Faces on Faith: But God had other ideas
Forty years ago this year I first stepped into the classrooms at Bangor Theological Seminary. I remember well some of those first classes. I studied Hebrew, with the brilliant Hungarian Stephen Sikszai, who was perpetually covered by a haze of cigarette smoke as he puffed his way through every class. And Greek was a treat. It was taught by a former Broadway dancer turned New Testament Professor, Burt Throckmorton. And we all had to take two courses in Systematic Theology with the stern Leslie Ziegler, known by all as “the Z.” Her strict approach struck terror in the hearts of many a budding preacher! But I loved it all. Those years in Seminary were some of the most important and most enjoyable in my life.
But, my path to seminary didn’t run along a straight line from high school to college and then on to ministerial studies. You see, after dropping out of college, I had taken up a career in the hospitality industry.
I was living in Baltimore and working for the Marriott Corporation. I ran one of their restaurants. Our annual receipts back in 1976 were well in excess of a million dollars, and I was in charge of the whole operation. In fact I was the youngest person ever promoted to my position in our division. I was making excellent wages with a fine benefits package. I had three assistant mangers who reported to me, and over 100 employees. And I was in line for another promotion. Life was good.
But God had other ideas.
I was the son of a pastor and brought up in a parsonage. I had always thought of myself as a Christian. I attended church regularly, was part of a Bible study, said grace at meals and read books on theology and prayer. And like my mother, I was especially enamored with the writings of C. S. Lewis. I thought I was doing what I needed to do.
But God had other ideas.
Increasingly my reading and prayer had caused me to have great concern about the world. We were at the height of the Cold War back then. The nuclear threat was very real, and very great. Hunger and poor living conditions had not been beaten back by the war on poverty in the sixties. Watergate had demolished our trust in government. It looked like we were going to hell in a hand basket.
And here I was serving up lunch and dinner at a 160 seat restaurant in Maryland. How, I wondered, was that going to make a difference? How was that going to help change the world?
Gradually, God transformed my concern about the future into a desire to attend seminary. There were no flashing lights or angel visitations, it was just a growing inner sense, a divine nudge, if you will.
To answer the call, though, meant to giving up the real security I had found in my work. And not just financially. I loved my job. There was great satisfaction in feeding thousands of people every week; great satisfaction in providing a fun atmosphere for celebrating life events like birthdays and anniversaries. To go to seminary meant resigning my job, packing up all our belongings into a U-Haul and moving 500 miles north to Bangor, Maine. In January. In a snowstorm. We left behind friends and home and jobs, all to answer God’s call.
The following years were filled with real economic struggle. Lots of macaroni and cheese crossed our dinner plates; clothes became threadbare. It was, though, in the end, clearly the right thing to do. And as things unfolded it also became clear God was calling me into ordained ministry, to serve as a pastor in local churches. Whether or not I’ve impacted the course of history over the last 40 years is up for grabs, but I am so grateful God gave me the courage to leave behind the life I knew and loved.
So here’s a thought. What if God has other ideas for you? I don’t mean and move to Bangor, Maine. I don’t even mean you have to leave your job, or change your profession. You may already be retired for goodness sake! But maybe there are ways that you can serve God and help bring about a change in our world that you’ve not even imagined. Maybe there is a child you can help instead of playing yet another round of golf, or hand of bridge. Maybe there’s a hungry person you can help feed rather than watching one more TV show, or doing another crossword. Not that there is anything wrong with golf, or bridge, or television, or books Not that there is anything wrong with any of our avocations.
But maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to leave the comfortable routine of your life so that you might take up the call to reach out to others. Maybe your concern about store clerks and housekeepers who can’t speak English, is God calling you to volunteer as a tutor, one who teaches English as second language. Maybe your frustration with those who dismiss climate change as a hoax, is God prodding you to become an docent with a group like the Audubon Society, or SCCF. Perhaps the worries you have about women’s rights is God urging you to become involved with the League of Women Voters, or Planned Parenthood. Do you keep thinking, young people need to be more respect for the police, maybe that’s God telling you to work with the Police Athletic League in Fort Myers. And who knows, the growing fear you have about ISIS, or about the treatment of Muslims may be God’s voice, nudging you to visit a local mosque and learn more about Islam. Or the fact that you’re troubled about the general state of international relations? Maybe God’s pushing you to be a short term missionary or a Peace Corps volunteer.
God can, and does, call us in all sorts of ways. Yes, more often than not, it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Yes, it means risking something new, or different. But, it also means you may in the end, change the course of history, or at least your own life.