What is a young family to do with a desire to follow Jesus more radically? This series of email exchanges I had with Paul Munn over a year ago (starting in April of 2009) attempts to explore some of that. To get caught up with the series, read question #1 and response #1, question #2/response #2 (which are one post), question #3 and response #3, and question #4 and response #4.
Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 7:16:20 PM
Subject: RE: work, gift, prayer
We’re back, finally. It was a great trip, with it’s ups and downs as would one might expect. But a really good trip. I am always reminded when in a place like Lima of how our American wealth and extreme reliance on money is easily exposed and put to shame by ordinary folks just doing life. I’m tempted to re-consider many ordinary-for-them-but-radical-for-me alternatives (like showering with cold water and using about 1/8 of the amount of water we would normally use here), although I have also tended to think that these economic/cultural measures are mostly drastic and unrealistic–odd “choices” and uncreative for an American like me. It would be in my best interest, however–don’t you think?–to begin to employ their gracefully-but-odd-imaginations, even while I’m absorbed (willingly or not) in the mind and heart of our “beloved” Beast.
I started my new job this Monday. This may in fact be a job I would do whether I was paid or not (a good feeling, if that’s the case), however it still has within it the external criteria of the “bottom line,” “efficiency,” and “productivity” (the last two words are direct quotes and were used several times during my orientation to describe their philosophy of work). Nevertheless, I think I will truly enjoy working with the kids and families as their therapist. My loyalties, though, will always be mixed, not single-minded. The values of Jesus will, at times, be in conflict with the values I am assigned to deliver. Assuming my faith does not change as I write this (so that I quit taking a salary and sharing in their benefits), I hope to truly value and care for the families I am assisting, as best as I am able within the limits of my duality.
Surprise, surprise…I’ve got a few more questions about how one enters into this “gift economy” we’ve been discussing. Like you said, Jesus had 12 disciples who he took responsibility for and who were dependent on him. Do you recommend for us, as disciples, to follow a “master”, like the disciples did with Jesus? Should we depend on the faith and sustenance of someone else who is already living faithfully in this way? What kind of alternative options for food, shelter, medical care, travel, fun, etc. do you suggest for a family learning to live accordingly? Are you accepting any followers?
You wrote: “But in recent years I’ve shifted more to simply living the reality of it (and learning more and more through experience as we go) and letting that reality be the demonstration of the truth of it. When it’s real, when it’s right there in front of people, they can’t say it’s not possible.” Could you sketch out some of the details related to living that kind of faith (I recognize you have already done this in many of your short stories, essays, and journals. I’m not done reading those yet. So feel free to simply direct me over there, if you prefer)? I am curious as to how you have experienced God’s abundance (or gifts) in the midst of long-term need. Can it be something as formal as the missionaries who fundraise to live and work? I realize modern day missionaries are probably not the best model to use, but they are some of the only examples I can think of for Christians who mostly (if not wholly) rely on gifts to sustain themselves and their mission.
By the way, speaking of faith (a few paragraphs back!)…have you ever heard of the theory that the rich young ruler eventually came back, that he was in fact Barnabas (like Paul and Barnabas), “who sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37)? Wouldn’t it be great if the rich young ruler was able to follow Jesus afterall, even if it happened much later?
Thank you for taking time to respond to my questions, thoughts, and concerns. Your words have enriched me, Paul, truly. Sounds like a cliche, right? Even so, everyday I feel less burdened and distracted (though I’m not always sure what the next step is going to be), and it’s mostly because I’ve wrestled with the conversations we’ve been having. Thank you!
Last thing. My dad told me something quite unexpected but really encouraging this afternoon. He said that if I were to come to him and tell him that I had heard from God and, according to my desire to follow Jesus’ path, I had decided to sell everything and follow Him wherever it takes me, he would support that decision. He distinguished this support from full agreement, but it was support nonetheless. He is the first family member to encourage me to take the “next step,” whatever that may be. If you knew my dad, and how we have tended to interact, you would be so pleasantly surprised to overhear our talk this afternoon. Wow!