Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Trying this Again

I’ve started this post 5 different ways, and none of them felt right. How do you approach people you haven’t seen/talked to you in so long? A hug, maybe? Hugs, friends.

Yes, I’m back after 6 weeks away.

The break was everything I needed it to be. I was in a bad place, probably a lot worse than I let on to here. Not ready to quit everything, but questioning the value and purpose of it all.

I had a handful of honest conversations, people I could be honest with in a healthy way. I’m so grateful for my Tuesday morning men who prayed with me every week. I’m grateful for conversations with my dad, my wife, Kyle, Paul, and J.R.—grateful for each in different ways, each helping me process through different levels of my angst, frustrations, doubts, and hopes.

And I’m also grateful for the people who reached out in various ways in the past 6 weeks: elders at my church who personally prayed with me, friends who got in touch, several meals with long-time friends who were concerned, and church members who spoke of their thankfulness for my involvement in their lives. All of it was heard, and all of it was needed.

Is everything back to normal? I have no idea, honestly. Life has changed too much in the past 6 months for there to be an old normal. I’m moving forward in the current reality with a new understanding of how I can engage in a way that keeps me like a tree planted by the River.

I’ll spare you a post about the “6 things I learned about social media by quitting for 6 weeks” post. For one, it’s a bit too obvious. For another, I think I got the better end of the deal, because I’ve yet to read a single opinion about the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage. That, friends, is a MAJOR win for me.

It’s impossible for me to encapsulate everything God has brought to the forefront for me in the past 6 weeks, so I’m not going to try.

It’s good to be back friends.

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Creating, Failing, Stopping

Lately I’ve been feeling discouraged, like a failure.

Maybe the expectations I set for myself were too high. Maybe it wasn’t my fault. A few projects I worked hard over a long period of time came short of expectations. And in the process of those slowly falling apart, I started to sense something welling up with me, “I failed.”

I’m a doer, a guy who gets things done. I work as hard as hell until the project is done well. It’s a foreign world to me to see a project not finish well, much less several projects, all at once. This empty pit sat in me for days, and then weeks, never leaving. It was the voice in my head whispering over and over, “failure.”

I couldn’t escape it. I haven’t escaped it.

Some people would say I’m burned out. I’m not sure I like how “burned out” is our go-to answer for dry spells in life. It’s like we can point the finger at something else, other than ourselves. Like we’re saying, “this isn’t my fault.” I say that because where I’m at right now is my fault.

When it comes to creation, the birthing of new things, my number one guiding principle is simple: how you’re creating matters more than what or how much you’re creating. Part of where I find myself is a necessity of the situation—a fire at my church and the birth of a new child will create high demands for your energy and time—and part of it is negligence on my part. For too long I’ve created because I felt the interior “I have to” rather than “I must.” The first creates out of obligation. The latter creates out of overflow and abundance. If you create out of obligation for long enough, eventually the well runs dry.

This past Sunday was known as Pentecost Sunday. It’s the day the church remembers the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, the account written of in Acts 2. It’s this account, while 100% true, that has often warped our perspective on how the Spirit works. It isn’t always the loud demonstration of fire, tongues, and revival. Often the Spirit is the Great Encourager, whose dew is spoken in whispers that softly creates fertile ground for new life to spring up in the desert.

My life has gotten too noisy, too full, too cluttered. It is not the voice of God’s Spirit compelling my work, rather it is my own voice that demands I stay efficient. I need more of the work of the Spirit like Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes: “The Holy Spirit enables me to trust that Jesus Christ has come to tell me that he has accepted me and will do so again today.” I need to hear that, over and over.

After much thought and prayer about what the necessary next step is for me, I’ve decided to take a break from all things public writing and social networks. Not sure on the length. Could be a few weeks, could be a few months.

Talk to you soon friends.

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A Prayer for the Work of God and Humanity

Today’s post from Paul Pastor is the finale of Hinneh: a blog series on vocation and calling. If you’d rather read all the posts from the series in a short ebook, the writers have generously made it available for free. You can download a PDF copy here, or downloads in Epub (most tablets/e-readers) and Mobi (Kindle) formats are available as well. To receive the rest of the series in your inbox, sign up here

harvest

For prayer together, especially at times of planting and harvest.

