2015: Advent Religion: Aspirations

by on December 19, 2015

Are you on fire for God?

The answer to this question is obviously supposed to be “Yes,” but the question itself is slightly aggressive. It’s always a bit suspicious, a bit challenging. It carries undertones of “Because you don’t look like you are to me.” And unless literally every hour of your life is being spent in leading heroin-addicted famine-stricken isolated tribespeople in the sinner’s prayer, there’s something more you should be doing.

Being fifteen and in school is no excuse: you should be following your calling, and only evangelism counts as a calling. You can feed and clothe people all you like, but if you don’t convert them, what’s the point?

There are, obviously, several ways in which this attitude is pernicious. One is the focus on converting people over material assistance. But equally bad is that this kind of talk is targeted, and it is targeted at the very people least able to take action: the youngsters. This wasn’t preached from the pulpit in the main church services. This was what we got fed at the youth events. The aim is to recruit the kids into providing free labour to the charitable organisations that run the urban missions and the outreach campaigns. Hardly any of the ways to be demonstrably called to service will pay you enough to live on. Quite a number of them will actually charge you to join up. There’s no point trying to recruit settled adults into this kind of game. You need to get them young, when they’re used to not having any income or any control over their own schedule or living situation, before they’ve got mortgages or kids and while their parents are still accustomed to the expense of them.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re going to spend a year or two doing full-time charitable work for an organisation that can’t afford to pay you, taking a gap year is a sensible way to do it. Because you don’t have a mortgage, and you don’t have kids, and you don’t find it so much of a hardship to lose some independence. Or, for that matter, to go out on the streets at two in the morning to talk to strangers because you are eighteen and for a lot of eighteen year olds two a.m. is immeasurably more friendly than nine.

But I mean what I said about every hour of your life. This line about committing to service was pushed without any regard for sustainability. The model is to get them young, wring them dry, and recruit the next crop. You’re not supposed to think about where this is going in five years, and if you are that young, you probably can’t. Your brain can’t do long-term planning yet. So you don’t realise how ridiculous it is to think that, if only you really loved Jesus, you could live on two hours of sleep and work all day and never need a weekend off. You don’t know that you’re not a superhero. And whether you take those years to go into the mission field, or you don’t, any time not spent working feels like a betrayal. Self-care feels like selfishness. Forgetting to eat because you were working is holy. Stopping so you can work again tomorrow is a sin.

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