At 8:45 am, I was approaching the denomination’s district headquarters while listening to talk radio WJR. Having moved to Northern Michigan a couple years earlier, I enjoyed hearing the familiar voice of Paul W. Smith. News, weather, public interest…. And then breaking news. The World Trade center was on fire. An airplane flew into it. I pulled into the parking lot, trotted into the office suite occupied by the Assemblies of God Michigan District, and told my friend, Hugh, to turn on the television. The office staff scrambled to find a television and set it up in the break room. I caught just a few minutes of the coverage on NBC news before joining the meeting for which I drove two-and-a-half hours to attend. The meeting went on as scheduled. I knew something culture-changing had happened to my country. I didn’t realize how that moment would change me.
The district superintendent joined our meeting an hour later to thank us for our involvement in directing children’s camps the previous summer. I had applied, but didn’t make the final cut, to be the next manager of the denomination’s camp. As the superintendent spoke to us about the new manager, he mentioned when he hired him. It was a month before he posted the job. The superintendent seemed so shaken by what was happening in New York that he forgot to cover a lie. He forgot that I had applied for the job and had interviewed for it. I had been told that I was in the top three finalists. I was never in the mix at all. A national tragedy exposed the leader of my district denomination as a liar, or at the least a manipulator.
In context of what happened that day, being used as a pawn hardly holds any importance. That day forced me to confront the significance of my own life. I would return home early from the meeting. I drove past gas lines. I noticed the absence of contrails in the sky. I took phone calls from my secretary to arrange a prayer meeting that evening. I thought about how I was going to put the events in context for my congregation and community. My role was to provide assurance that God is in control and that all will be well.
But, I know that all isn’t well. I love my country but I realize that we are self-centered, lazy, and addicted to God-knows-what. Our enemies hate us because we represent the kind of wealthy living that allows us to self-indulge without consequence.
I knew my role as a pastor, too. I was the symbolic head of a local subculture that shuns the evils of the world and creates an environment of well-being. We sing. We pray. We hear encouragement about our future as believers. But, for the most part, we live our lives as we please. My job isn’t to motivate people to radical action. My job is to lead people to still waters.
I hated my job. How can we just live our lives as if nothing is wrong? I became dissatisfied with my calling. In the next few years, I became disenchanted with organized religion. I became disenchanted with the life I had built. I would try to change everything.
Sixteen years later, my life is unrecognizable. Rescuing people from poverty is what I do. I teach character as well as content. I worked as a first responder. I became a soldier. I took on a new career in athletics. I traveled overseas to meet Muslim peoples and to understand them.
Meaningfulness. Nine-eleven shook me awake so that life had to be meaningful if not urgently so. Americans live as if someone out there or perhaps “up there” will always take care of us. Either God or government will take care of us. But, God doesn’t play favorites. With the Lord, character counts. If life is to be meaningful for me, it must be about character improvement. Mine and those around me.