When I was a boy my dad would call to me around supper time. He’d either see that I was playing football in the field, go out the back door and holler so the entire neighborhood could here me or call up to my friend’s house and my friends mom would say it’s time for me to go home. In that call he did two things, he called out to me and called me toward dinner.
Likewise the gospel calls out to people and calls them toward something. Asking what we call to is a double entendre and here, talking about the gospel, it fits perfectly; just as it does with my dad calling me home for supper.
What the gospel calls out to is life’s realities. The gospel has much to say to our sadness and joy, fear and peace, etc. It can speak to external concerns like relationships, finances and life choices. It also speaks to less individualistic, more social concerns, such as the economy, politics and creation care. But it’s not just what things are at hand and how to handle them. The call of the gospel goes deeper than that to the way we walk through life.
The gospel calls out to our human condition, to our concerns about our own ability, about who we are, about how we belong and over our concerns over living life rightly. Ultimately the gospel calls out to our concerns over what constitutes a meaningful life.
Part of the call is that challenge of understanding how the gospel speaks to these concerns. But, and perhaps more important, part of the call is how we address that challenge, for it shapes what we call people toward. Focusing on the wrong thing runs the risk of distorting the call of the gospel.
If our ultimate concern is a meaningful life, then gospel ultimately calls people toward a meaningful life. Jesus would call it eternal life and the scriptures offers pictures of what does or ought to make life meaningful. However, calling people toward it must be as multifaceted as the concerns that speak to it. The concerns over one’s sense of ability, sense of who they are and how they belong are significant aspects of a meaningful life and we can easily shift the focus when addressing them.
Instead of focusing on helping someone assess and affirm the sheer fact that they are able, we can focus more on what is done. Instead of helping someone develop and assess who they are, we can focus more on who they might become. Instead of helping others navigate how to be in relationship to numerous different peoples of all stripes, we can focus more on who they should/shouldn’t be in associate with.
The meaningfulness of these tasks is not necessarily about their outcome or expression, so they shouldn’t be judged by them. Judging the outcomes calls people to become trapped in someone else’s world and values and, when they come up against that world and values, it calls them to back down from realizing what arises out of them and to trying to realize that they think should arise out of them.
Shifting the focus risks calling people to doubt the sense of ability that arises in them, to hide their identity from others or themselves, or to be suspicious of others.
Shifting the focus calls them to shame.
There is an aspect of a meaningful life where judging outcomes is important. Our sense of life lived rightly is when that judgment ought to come into play. Yet, even still we can shift the focus. Instead of engaging in the process by helping people grow into and own values that we believe results in living rightly, we can impose values and demand compliance to them. Again, shifting the focus is a call to be trapped in imposed values, living someone else’s life.
Certainly judgments can be made and should be made, but there is a difference between calling to someone through mistake and dialogue and treating values as a static structure that must be followed that risks people fearing failure.
Yet, again a shift is a call to shame.
I’ve essentially set up a false dichotomy here. The reality is more like a spectrum of two trajectories but the point behind it all is this: Calling people toward a meaningful life is really about their journey. This is the hardest part of the call and it’s evident in the all the ways we’re tempted to shift the call.
Shifting the call is always about us; it’s always about us seeking affirmation that our life is meaningful. By getting someone to live the way we find meaningful, it affirms our life’s meaning. Yet, that abuses the call and turns it on ourselves.
If I could venture a guess, I’d be willing to bet that the abuse of the call is somehow rooted in our own sense of shame. In getting others to do as we do, we cover over our own shame and finding those senses of ability, identity, belonging and doing that are otherwise lost on us.
Regardless, the call toward a meaningful life is about helping individuals grow into that meaningful life, that follows the steps of Jesus and calls them to hear his good news: That they are God’s workmanship, capable and able. That they are God’s beloved child, accepted as they are. That they are a child among children in God’s creation, they belong to God, each other and creation. That they are God’s creatures and their work is to worship by loving God and others.