Leader: God of all, who at the beginning of all things declared your work in creation to be very good, look upon the work of our hands—our labor, career, and calling—and grant that we may be workers truly made in your image.

People: Lord, hear us.

Leader: We confess that we have failed in our work countless times; failed to love you and our neighbors, failed to love ourselves and the whole of creation. We have not seen the work of our hands as holy. We have not honored the earth or the balance of creation with our labor. We have exploited our brothers and sisters, both knowingly and unknowingly. We have worked according to the fall of our race, not according to the very good.

We humbly repent, and turn to the way of Jesus.

People: Lord, forgive us.

Leader: Show us a better way, the way that is old yet ever new, the way of the Father’s good will, and the Son’s word of creation, and the Spirit’s sustaining of all things.

Teach us to work as you work, for the joy of your nature, the glory of your name, and the good of all creation.

People: Lord, show us the way.

Leader: Grant that we may work in keeping with your good and creative nature, for the redemption and re-creation of all things.

By your Spirit,

May our artists and writers make true and beautiful things, calling us to love through their imaginations.

May parents raise up children as if they were raising Christ, in patience and wisdom.

May those of us in public service work tirelessly for justice and the social good.

May those of us in service industries work with excellence, learning to love the kind and the unkind as Jesus would.

May all entrepreneurs find faith and success in their work, and seek to pioneer better ways of trade in our communities.

May business leaders seek to raise up those around them, giving away the honor that they receive, and find means of commerce that give to all, not profiting at the expense of others.

May craftsman express their excellence and individuality through their work, making and repairing the things that we depend on for life and comfort, and making such things beautifully.

May farmers and all who tend the earth do so with wisdom and skill, for the health of the land and the fruitfulness of the harvest.

May all clergy and workers in the church be blessed to empower Christians in the love of God and neighbor, and the making of disciples.

May all who struggle with unemployment, underemployment, or wrong employment know that you are with them. May they find comfort, and ways to contribute to the greater good with the time and skills you have given them.

In every good human endeavor, let us work with humility and true hearts, in the hope and vision of the kingdom of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grant that we may do all this, and teach others to do the same, for your pleasure and the good of the whole world.

People: Lord, grant our prayer.

Leader: Lord, bless us that we may be a blessing—in our homes, places of employment, neighborhoods, and everywhere that we go. Bless us that we may know you in whatever work our hands find to do. Lift up the forgotten, humble the proud of heart, encourage the weary, and remind us of your great work, that has never ceased from the beginning of creation.

Together: Our hands are yours.

Our minds are yours.

Our hearts are yours, O God.

Leader:  In the name of the Creator, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.

People: Amen.

Paul J. Pastor is a writer, editor, and grassroots pastor living in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

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On (A)vocation

Today’s post from Jenelle D’Alessandro is part of Hinneh: a blog series on vocation and calling. If you’d rather read all the posts from the series in a short ebook, the writers have generously made it available for free. You can download a PDF copy here, or downloads in Epub (most tablets/e-readers) and Mobi (Kindle) formats are available as well. To receive the rest of the series in your inbox, sign up here

bocce_ball

To be honest, I don’t have the hots for the word “calling,” these days. Neither do I for its more chic Latinate sister, “vocation,” from vocare—to call. 

We have trouble with these words, because we’ve tended to toss them around like the well-worn bocce balls in my Uncle Anthony’s backyard.  We don’t get any nearer to the meaning, because we’re so often tossing the idea of “calling” so closely alongside hefty, confusing, bouldering facts.  You may call these facts / life.

Consider this familiar self-talk formula:

<a> Invariably I must pay bills / debts / provide for my family / et cetera.

<b> My identity is so closely intertwined by this thing I do to accomplish <a>.

<c> Yet, AM I NOT MORE than just the sum of my doings? Ergo, I will pursue that THING I’m MEANT to do!*

And then we are so often met with a formidable feedback loop that returns us back to the ruckus of responsibility in <a>.

*Side commentary for another day: Millennials are more likely to pursue <c> with reckless abandon, perhaps with a certain purity that we all love to hate.

The issue for most of us, I think, is more one of avocation.

When I was a sophomore at UMBC, a brilliant nun named Sister Kathleen Feeley guest-lectured a 300-level course in our English department. She was in her 70s. She had long been president of the College of Notre Dame in Maryland, and we were more honored than we knew to receive her. 

