Walking to the gym, I dragged with me many burdens: rescuing theological education, saving the church, working out my salvation. I had crossed from productive thought into a “do-loop” of perseveration.
I stepped onto the elliptical, plugged in my earphones and hit the power button on the TV. Chris Matthews was interviewing a congressman about the debt ceiling. I was worried sick about that, too. Combine looming economic collapse with weeks of triple-digit temperatures and extreme drought here in Austin, and all I can imagine is a rapidly approaching future in which we are all thirsty, hot, poor and ignorant.
I stood in need of a word from the Lord.
It came in the oddest way. I pushed my way up to the higher cable channels and stopped when I saw George Clooney. He was trapped in a building with Harvey Keitel, a guy named “Sex Machine,” and two teenagers. Hungry vampires swarmed angrily right outside the door. Perfect distraction. Or so I thought.
You may not know this, but vampires recoil when shown a cross or sprinkled with holy water. Luckily, Harvey Keitel was a holy man, a preacher; unfortunately, he had lost his faith. Clooney lays it on the line for Keitel: “Are you going to be a wimpy, do-nothing preacher or are you going to be a %&$*@^!# servant of God?”
I couldn’t believe it. This is one of the questions -- in its rawest form -- that plagues me.
It’s really not a good question. But it made me remember something that is.
Fifteen years ago this month, 60 high school juniors -- all young people of faith -- gathered for 30 days at Candler School of Theology for the Youth Theological Initiative. They came with questions that tortured them, questions they couldn’t answer alone. They came as part of their vocational journeys to go where God would call them and become the people God called them to be. Not one of them was interested in becoming a wimpy preacher.
These teenagers are now over thirty. You can read about them in a series of interviews on the YTI blog. Richard worked in Tennessee state politics on health care policy before joining McKinsey & Co. where he works to reduce the 800 billion dollars of waste in our country's health care system and to help people develop connections with others; he is part of Washington Community Fellowship in the Mennonite tradition. Beth's newspaper reporting on the city council's violation of the Open Meetings Act led to systemic changes in the way that Jacksonville local government conducts its business. Laura, with Master’s degrees in nursing and public health, leads a community health center for homeless people and attends a diverse, inner-city church. Taylor is one of the founders of Friendly Planet Missiology which supports the work of United Methodist leaders serving in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They work as ministers, teachers and healers in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of places. Some are even official, ordained, employed pastors of churches.
When vampires are at the door, these young people are the ones I want with me -- not the Hollywood story preachers who will save the day single-handedly, but the ones who show up day after day in all kinds of places as agents of God’s reconciling movement in creation. Being a real servant of God is not about a big, flashy heroic act; real servants work from a different script.
The young adults at YTI in 1996 became who they are for their communities because communities formed them -- places and people along the way who were led not by wimpy preachers but by real servants of God. Remembering that also restores my faith. I can’t save anything -- that is God’s work -- but I can be part of a faith-forming, faith-holding community.
Now, I would not recommend “From Dusk ‘til Dawn” for use in spiritual direction (I would not recommend it at all, actually). But by the surprising and odd grace of God, the 10 minutes I saw set me on a path that loosened the stranglehold of my egocentrism and fear. I left the gym spent and grateful for the courage of real servants of God and the communities they come from and those they lead in hope for the future.
Melissa Wiginton is Vice President for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.