The past two years have thrust all of us into a constant atmosphere of uncertainty. From a frightening pandemic and confusing election, to new pronouns and gender perplexity. As a leader and pastor, I have been cast into the disorder of pressure from dynamics of large social systems of which I know very little.
I wrestle with the contemporary and ancient and their effect on our local community. As I choose to engage the contemporary—social, medical, educational, and political—I feel like such an amateur. I am outside my field of expertise. I’m not trained in community development, medical protocol, or political activism. After all, I’m a pastor. They didn’t teach such things in seminary. I’m a pastor to a group of people who often look to me to know what I’m doing. I rarely feel in control.
The Ancient and Modern
We cling to the ancient to give vision and principle for the modern. We must admit to being amateurs to the modern. The landscape in America has never been so complex. But it is the ancient Scriptures, the ancient God of Israel, and the ancient Church, that grounds us. We must be grounded deep in the roots of our tradition and history. Love is the guiding vision and principle.
St. Augustine’s famous interpretative principle of caritas may provide a theological warrant for such a vision: reading the ancient Bible in a way that conduces knowledge, prayer, and love of God and neighbor. Augustine spoke of the carnal as being called cupiditas, and the spiritual, caritas, the Latin translation of the Greek term, agape, “selfless love.” Caritas to Augustine meant the will to be like God and united with God in all we do.
As we look upon the challenges of greater society, we lean into amateurism and admit we are in new territory. It’s overwhelming. But we approach the world with caritas, with a unity of love with God and our neighbor. Jesus is our model. It was in the context of being questioned about the secular (paying taxes to Caesar) and religious (whose wife will she be in heaven) that Jesus teaches us our guiding principle:
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
We come to the questions and contradictions of society with love. We don’t fight as the world fights. We outpray, outlove, and outwork the world. We battle the modern problems of our culture with the ancient vision of love for God and our neighbor.
I advocate amateurism as a corrective to the overly scientific and abstraction we face. Stay humble, stay loving, and allow God to guide you.
A Total Amateur,