She stood at a lectern and rewarded us with accidental aphorisms, recited poetry and inspired a life lived closely to excellent books. 

The bit I remember most from her course was when she said this:

“There is vocation. And then, there is avocation.”

I don’t quite remember all that she taught us about avocation, but I do know that she led me out on a search-party.  That was 1998.  I am still feeling the stone-questions ahead of me with my bare hands, and she helped invite me in to the mystery.

Avocation, etymologically-speaking, is a calling-away from somewhere.  Let me urge you to overlook the terrible, terrible word the dictionary will tell you it means—a hobby, or a side-gig.

An avocation is not so pedestrian to be a side-thought to your vocation. No.

The beauty of avocation is that this is THE THING we give license to call us away to experience things fresh. An avocation forces us to learn to see again.

Do you have something that you pursue that gives you permission to pause and truly look at your inner life?  I do not mean to scroll the Instagram feed of your thoughts, as we mindlessly do between other things.

Do you have something that causes you look within yourself and stretch out, to ask more expansive questions? Something urging you to see connections with the world, with the cosmos, with your horribly-moody neighbor/mother-in-law/sister/brother?

…Something urging you to make deeper connections, to be present, to love more heavy.

For Annie Dillard, it was writing. (She uses words better than most of us, so I defer to her speaking of these things in terms of a “calling”).  Dillard pleads with us that once we find that thing – we must pursue it with a sort of violent love:

“Stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way…locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting…

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles” (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk).

At the turn of the 20th century, Rilke wrote a series of letters to an aspiring poet that gives similar wisdom. Yet any of us could strike-through the word artist below, and ask what that thing is for our selves:

“I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question…Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside” (Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet, book 1, trans. Stephen Mitchell).

If I can humbly insert myself into the community of Dillard and Rilke for a moment, it seems to me the most pressing issue for most of us is to make a commitment.  What is that THING we long to do, the DOING that allows us to see different layers of our selves and our world—perhaps even of God?

Once we find the answer, we should allow it to call us away for a time.  Even just for a period of thirty minutes, get called away from your smart phone and your TV. Get called away from the anxiety so rampant in our overly-fed American lives.

May you be a person of fierce avocation.

**Post-script: As of this writing, Sister Feeley, now 85, has left Baltimore to moonlight as a teacher at a university in Ghana. It seems she’s been called away to something beyond herself: http://archives.explorebaltimorecounty.com/news/99478/80-she-still-answers-her-calling/

Jenelle D’Alessandro is a Writer-Producer-Ninja in Los Angeles with Radar Creative (http://radarla.com). She blogs about poetry and theology at http://jenelle.ninja and tweets at @freshgreenbeans. She is currently perfecting her olive mozzarella omelette.

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When You Aren’t Gifted, God Equips the Called

Today’s post from Jonathan Pearson is part of Hinneh: a blog series on vocation and calling. If you’d rather read all the posts from the series in a short ebook, the writers have generously made it available for free. You can download a PDF copy here, or downloads in Epub (most tablets/e-readers) and Mobi (Kindle) formats are available as well. To receive the rest of the series in your inbox, sign up here

equip_called

God calls people.

It’s one of the foundational understandings in scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, The Gospels, and the Epistles we see God calling people to do His work.

I don’t understand why God would use people. All I know is that by his grace and wisdom He calls us to do eternity shaking, difference-making, and life transforming stuff.

As I was wrestling with the call God placed on my life at an early age (I still wrestle with the specific calling and I pray I always will), one of the things I always heard was,

“Look how God has gifted you to find what He’s called you to do.”

I was told to take a spiritual gifts inventory and pray about whether or not God was calling me into “full time ministry.” This is sound advice. There’s nothing wrong with considering our passions and our gifts to some extent. However, one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten a little older and wiser (hopefully) is that God doesn’t always equip us before He calls us. In fact, He often doesn’t equip us until after He’s called us.

We see countless examples of God equipping the called throughout the Bible.

  • Moses struggled with God because he lacked so many tools to do the work God called him to do. God equipped him along the way.
  • Abraham was an old man when God placed the call on his life. God did the miraculous and equipped him for it.
  • David had no real skills to be king. God called him out of his pasture and into the king’s palace anyway.
  • Jesus laid his divineness aside and followed God step by step in order to complete His call.
  • Peter had a big mouth and struggled with His faith. God equipped him as he boldly declared the name of Jesus at Pentecost.

