Thesis 32: On Leaving and Salvation
This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.
32. All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
Today, I'm leaving a job I've had for four and a half years, which is by far the longest job I've ever had in my life. The joke I often make is that I'm not sure whether that says more about my generation (X) or about me specifically. Either way, in the grand scheme of things, it's been a very short amount of time. And yet, the immense amount of deeply meaningful work I've been able to do in that time struck me today as I was cleaning out my office.
Notes on phone meetings I had that would eventually create a best practice referenced by other organizations. Brainstorming sessions with colleagues that would lead to new programs that would impact people of faith as far away as Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Washington state. Resumes from people excited to work in a new position on my team that had never existed before.
But none of that happened overnight. It was sometimes a tense struggle full of (mostly healthy) conflict and disagreement over a couple of years. And there are an equal amount of notes, brainstorming sessions, and resumes that went nowhere, led to failure, and simply were forgotten in the daily grind of just doing my job. Nonetheless, those artifacts are equally integral to the outcome. They point to the process while not necessarily being signifiers to anything that exists beyond the abstract.
I am learning that it takes both to create anything worth standing up for.
John Wesley, like Luther, thought a lot about what it means to be assured of our own salvation. Once we claim assurance, it often seems, is also usually the precise moment at which ego slips in through the back door and makes us indifferent to the process of always moving forward. I believe it is a fair judgment to place some of the blame for this blindness on our American obsession with individualism. Wesley followed this line of thought so far as to question his own identity as a Christian.
What we forget, along with the remembrance that it is a process, is that salvation is communal. There is no good thing that I am leaving behind at my job that I created on my own. Nothing. I have had the supreme luxury of working with people who are gifted at taking my notes, brainstorms, and piles of resumes and making something beautiful out of them. Without those augmentations to my own skills, I would have been just another guy with decent ideas and a penchant for change.
And in this past year of personal trials, I am truly a man who has been saved time and time again by a community around me in whom I deeply trust. There are not enough internal resources in my whole being to have saved myself from the darkness through which I walked and still often walk to this day. Thank God for that. It invites me to reach out for others.
On Monday, I will begin all over again in many ways at my new job. In many respects, though, the process will continue. I do not take a tabula rasa with me. I take all that I was and am and will be with me. In a strange way, I pray that I am never assured of my salvation. It is my community and my God who pick up that work with me and on behalf of me. I trust them to claim it with me, too.
Original image from Deviant Art user, rooze, used under Creative Commons license