Epiphanies of Recruitment

I'm at the 2009 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, hawking books and courting authors. Fun fun. I've never been to this conference, but as you might imagine, a gathering of two thousand pastors involves quite a bit of talking. I've had really interesting conversations with people from all over the country, but the thing that struck me the most is the recurrence of "epiphanies of recruitment."

An "epiphany of recruitment," a phrase I first read in Brian Mahan's nearly perfect book Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose, is a moment that, in retrospect, serves to bring clarity and cohesiveness to a person's vocation, a moment in which the veil shrouding God's plan for a person's life is pulled back enough to engage the conscious mind in a way that will sustain the subconscious over time. An example in the book was Dorothy Day's childhood conversation with her mother about people who can't afford to have doughnuts for breakfast. She recounted a sense of urgency that her ample supply of doughnuts be made available to such under-resourced people. Dorothy Day went on to be a champion of the poor in the middle of the twentieth century.

The two epiphanies of recruitment I heard described today both coincided with the person's conversion to Christianity. One asked his grandmother for a Bible, decided to start reading it with a short piece, settled on the book of James, and came across the following passage:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

That verse--not the more popular altar-call verses like "God so loved the world . . ."--taught him what it meant to be a Christian, and among other things, that meant a lifetime of looking after the fatherless and the widow. He was about eight at the time.

The other epiphany of recruitment I heard about today involved a teenager who stumbled across a weekend-long outdoor festival of Christian musicians and speakers. The young man was riding his bike when he heard what turned out to be a multiethnic choir; as he listened to the choir sing, he heard a voice whisper, "This is what God's church looks like." He rode his bike back the next day and the day after that, and converted to Christianity. He's now pastor of a thriving church that is thoroughly multiethnic.

I don't suppose that all epiphanies of recruitment are so salient, but they are all, in theory, that seminal. We file them away, however, and in the interim between our preadolescence and our adulthood, culturally bound expectations and social politics conspire to whittle away at our idealized ambitions and supplant them with something more mundane, more pragmatic. Mahan's book offers exercises to bring those epiphanies into sharper focus for our adult selves; he translates Dorothy Day's experience, for example, with "Did you ever have a doughnut plan? What happened to it? Have you thought about trying it again?" Seems like a good question to throw open to the 3+ readers of Loud Time: what comes to mind from your experience as you read about epiphanies of recruitment? What happened with it? Have you thought about trying it again?

And perhaps further than that, how can we keep alert to the epiphanies of recruitment occurring in the lives of young people around us? What is our responsibility as observers of such moments?


David Zimmerman said…
This notion of epiphanies of recruitment keeps playing with me. Andy Marin, author of the forthcoming Love Is an Orientation, found his calling in the crisis moment when his three best friends came out to him in three consecutive months. Nine years later he's never left Boystown in Chicago, he's nearly completed the largest sociological survey of religiosity in the gay community, and he's fundamentally changing the conversation between the gay community and the evangelical church.
Anonymous said…
Wow, Dave, that's amazing. As one of your 3 readers, I'll chime in. I used to read Christian syndicated columnists in my local newspaper, The Asbury Park Press, and think to myself that I could do a better job advancing a position than the writers I was reading. Of course, that was armchair quarter-backing, but my journalism professors seemed to agree that I was good at it and here I am 11 years later: a broke pontificator.
Anonymous said…
Dave, I appreciate your comments on the ephiphanies of recruitment. I have never read Brian Mahan's book, Forgetting Ourselves On Purpose, but I suspect that when we focus on others there is a benefit to both parties, you and that person. This is vital in a generation of self-focus in every aspect of life. Keep up this great work.
Unknown said…
This is indeed a great book, and I appreciate you for reminding me of its contents. It seems each new book that I read is saved in my mind over the last one. The notion of "epiphanies of recruitment" is such an important part of the conversation of vocation and ministry. I think I will have to revisit the book in order to see how it is that one actually discern between armchair quarter-backing and a genuine epiphany of recruitment. For, I remember one time in my twenties I had the thought, "You know, I would be a good president." All signs are that that was definitely not an epiphany of recruitment.

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