Hearing the call
At 19, in common with many young idealists, I dropped out of university ‘to change the world’. Actually, it was like I dropped not just university but career, bank accounts and every other concept of a ‘normal’ life. This was in response to what I felt was an unmistakable call from God.
At 14, I’d ‘given my life to God’ in a personal way at a church camp. Through turbulent teenage years, my morning quiet time -- sitting up in bed to pray, to read the Bible and listen for God’s whispers - kept me on a steady track. By the time I got to university I wanted to see our world transformed by a collective effort of our generation, some of whom are still my contemporaries in Initiatives of Change.
Five years after leaving university - mostly spent crisscrossing the USA with a show belting out songs like Freedom isn’t free and What colour is God’s skin? - I came home... and crashed! The idealistic call sounded hollow. I had lost the disciplines of that daily search for God’s way and living by the values of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. I wasn’t even sure if God existed. With the help of friends, but mostly through my own spiritual hunger, I found my way back into a relationship with what I called ‘the Universal Creative Loving Intelligence.’
Since that long-winded phrase was so complex, I simply accepted ‘God’ again, though with a humbler, more searching view than dogma I had as a teenager. Quite simply, I began to grow up. Painfully. And causing some pain to others.
A critical turning point was in a Catholic Monastery in Northern Ireland where – after a severe bout of self-doubting rebellion – the lives of those monks, who were more joyfully faith-filled than I had ever known, got through to me. I knew in one moment that, even in my campaigning ‘save the world’ mode, it had really been all about me and my achievement, my making an impression, my rightness, about ‘doing your own thing’ as I had learned in America.
As my punctured ‘own thing’ lay like a crumpled balloon, I understood the truth that ‘you find your own destiny in helping others find theirs’. It is the same with finding your own transformation, your own fulfillment.
For a follower of the Christ, which I tried to be, it was the lesson of the Cross – of finding yourself through laying down your life and self-inflated ambitions, and learning to serve rather than ‘succeed.’
I had started with the notion that God had a plan for my life, and I just had to find it. After Northern Ireland, I began to see God as the Creator still creating His design for the way the world could be. If I searched deep enough, I could find my part in making it happen. His ‘plan’ for me was not some pre-destined Divine Blueprint for self-development, but that I grow through a living, loving, listening relationship with His Presence, deep within me.
A life rich in learning
Now 50 years after that blind leap out of university, I can recount a life rich with fascinating people, flat-out activism and bewildering failures! It’s taken me into racial dialogues in American cities, to proud but grieving Aboriginal Australians, hearing the trauma of South Sudan’s child soldiers and bright hopes of Cambodian students, rubbing shoulders with politicians and sitting through long nights with desperate drunks, travelling India with young aspiring ‘change makers’ and closeted in boardrooms with businessmen.
What have I learned? Basically, that I’m still learning. In fact, I am discovering that I don’t know what is ‘right’ in many situations, that I don’t have the answers. I’m finding that steps towards answers emerge through a sharing of human pain and forgiveness. The response most often needed is simply to be there with the one who is struggling, to listen with compassion, to help them listen for a wiser truth than our reactions, to voice the questions only they can answer.
So it is mostly from others that I’ve learned. Including from people of other faiths.
Some of those I have learned from, include the Hindu harijan (‘untouchable’ street-sweeper) who said ‘only God’ was able to release him from his lust for revenge against the man who killed his brother. I sat there realising it would be sheer bigotry for me to suppose his ‘God’ was less real than mine, or, for that matter, any different.
Another was the Jewish rabbi who confronted me with my unconscious assumption that Christians have an edge over others about forgiveness, leading me to participate over several years in the profound festival of Yom Kippur (‘Days of Awe and Repentance’).
One can define Initiatives of Change in terms of programs, principles and people. To me it is far more. It is all of this experience I’ve been granted, wrapped up with the shared experiences of thousands on their own journeys. It is a movement of liberation within human consciousness, a movement of healing and trust between people, and a movement among people coalescing around real-world needs where they begin to make a difference.
I have seen, over and over, and experienced it in my own life, that when someone takes a step to courageously face some untruth in their lives, to repair some wrong attitude or behaviour, to break an addictive bitterness or habit, an energy of positive hope is released which sets off a chain reaction in others, even impacting deadlocked situations.
It is still worth giving your life to, with or without a university degree!
- A longer version of this story was first published in ‘Beyond Walls,’ ed. Suresh Khatri, by the Friends of Moral Re-Armament (India) Trust, 2018.