This weekend, among other things, I will turn the ripe old age of 26. More and more it seems that I have become extremely reflective on my life. I look back at where I came from and my childhood and high school years seem like a distant memory. So much has happened, so many things have changed, especially myself. High school me and me now could not be more ideologically opposed, and I have college and good friends to thank for that. But despite the different person that I know I have become and matured into I still wonder how people see me. I wonder what affect my life has had on others. I wonder what the future holds.
I suppose that’s normal though, especially as another birthday rolls around. Now, I don’t believe I’m reaching the end of my days but I know that over a quarter of my life is over. The chapters have been written. The doors have been closed. And so as I sit and reflect upon my life experiences, the knowledge I have gained, and the knowledge I know I don’t have I am confronted with the opportunity I never thought I would want or need.
As I’ve talked about before I grew up in a conservative Lutheran denomination and was broken by the system I had come to love. Because of those experiences I find myself outside of it and I wonder if I should try to find my way back to it or choose a different path altogether. It’s the walking away that’s the hardest part. Not only because of the love I had for the place of my youth but because of something I had always felt was my mission, to fix what was wrong within it. To hold out long enough to fight the good fight and win. Now, what that fight was changed over time and even now as I look back on it is a little too abstract to define but I knew I had a place. I was one who could challenge the established system so that it could become unencumbered by those things which hold it back from being a place where people find the family they never knew they had.
What makes it harder are the pressures I felt I had from the congregation I grew up in. They always saw me as a leader, even when I was but a teenager and they encouraged me on that path. On one occasion when I was still a teenager, a man whom I greatly respect, took off a lapel pin that the leadership of the congregation wore and handed it to me and told me that I was an example of what that pin meant. 2T47. That was the pin, a reference to 2 Timothy 4:7. Fighting the good fight of faith and finishing the race. When times got tough I would pull that pin out and remind myself of what I had to live up to, sometimes were easier than others.
For a while I couldn’t even look at that thing because of how much of a failure I felt I was. I didn’t fight the good fight. I didn’t finish the race. I quit. I gave up. I lost hope. I know its naive to think that I was going to be the savior to fix what was broken but that didn’t stop me from thinking it. Since I was a kid I’ve had a hero complex. I’ve had this need to be the one who rides in and saves the day. I can thank Ghostbusters among a host of other movies for that. Even now, as I am confronted with the choice to jump ship for good and go elsewhere I wonder who I’d be leaving behind. I wonder how that’s being the hero I always thought I needed to be.
Recently though, I have had the opportunity to experience a different Lutheranism than I grew up with. One that, at least in my experience, cares more about people than it does about doctrine. In experiencing and learning about this denomination I spent some time looking back at the denomination of my youth and realize that it once had this attitude. Only, in the early 1970s they made a choice. They chose purity of doctrine over love for their neighbor. I know people will say thats an oversimplification of what happened but the more I watch, the more I read, the more I see that battle for what it was I know that if doctrine wasn’t of prime importance then and now I probably never would have left and neither would the 40+ faculty and 2/3 of the student body that walked out back then.
But the fact is they did, and so did I. So what now? Do I try to restore it to its former glory? Do I go to that new place I think could be a home? What do I do now? Well, now is when I have to pull that pin out and live up to it, only this time, I have to recognize that the fight isn’t what I thought it was. It isn’t about changing a system, it’s about being part of a community. It isn’t about defending a principle, it’s about helping a neighbor. It isn’t about taking a stand against an issue, it’s about taking a stand for people. Not in some abstract way though. It’s about recognizing the people in my life that I can have an affect on and doing what I can for them. It’s about my friend whose in the hospital battling cancer. It’s about another friend who feels kicked around by those whom he tried to serve. Its about each and every person who crosses paths with me.
Fighting the good fight will always be a difficult proposition because most times in a fight you have to choose a side. But the fight can’t be about choosing one side over another, it has to be about all those who have flesh and blood. Not against people, but for them. Standing alongside all of those who have been kicked around and all those who have done the kicking. It’s not about upholding one ideology over another, but cutting in both directions. I may not ever save the world. I may not ever be the anointed one to change the system. I may not know where Im going, but I do know that whoever I’m on the journey with are worth fighting for. Christian and NonChristian. Gay and Straight. Conservative and Liberal. Right and Wrong. Rich and Poor. Powerful and Oppressed. Fighting the good fight so that people know how much they matter, how much they are loved, and how much they belong, no matter who they happen to be.
(Sorry I couldn’t resist…)