"A Hunger for Liberation"by Bill Placher ’70 • February 3, 2006
The very claim that there is something God wants me to do with my life threatens many contemporary definitions of freedom. Surely I can do whatever I want with my life, and the choice is mine.
Much of the Christian tradition, however, has argued that that vision of life as a sea of infinite choices is more like slavery than freedom. If "freedom" means that every choice is open and none is the wrong answer, then my choices cease to have any larger meaning. The direction of my life can be shaped by the pervasive siren calls of consumer culture, or by my own quest for immediate satisfaction. Either way, the advent of next year’s fashions or the boredom I find in the pleasures of the moment leaves me hungry for something else, a cycle of hunger always unfulfilled.
Maybe, however, freedom means something different. What excitement to find that there is some right answer for what to do with my life, some place in the puzzle where my piece fits snugly and exactly! The Book of Common Prayer speaks of that God "whose service is perfect freedom." When we find the match between our joy and the world’s need, the place God wants us to be, it does feel more like liberation than imprisonment.
I sense just now, perhaps particularly in the generation of my own students, a hunger for such liberation. I have long suspected that most young Christians are more willing to be challenged than their churches are to challenge them. We are so concerned to make Christianity seem easy that we fail to notice that maybe young people are not looking for an easy Christianity.
Assembling the readings at the beginning of the book Callings, I was worried about including martyrdom stories, or stories of the lives of Christians who gave away everything they had. Might it all seem too extreme? I was reassured not only by the hunger I sensed in my students for a challenge but also by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was accused of being an extremist: "Was not Jesus an extremist in love? Was not Amos an extremist for justice? Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ?"
Christian faith is not (Not always? Not usually?) a call to caution and moderation.
Our hearts are restless, Augustine said so long ago, until they find their rest in God. We accumulate worldly recognition and material goods, but they leave us unsatisfied. The stories of our lives come to seem pointless if they are not part of some larger story. And so it is that we search for what God is calling us to do.
Excerpted from Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, edited by Professor of Philosophy and Religion Bill Placher: firstname.lastname@example.org