Saturday, August 11, 2012

That's Where I Come From

This morning we watched a carefully planned introduction of a candidate for Vice-President of the United States of America. The stage was carefully set with a huge ship called "Wisconsin" behind the podium from which the Congressman from Wisconsin would be introduced. Oscar-like music sounded from large speakers, letting the crowds know that something significant was about to happen. A crowd with a little bit of diversity stood behind the main platform. Perfect looking children were on the edges.

The candidate for President spoke and then the candidate for Vice-President spoke. He painted pictures of America - the America he sees in his mind and the one he sees in his dreams. He talked about how this is a country where people can do anything they want with enough hard work.

But is it really possible to be self-made?

I'm on a team of folks that includes one person who has worked and is working tirelessly to put their life back together after making some significant mistakes early in life. The person works at our church often, coming in on Sunday mornings even when he has been working the entire night at another place. He's cobbling together the schedules of three different positions in order to stay afloat.

If someone works 80 hours a week, will they eventually make it to the top?

What exactly is the top?

Is it possible to be self-made?

I just got back from a week in Missouri. I spent the first 21 years of my life in Missouri, and this recent trip enabled me to see countless people who have played a role in making me, me. I traveled across the state from Kansas City to Saint Louis and then up to the Iowa line in an effort to see many people who have played a role in making me who I am.

While being enrolled in vocational agriculture classes in high school was one of the least popular decisions I could have made in terms of climbing the social ladder, vocational agriculture classes and my involvement in the National FFA Organization shaped and formed me in significant ways. My dad will tell you to this day that the reason I am a competent preacher is because I entered every speaking contest offered in the FFA and not because of what I learned in seminary. The one high school teacher I sought out while in Missouri recently is my high school agriculture teacher. He and the organization he advised have played a key role in making me who I am today.

I also had an opportunity to see several friends from college. Though I was more involved in other organizations on campus than I was my sorority in the three years I spent at William Woods, I realize today that my best friends from college are women I met in the Delta Gamma house. These women taught me the power of community. They saw me at my best and at my worst. They know and seemingly appreciate the Donna "before the call" and the Donna "after the call." They make me laugh when they tell stories about our past, and they respect where I am today. Being present when my Delta Gamma pledge daughter got married two weeks ago was an incredible gift. These women have played a role in making me who I am today.

The church also has something to say about who makes us. As people of faith, we are reminded often of the power of community. We find these words in the book of Ecclesiastes, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Paul writes to the people of Corinth, "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many." And the Israelites are constantly asked to remember what God has done for them. They did not bring themselves out of bondage in Egypt. God led them into freedom, and they cannot forget what God has done.

None of us got to the place where we are on our own. None of us can get one step further on our own. We are part of a greater story - a story that started long before we were ever brought forth into this world. This story is a story of hope, redemption, good news and second chances. But our stories also contain people who where willing to journey with us and stay alongside of us as well as institutions and organizations that we have been privileged to be a part of. My heart overflows with gratitude for teachers at each step of my life, for family members, for college friends, for seminary professors and classmates, for a husband who is always reminding me who I really am, for clergy mentors who have taught me how to be a more faithful pastor, for a church family that seeks to live into faithful community with me and for countless other people.

Going through life alone is never recommended.

Looking back and being led to believe that you are where you are today because of what you have done is nothing short of sad.

We are meant to be in community, and we are who we are today because of the communities of which we have been a part.

Remember...and be thankful.

1 comment:

Jerry Roberson said...

I recall a minister friend of mine saying years ago that, "...there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian." This points to the belief that a person of Christian faith cannot and should not attempt to live removed from a "community" of other believers. We are each merely one part of a magnificent whole.

I see earthly successes very much in the same light. Earthly success cannot be achieved on one's own. Yes, we have our own bootstraps which can be hoisted into place by our individual determination and sweat. But I'll bet that determination and sweat was established due to the love, care, concern, and training by someone else within the family and/or community.