Certificate of Recognition

I had always been troubled by the statement Jesus made to Peter out on the sea of Galilee, after his first recorded miracle. The story goes that two average nobody fisherman, Simon, and Peter, were out there fishing an empty lake, no fish on the line, nothing to bring home for dinner. It had probably been a few days and the weary nobody fishermen were ready to throw in the towel. Jesus strolls up, tells them to cast their nets again, and suddenly they pull up an overwhelming, jaw-dropping bounty of fish. In Luke and Matthew, it suggests they dropped to their knees in awe. Jesus then says something to the effect of…”Good, now that you trust my power, drop those raggedy useless old nets and become a fisher of men..” In Luke, it says “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” Even post Resurrection, Jesus comes back to find Peter, his main man, back fishing upon the lake, and calls him off that dead-end job for good. Jesus was only satisfied with Peter when his chips were all in.

It had always troubled me that this similar moment might one day pop up on me. God showing up in my dry and barren desert of existence with a sudden miracle, and then a call to leave the dismal domesticated American life I so dearly cling to. I imagined it as a call out into the world, away from the small town where I grew up, the place of comfort and security, my nagging wife and ungrateful children. It lined up with every hero’s journey: the call to adventure and real purpose with high stakes, and the spirit of God filling your sails.  

But this day in my own life never came, well at least I hadn’t recognized it or I didn’t want to. I often thought maybe I was too much of a coward, always one foot in and one foot out, too filled with fear to leap. I had passively attempted it a couple of times but always found myself having to return to the mundane old shitty fish-less net, you know the dismal day-to-day stacked up pressures of modern life. 

I had seen others attempt it, some struck with a call from God; many with sudden great missional exuberance. Some left for monasteries; others headed for ashrams in India, and the more virtuous of the bunch hunkered down in Mother Teresa type situations, long-suffering with the poor. It would be those that had left their security, comfort and illusionary constructed American life that I deemed Godly, Holy and brave enough to live the real Christian life. 

I am 37 now, two kids, a wife, a big home in a suburban enclave, a little extra fat around the waist, and a private yearly craving for the new season of The Bachelor. When I get a second to myself which isn’t often I try to burn off the extra twenty-five pounds with a walk around the block, often passing the Greek Orthodox Church where I was baptized, doing my cross in hopes that God forgives my apathy. 

It would be on one of these walks a few months ago that Jesus would finally show up with the miracle. A small car approached me from behind: inside an old friend, one of those mystics that had gone to India years ago, found enlightenment, yoga, came back to lose everything to drugs and alcohol, escaped death, became sober, found God again, and was now living out of his car on a new mission. I thought of the other friends that had dropped their nets; some lasted but most didn’t, one ended up walking away from the monastery in the desert, got lost, and died from dehydration. Another went completely broke and started selling drugs, shot his mom in a cocaine-induced psychosis and is spending many years in prison. Others moved back in with family and are now seeking steady work. But here, here in front me was the possibility that one man had finally figured it out.  His eyes were large, filled with empathetic tears; his hug was long. He sat on his old 70’s Toyota. I imagined it like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem, showing his great humility. We spoke of his escapades, his revelations, his new commitment to the poor in downtown LA. He was living out of his car but believed God would sustain his mission. When I asked about his wife and his two teenage daughters he mentioned they weren’t really on good terms anymore; she had moved them back in with her mother because of financial difficulties. 

There was something eager in him to skim over all of that domestic baggage and get back to the work he was doing for God out on the fringe, with the lepers and the nobodies of our world. His Instagram revealed evidence of countless lives touched and saved. Fishing for men who needed haircuts, clothing, and food, he was filled with a final sense of purpose and calling. He invited me out that day but my commitment to picking up my kids from school superseded the bubbling up of spiritual revelation I was having. As he left my presence in a rush to get back ‘to the fishing for men’, I felt great despair setting in as the moment of courage escaped me. Crossing myself, I asked for forgiveness. 

A few weeks later The Bachelor was on. My son was sick with a bad cold; my daughter was puking violently from a stomach bug and my wife and I argued about whether or not to take another trip to Disney Hawaii. The crushing blow of my Godless inadequacies had sharpened, the feeling of fruitless, never-ending consumeristic endeavors overwhelmed me. Stuck in the throes of providing for my family without any real recognition or overwhelming zeal I sat that night ruminating on my fatalistic apathy. How could I have missed the call, the action, why couldn’t I just drop this heavy tattered domestic burden and get to the real work of God? 

As the poisonous self-loathing bubbled up, I received a text message: an image of a Certificate of Recognition my friend had just received from the mayor of the city we live in.

I stared at it for a long while. I thought about my friend out there living in the cold harsh Los Angeles homeless camps, the momentum he was creating online, the esteem he was building with every soul he was saving. The overwhelming despair consumed me. 

And then suddenly like that, the miracle came.  Well, at least the call from God that I had been waiting for. As I turned from looking at the Certificate of Recognition back to my wife.  In her very social worker, pragmatic, German way, she was looking sharply into my eyes. As if God finally spoke, dispelling my eternal longing for spiritual grandeur once and for all, she leaned in intensely and said…”Tell your friend to go get a job and pay back all of his overdue child support. Then and only then will I believe it’s from God and it isn’t just about his longing for recognition and escaping the responsibilities of adult life.” 

The pillows on the couch were suddenly softer that night, my sleep was deeper than usual. I had a sense that maybe my interpretation of Peter dropping his net was more skewed by the modern myths of wanderlust and hero journeys.  It made me think that maybe there were other stories and characters in the long list of virtuous long-suffering men that I hadn’t considered and that maybe, just maybe, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.