“It’s a lifestyle.” I hear this from many including my own siblings for whom “it” refers to life itself. So if it’s a lifestyle, then life is not just a trip down south, or an adventure to a particular place. It’s not simply a rendezvous with friends or with family on a particular occasion. It’s a lifestyle refers to a way of being, a way of living, to a vocation, if you will.
In other contexts you would not dare suggest such a thing. I don’t hear lawyers, neurosurgeons, or even politicians refer to their life’s work as a lifestyle. These are particular applications of specific skill sets for particular task-oriented professions. You could say that parenting comes close to being a lifestyle. Continuous restless travel could be a lifestyle though I suspect very tiring and expensive. Military service could be considered in such a manner, as we often hear recruiters say “there’s no life like it” whether you command a ship’s company or keep the your rifle in good shape.
What about sports? I love the line from the movie, Chariots of Fire. The young athlete Eric Liddell told his sister that he would become a Presbyterian missionary after running in the 1924 Paris Olympics. “God made me fast, very fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” In the end he did not run; he did become a missionary to China, and died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.
Often considered a vocation and less a profession, religious leadership could be considered a lifestyle. In the old days, when speaking about clergy compensation, one spoke of a stipend rather than a wage or salary. In Anglican practice and tradition, clergy are given jurisdiction over a particular parish—such is the politic; curates are given the cure of souls—in other words responsibility for pastoral care. Such language is used to distinguish between a call rather than a professional occupation.
Current conversations about future structures and directions of parish ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada cannot avoid considering the nature, experience and practice of leadership. Structural revision alone will not accomplish real change without a different understanding of leadership, both present and future leadership. Our Church is navigating a reformation of self-understanding; we are revisiting the question of what we do as faith communities and how we do it. The last time we considered such questions in a formal and widespread was during the 1963 Toronto Anglican Congress where the relational notion of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence (MRI) was first adopted as a way for our national and international churches to work together.
The recent Structures Report of the Diocese of Kootenay has stirred the emotions of many; it has created some timely though necessary confusion. Reformative conversations are always messy; if the work was easy it would have been done by now. I do not subscribe to the deterministic prediction that our church will have no adherents by 2040. Such statistical extensions are simply that–they are predictions based on past performance projected into a not-so-distant future–a downward curve based on statistical reporting (a murky process at best). I do agree however that in almost every case our congregations are diminishing in size rapidly–financial capacity follows a similar downward flight. Some congregations have not engaged the issues of the day in order for congregants to be able to fight the good fight, to be still to discover God, or to choose life that we may live. For many, a sense and practice of mission has all but disappeared.
I remember a teaching from my childhood, that Sunday morning church should be viewed as a trip to the gas station—where the faithful get their tank filled for the coming week’s journey. Such is the language of chaplaincy, where church shores up a faith which is broad though shallow. We are now challenged to re-discover the mission of God (missio dei) where Godly passion flows through the church, a dynamic faith which dares to witness to God’s endless goodness and creativity. We are not called to do a particular kind of mission (e.g. food banks or music concerts). We are called to be the voice and witness of God, vocationally. God has no hands but ours (Saint Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582); our body is God’s body, found in part within the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5).
Some now pose the question—have we been unfaithful to God as recipients of the gift of life? To this good question, I would add another–Have we accepted the risks inherent in living a Jesus-centred life? Our (dis)comfort with risk must be re-examined. If we need a place from which to begin our self-reflection, look no further than the Garden of Gethsemane. While not knowing the specific challenges, Jesus senses the real risks ahead. He knows that the cost of discipleship is significant and real (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945). Jesus remained faithful however through the garden experience–He remained faithful to the very end of his human experience, always a Divine Presence. Especially in John’s Gospel, his vocation was to remain faithful to the One he called Father.
Fr Richard Rohr reminds me that I am not called to a particular role, or a profession, or a position. I am welcomed to live our vocation, a lifestyle. My interaction with both humanity and divinity is constantly changing. Life is elastic, moment by moment, place to place, mood through differing mood. Faith comes and goes like the tide. Every living day is unique. Fr. Rohr writes:
A blatant contradiction between message and action is holding us back in every part of the world. Christians too often preach a self-absorbed gospel of piety and religiosity, rather than a “lifestyle gospel.” The gospel is so radical that if we truly believed its message, it would call into question all the assumptions we currently hold about the way we live, how we use our time, whom we relate to, how we marry, and how much money we have. Everything we think and do would be called into question and viewed in a new way. (Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections (New York: Crossroad, 1997), 47)
At all times, and especially this Lent, may the way of the Cross, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit, may these lifestyle embodiments help us make our way forward, together.
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