The list could be much more extensive. The point is this…

Just because you don’t feel currently equipped for the call you feel God is whispering in your ear doesn’t mean you’re hearing things.

I believe with all of my heart that God gives gifts to us for the edification and growth of the Church. Sometimes, those come early on and before the call, but it seems to me like that people that shake eternity for Jesus are the ones that are willing to step out and say, “God, I need you because I don’t have all the tools I need to do this.” They’re the ones God uses greatly.

Don’t wait on all the gifts to know if you’re called. Just seek God’s voice.

Jonathan Pearson is the Orangeburg Campus Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and the author of Next Up.

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Calling is a Verb

Today’s post from Cara Strickland is part of Hinneh: a blog series on vocation and calling. If you’d rather read all the posts from the series in a short ebook, the writers have generously made it available for free. You can download a PDF copy here, or downloads in Epub (most tablets/e-readers) and Mobi (Kindle) formats are available as well. To receive the rest of the series in your inbox, sign up here

rotary phone

When I was younger, the idea of a calling was so much easier. I remember youth group sermons and endless conversations about discerning your strengths and gifts in order to discover your calling.

It was scary, certainly. The idea was so weighty, so meaningful. It was as if my calling was carved into me somewhere, and I just needed to find that hidden place. I lived in fear of finding out that I was called to far away mission work, or (gasp) singleness.

In those days, calling was an immovable concept. It did not change, and could not be revoked. It was discerned and lived out over the course of a life.

I’ve always loved the story of Samuel. It’s such a wonderful example of the way that God finds people, even when they aren’t looking for Him (even, as in the case of Samuel, when they are sleeping).

God calls to Samuel, audibly, it seems. It takes a few times for the reality of the situation to become clear to Samuel, and Eli, his guardian (and a priest of the Lord).

God speaks to Samuel, inviting him into a relationship of conversation. That concept might seem familiar now. We are used to the idea that God can speak to us and chooses to relate to us, but in those days, a relationship with God was rare. Words from Heaven were not freely given.

I have given up listening for a call to the things that I would least like to do. I have given up checking boxes on spiritual gift forms, in order to discern my calling. Instead, I am listening for the invitations to engage with God in conversation. I am listening for the sound of God calling my name.

Conversation with God is messy. I don’t always feel that I’m hearing things correctly (sometimes I have to ask three times or more, rather like Samuel). Sometimes I go for a long while without feeling that I’ve heard anything.

Sometimes I doubt that I have ever heard God at all.

But this complicated listening is now what I mean when I talk about calling. Rather than viewing a calling as something that belongs to me, something I can claim and hold, I think of it as something God does, something that becomes clear as I sidle up and listen, sometimes for quite a while.

Unlike the callings of my past, it might not be permanent, or become part of my identity. It might not even call upon my strengths. Neither do I feel that it is a job, or a vocation, though it might lead to that, sometimes. Gradually, I’m coming to terms that calling isn’t about me, or what I can do for God. It’s not about my resume. It’s not about my time, energy or money. Calling is a verb. Calling is a phone that I pick up, only to hear a voice I love on the other end. Calling is that moment when I hear my name shouted in the airport and I rush into familiar arms.

Not to say that calling is always comfortable. My conversations with God have led me to challenging places. I haven’t blazed a trail into the mission field, leaving behind everyone and everything I know, but I have taken steps into looming unknowns.

Sometimes, like Samuel, I feel only a flood of information. God told Samuel about the evil ways of His people. What must it have been like to hear that sort of thing from God (who had never spoken to you before)? Samuel’s only guidance came from Eli who told him to do whatever seemed best to him. What a terrifying prospect.

Occasionally, I miss the more certain days of my youth. I miss the multiple choice callings, and the way my life seemed to stretch before me, predictable and safe.

I don’t miss my multiple choice God, predictable and safe and small. That God didn’t root me to the spot as I listened to His voice. That God didn’t send tingles down my spine when I picked up the phone. Now, the call comes, and I tremble a little when I hear the invitation. My response is often a request for the courage to accept.

Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know.

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