The Veranda Calling

Rev. Steve Schlissel - September 23, 2010

by Rev. Steve Schlissel

At a 9/11 Memorial Service near Ground Zero in Manhattan, I was challenged by the speaker. No, I wasn’t challenged to become a better person, a more responsible citizen, or even to win friends and influence people. I was simply challenged to remain in the room and feign attention.

The speaker was a police officer, and no doubt a fine fellow. He spoke as a representative of “Cops for Christ,” or some organization with a similar name. I remind you that I was experiencing ADD at the time. I can only tell you that when the speaker began to mangle a perfectly fine experience around a miserably distorted theology—a theology which appeared to be about half his own invention, with the other half something he caught, like a communicable disease, from the carrier, that Christian cultural subset we call Americanity.  As he began to relish the role of misplaced pulpiteer and bad theologian, I began to relish the idea of quietly stepping out of the room and onto the veranda.  I led myself along the path of my temptation and delivered myself from the evil. Writing poetry in the shadow of a Brooklyn Bridge, which appeared close enough to touch on that still September evening, beat by far my having to further endure the doctrinal beating going on inside.

Later on, I thought of how someone might confront me, asking me if I think I’m so great that I couldn’t learn anything from that no doubt fine fellow. I knew very well that this would have been an invalid criticism, for I not only affirm theoretically the truth of Maimonides’ maxim that we can learn something from everyone, but I rigorously practice it as a religious precept. I enjoy learning from all.

But if that’s so, how do I explain my absenting myself? It took me a few days to be able to articulate an answer, even though no one asked. (Being defensive is best practiced when no one is challenging you, I’ve found.) The problem that night was this: A representative of, say, an organization like “Cops for Christ,” ought to make it his business to tell people how faith in Christ makes for better cops. And failing that, I really don’t know why such an organization can claim a right to exist.

No doubt, the problem of which I speak can be traced to that component of the American Baptist Culture which regards “full-time Christian service” as the specific calling sanctioned by God as special or “worthy.” With preachers as the only members of the Christian community with real distinction (hovering above missionaries, Christian-school teachers, and Sunday School bus drivers, in that order), should you find yourself occupying some other space on the terrain, you will form an organization of Christians unfortunate enough to have missed “the call,” and who find themselves like you, on the outside looking in. Then, the only thing needed is to come up with a name—which is usually as easy as naming your profession and adding “for Jesus” or “for Christ.” Then you look for opportunities for real Christian service, which, of course, means preaching.

But that is as perverted as me being a Police Chaplain, for example, and using my time to teach those I’m ministering to about “Progress in Crime Detection Techniques Since Sherlock Holmes.” That isn’t what I’m there for!

Until American Christians recover the true Biblical teaching about calling, until they know for a certainty that the employment path down which God has led them is God’s providential direction for them to glorify God in that area, then I will probably find many more opportunities to visit the veranda. And what a pity that is.

Before there were unions, we seem to remember, there were guilds. And guilds were concerned not merely with wage and fee-setting, but also with insuring that the highest standards of the craft were maintained, the best techniques employed, by its members. And a result of a recovery of calling will necessarily be that organizations with names like “Cops for Christ,” will be obsessed with proving that Christians make the best cops on earth, and they’ll be able to tell you why. The same will hold true for firemen, accountants, sanitation men, plumbers, truck drivers, toilet cleaners and politicians. To form a Christian organization around these or any professions must always and only be an attempt to let the world know that God is being glorified in those professions by equipping, via His Holy Spirit, His consecrated servants in that area of life, to be the most spectacular examples in the field.

If that isn’t what they are about, then I fear I’d probably have to say (if I would be honest) that listening to them imitate preaching when they are called to be “x”—well, that means I probably would not be learning anything from them, at least until they get over their confusion about callings from God. Until the day they understand what God wants from them as cops, I’ll be on the veranda. How could I not respond when I hear it so clearly calling me?


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