When I first entered Bible college, all students were required to write a "spiritual gifts test". I can't remember which one it was out the teeming mass of tests, but I do remember I ended up with these results:
It came as no suprise to me that I received a big fat "0" in reference to "Speaking in Tongues" (since I'd never done it), and I was already being influenced by conversative cessationists who claimed that such magick-y gifts ceased after the Apostle John died. Scripture was supreme. It was all that was needed.
Other professors were free to conduct their own tests in their own classes if they wanted to or if it pertained to their course material. So I ended up taking a variety of tests, including one that was supposed to create a sense of team-building the year I was elected to the Students' Union Council. My results didn't change or alter too much, but I'm not sure if that's because I really had those gifts of if because I began to be able to detect the patterns in the questions and played to their designs.
A fellow classmate told me that I had the "spiritual gift of compassion". I remember it angering me some. In my mind, there was (and is) no such thing. Sure we all express compassion in different ways; but it seemed that by making compassion a gift, it let off the hook other Christians who felt they didn't have to be as compassionate towards "_______" (insert anything or anyone here). False, I say. Compassion is fruit of Christ's presence, not a special endowment.
Anyway… I digress.
My point here is: we were taught that our individual giftings were signs that we were all being prepared for individual forms of ministry. We were special… in our unqiue ways. We were all different… strange persons (not community) in a hostile world. Our egos got puffed up, our intellects were stroked when we defied communal traditions of Christianity, and we justified any kind of ministry or decision based on the results of these silly tests.
"To say 'I can write well, so God wants me to be a writer; I can teach well, so God wants me to be a teacher; I can play the piano well, so God wants me to be a pianist,' makes us forget that our own self-understanding is not necessarily God's understanding of us. There was a time in which a one-sided view of humility led to the negation or denial of individual gifts. Hopefully, that time is gone. But to think that individual gifts are the manifestations of God's will reveals a one-sided view of vocation and obscures the fact that our talents can be as much the way God as in the way of God" (Nouwen, Clowning in Rome, p.21).
Do you know how much this stings?
You wrote "Clowning in Rome" in 1979. It's now 2014. If you thought the world was highly individualized back in the day, you should see it now. We have social media! Some of its benefits: access to all levels of education that we didn't have before; connection with family and friends far away; the capacity to stay abreast of current events, just to name a few.
But… (like you didn't see that coming)
… we have entire generations of people who's identities rest on how many people admire our online personas, rather than our tangible selves. Online rumours spread like wildfire, and with just as much heat (kids are killing themselves thanks to the hatred of online bullying). People seem to find it lovely to post ridiculous pictures of themselves in 'sexy' poses (hear my sarcasm, Henri), and get crushed when not enough folks drool over the picture.
It's a "time and place" thing, I suppose. We've created this thing that has a lot of good qualities to it. But we engage in dangerous behaviours, too, and cry "FREEDOM OF SPEECH!" when someone calls on those bad behaviours. Ever hear of trolling? No, I'm not talking about fishing (I think that's trawling). This kind of trolling is in reference to people who live online for the singular purpose of making hateful remarks, racist remarks, degrading remarks, sexist remarks, lies, gossip, slander, foul langage… without thought to integrity or fear of consequence.
Good or bad, the irony of social media is that it is highly individualized. We engage in it alone, on our own computers or phones (oh yeah… phones can take pictures now, and send emails, play games, and about 100,000,000 other things). We revere our indiviuduality. Our space. Our capacity to comment on someone's else life without actually having to be in the same room with them.
Couple that with the idolatry of individualized spiritual gifts, and we now have a church enmeshed in The Culture Wars — we demand our self-actualization but are starving for community in ways no other generation has seen since the dawn of time.
You speak highly of solitude, reverently so. You speak of it with love and desire. You say that we need solitude so that the community will flourish. I think I see what you mean (I certainly couldn't live 24/7 with people around me all the time and think we're moving in a healthy direction). Right now though it all seems so inverted.
We have people around us all the time. Phones are never shut off; text messages are answered all throughout the night; tweets cover second-by-second issues every second of every day; Facebook status updates are "liked" anytime, anywhere. We can't live without our hardware on our persons, and yet we are lonelier than we have ever been.
No real people around us. We are solitary, but I don't think we're practicing solitude.
If that's so, how true are these spiritual gifts tests? Am I really gifted with Faith, Mercy/Helps, and Prophecy (which only certain churches will let me practice since I'm a woman; had to put that in there because yes, some of us are still "shushing" women)? What if my training and my world has so prized individuality that my vision is deeply scarred and badly skewed?
What if Coming Home isn't what God wants of me?
Some of us are pursuing forms of community that resemble ancient practices from around the world. We are hungry. We are lonely. We are poor (in many ways). We are devoid of true communion with one another and God. So we're taking halting, stumbling steps towards one another; and in doing so… towards Christ.
It's an ego trip (meaning that the ego gets tripped up when we all realize that our own spiritual gifts aren't really all that, and that we've been thinking of ourselves far too highly).
Some days I hate solitude. I'm not married, nor do I have children so it seems like I have more than my fair share. Some would envy me, what with kids crying all day and night, difficult spouses, controlling bosses or heavy workloads. I sometimes envy those with family… spouses… intimacy… community.
The grass is always greener, eh?
But as I listen to your life, being alone does not equate in any way with solitude. Solitude must be practiced; it must be focused; it must be imagined and lived for it to be transformative within us in our walks with Christ. Turning on the TV fills the empty space away from people (and yes, I need those times), but true solitude demands I engage God to discover what S/He desires for the community at large.
The gifts won't be for me or about me.
Solitude will not always uplift me alone, nor will it ever have me at the centre.
You speak of common vocation: how the community, straining towards the kingdom of God, is being called to live out the kingdom in the here and now. Our gifts are not to uplift our own egos, nor is solitude meant to divide us. Rather, solitude enhances community and indivudal gifts woven in tandem with other individual gifts create a vibrant tapestry-esque whole.
I love to write. Is it a gift? Perhaps.
But it's not for me alone.
My friend is an esteemed pianist. Is it a gift? Perhaps.
But it's not for him alone.
I have a number of friends who are teachers. Are they gifted? Perhaps.
But it's not for them alone.
Yet for all of us to discern this mess of gifts in our midst, we have to shut off the social media… refuse to text back… ignore Facebook… care little for what's trending on Twitter… and embrace the silent solace of God. Without learning this discipline, we will remain arrogant about our own petty little gifts and unable to see how those little gifts transform into incredible communal vocation when stitched together.
Coming Home might very well a part of the vocation God has for me. But Coming Home isn't the end result of a response to my giftings. It's a lifestyle slowly being born from the Holy Spirit, who is calling people other than myself to this place, this time.
This long letter could be summed up like this: I think I get it. It hurts… but I get it.
I am loved.
I am gifted.
But the love and gifts are to be shared in communion rather than expressed in isolation.
Yet I cannot grow into this truth without Solitude.
You are one confusing dude, Henri.
Until next time…