Called to Explore

A Montanan on a Mission: Volume 5
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Jordan on top of Mount Nebo, where Moses looked out over the Promised Land that he would never actually step foot in. As we looked out over the Jordan River valley and the Dead Sea, we read from Martin Luther King’s famous speech I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. The speech has an eerie quality, as MLK was assassinated three days later and, like Moses he never entered the Promised Land. Throughout the speech, MLK expresses the joy of building God’s kingdom on Earth--the joy of the journey to the Promised Land. I find this a beautiful, even comforting thought; however, at times, worry grips me. What is my calling in building God’s kingdom?

The View from Mount Nebo

Big picture

As we traipsed through the varied landscapes Jordan, we focused on these the twin themes of baptism and vocation. We are baptized into the blessed work of building God’s kingdom, and called to an epic journey of discovering our place in this work. We began the trip with a short exercise where we discussed the word baptism. Our conversation was wide-ranging, but in the end it came back to water. Water is the building block of life on Earth, and like God’s spirit, without it we are lifeless. Baptism is a reminder that God’s spirit is always with us. Her promise of love is free; it requires no down-payment or monthly installment. To me, vocation is the great journey of exploring the promise of baptism.

Indeed, as we explored the remains of great civilizations throughout our week, I could not help but think of the many ways different cultures have built a relationship with the Divine into the fabric of their lives. At Petra, we gazed at a magnificent Nabatean city carved into the red sandstone. Countless hands and hours must have gone into the intricate carvings, which leave one gaping. The Nabataeans worshiped a variety of gods, and their buildings reflect their devotion. As we walked around, many of the local Bedouins approached us to hawk various wares. Admittedly, at first I found this annoying, but eventually my own annoyance disturbed me. After some traditional Bedouin hospitality (a cup of tea and a conversation) and reflection, I realized the difference between Petra and national parks in the US: national parks in the US have for the most part been ethnically cleansed of their native populations. The Bedouins living in Petra are a part of the landscape, whether we like it or not. And, in our baptisms, we are called to see the world as God does, as a cohesive whole, even though we may not appreciate it at first. We are called to be in the messiness of the world.

The next day we went to Amman, and toured the ancient Roman city of Jerash. Here, we saw more monumental temples and a vast Roman theater. Later in the day, we visited the offices of the LWF to learn about their efforts supporting Syrian refugees. I had a lot of questions coming into the trip, as I’ve been interested in the global refugee crisis for some time. Naturally, I came out with even more questions, chiefly about whether my calling is in the field of humanitarian development. I’m simply just not sure if a managerial job with heavy amounts of paperwork would be healthy for me. We rounded out the day with an evening worship service at Good Shepherd’s Lutheran Church, in the ELCJHL synod. It was a curious experience to meet Jordanian Palestinian refugees from some of the cities we have visited this year, like Nablus and Jaffa.

When we were leaving Mount Nebo, a rock statue engraved with several words in Arabic struck me. I used my smartphone to translate some of the words, and incidentally learned that the word for message in Arabic (risaala - رسالة) is the same as the word for calling. I really liked the idea that our calling is ultimately not for ourselves per se; it only takes shape through its expression in community with others. In another podcast on the trip, I learned from Parker Palmer that the word for vocation in Greek shares the same root as the Greek word for beauty. So, in my spiritual calculus, vocation means sharing your beauty with the world, but also sharing in beauty with others.

We finished the week with an expedition through Wadi Rum. The vast rolling landscapes, streaked with multicolored sand, feel like another planet. Indeed, the film The Martian was recently filmed there. We finished a day of climbing dunes, hiking through slot canyons, and drinking copious amounts of tea by watching the sunset. On our drive back, a full moon greeted us, and we basked in the resplendence of creation and the mystery of life. As I left the sandy dunes of Wadi Rum, a refrain from Ash Wednesday repeated in my head: “From dust you are and to dust you shall return.” The verse had always scared me, frankly, but now I find it comforting. No matter how much I achieved, or how little, I will ultimately return back to the Source. And if I returned to dust like beautiful dust and sand of Wadi Rum, well that wouldn’t be too bad either.