I recently met Sammy Nestico, renowned composer and big band arranger. He was coming to town for a festival that celebrated his music. We chatted cordially, I mentioned a couple of his tunes that I enjoyed, and then he told me a story: "When I was young, maybe twelve or thirteen, I heard a great big band in Pittsburgh, my hometown. I said to myself, that's what I want to do for the rest of my life." And so he has.
His website mentions his background: staff arranger for a Pittsburgh radio station, music degree from Duquesne University, music teacher for a Pennsylvania high school, fifteen years in the Airmen of Note jazz band of the U.S. Air Force. I remember him for a few of the many recordings that he did for the Count Basie Orchestra. They were stirring and fun, and he has rightly been acclaimed for what he has done with his life.
Mr. Nestico has a storied career, and promises to tell me more stories while he is in town. But the best story is how it began: "I heard a great band... that's what I want to do..."
Many of us have had those moments. As I reflect on twenty-seven years so far of pastoral ministry, I can still remember my youthful excitement of hearing the Bible opened to me in sermons and studies. I recall the stirring feelings of serving communion to folks in a nursing home. I can picture the faces of those who were assisted by acts of service by Christian people. To separate ourselves from the origins of our life's work is to diminish our passion for what we are called to do.
There are reasons for why we are here on earth. God is not aimless or indifferent in creating us, and sets some essential work before all of us. Perhaps we get paid for it. Or perhaps we get paid elsewhere, so we are free to do what we need to do. Our life's work is the work we will do regardless of whether we are honored or ignored. It's just that important.
My occasional daydream for all of us goes something like this: what if money did not exist, and we were simply fed and sheltered? If so, how would we spend our time? What would we be doing?
Here's my answer. I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now. That's how I know that I am in the place where God calls me.
How about you?