and intensity. I do not want to lose that commitment to truth and holiness. I want to stay true to that inner 23-year-old who hews to radical simplicity, ready to sacrifice anything for the mission that Christ has for him. And I want to infuse this radical, brave heart with a gentle love and humility, an innocence that embraces strength as a way to protect and heal those around me.
I am not sure what this will look like, but I suspect that it will be a lot less grandiose than I have often imagined. We all read stories about heroes, and so I suppose it is natural to imagine oneself in the hero’s role. But I am not called to be a hero in the epic sense. Instead, I am called to the work of a gardener, teacher, street sweeper, community organizer and friend. Here in the city where God has planted us, I am seeking to live into what it means to be a good neighbor, faithful husband, diligent worker and steadfast minister of the gospel.
Faith and I are very blessed by your continuing prayers, support and words of encouragement. Please continue to lift us up before the Lord, and ask that the Holy Spirit would strengthen, deepen and multiply our community here in Washington. Let us be a blessing to our city, a light that pushes back the darkness.
In Christ’s love,