I remember the day that I made up my mind about following my call into ministry. While I knew I had a calling by the middle of my freshman year, I was not quite sure it was something that I really wanted to do. It would require a lot of work, and that was just to convince my parents that it was a good idea! It would also require a lot of education and commitment.
I was sitting in a core class for the elementary education program called “Reading for Teachers,” listening to a classmate present one of the most boring practicums. All she did was follow the text from the book and use the provided worksheets, which, in my opinion, did not even reinforce the lesson’s objectives. She was the last to give her practicum, and we were all blown away when the teacher said hers was the best.
Being me, I had to raise my hand and ask, “So the objective is to teach the book, not teach to the child?” To which I got the response: “Schools pick the curriculum you’re expected to teach.”
After leaving that class, I found my way into my class on Bonhoeffer. This was one of my favorites! We had just finished Life Together and were starting on The Cost of Discipleship. It was my first “real” theology class, and I was in heaven! The great thing about theology was that its quest was not as much about finding the answer as it was developing a greater understanding. With understanding comes relationship, and out of relationship comes a deeper faith.
The Christian is not called to live in isolation from the world, but to live in the world, and, more importantly, in community. The premise of Life Together is how to order our lives in community to allow for the grace needed with each other and the structure required to be faithful followers, and how we find the strength needed to act and react to the world beyond.
This made a lot of sense to me. I knew I wanted to do something that would hopefully make a difference in this world. I also knew that if I followed the education department at my college, I would not. Encouraging people not to think seemed to me to be the antithesis of Christian living. So I transitioned completely out of education and into religion, and never turned back.
Interestingly, as I let others know about my calling and decision, I was stunned how many people were not at all amazed or even surprised. It seemed that most saw me taking that route before I did, which is always a good sign of a true calling. This summer, as I approach 15 years as an ordained minister and 23 years of working for churches, I think about those two classes and that decision to move forward into ministry. It has been an incredible experience, and I am sure it will continue to be, especially with Bonhoeffer’s teachings at the core.
But I cannot help but think about that education class. It makes me worry about our world, because so many things I see happening in the world today go back to the idea that we are to follow what we are given, rather the question what things mean. I worry that this creates a loss of independent thinking.
As we find ourselves in the midst of a presidential election, I sit in awe of all that is being said. I am sad that we are forced to accept the candidates that are being put forward, rather than envision the possibility of another way, especially since they all--with one exception--are really preaching the status quo, just with different words.
I am blown away that as we continue to see the disparity between the powerful and powerless grow, we don’t raise our voices to ask what is going on. We do not seek voices for justice; instead, we are drawn to people that will keep our individual lives the most comfortable. I am saddened by the increasingly exclusionary practices which have created superior and inferior groups. We see increasing hate towards Muslims; Jews; gay, lesbian, and transgender folks; and the homeless. Members of all of these groups were rounded up by the Nazis, along with Christians who would not toe the line¾all under the guise following the status quo.
We must break this cycle. As the church, we need to model a different way. Let’s rethink what our Life Together is. Let’s find out how we can live an ordered life, growing in our relationships with each other, so that we can truly effect change in our world by breaking down the power that separates, and building up the community in grace.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen