Monday, January 30, 2006

Asking God-questions....

A couple weeks ago we celebrated my father's seventieth birthday. There were many family and friends in attendance and I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I realize that my social discomfort was because I was tired of explaining why we had not moved to Pasadena. In fact I spent most of the time talking to those at the party I had not known previously, to avoid the issue altogether. However, I eventually sat down next to my Aunt to eat a piece of cake, giving her the opportunity to ask me about our plans to move. At this point I felt like a recording when I gave the details of the turn of events that had led us to postpone our move. When I explained that we had taken our house off the market after the third escrow had fallen through my Aunt said, “Maybe it is God’s will that you not move after all.”

I responded by saying, “I bristle a bit when people say that.” Feeling that I may have been rather abrupt, I explained I didn't want to assume to know the answers to God-questions like that. She paused a moment and then said, "I understand that, but sometimes we just need to feel sure about these things.” I agree with my Aunt that we all have a need for direction. Fredrick Schmidt says, “We want some indication that we are doing the right thing with our lives, and we are more comfortable having a set of ‘marching orders,' a to-do list.”

006059821201_scthumbzzz_This author goes on to say, “The complexity of our lives also lends urgency to that quest. We live increasingly unreflective lives, consuming minutes, hours, and days without savoring them. We rush from encounter to encounter without asking how those experiences might modify or challenge the way in which we live. And we move reactively through the events of a day, making incremental and unrelated decisions that shape our lives without our being aware of it. Then one day we find ourselves saying, “This is not the life I intended” (xvi).

Questions of choice and God’s sovereignty tumble over each other. Os Guinness warns that there is a danger of conceit in view of one’s uniqueness, and that we should “not confuse calling with guidance.” In our culture we are saturated with choice and change and that leads to real fragmentation.

“Asking God-questions ushers us into another way of being, a new way of seeing the world. As important as the I-questions might be, it is necessary to set them aside initially. If we focus on the I-questions, our search for the will of God becomes myopic and self-centered. God becomes enslaved to our needs, our program, our concerns, and our vision. What we think we can or should be doing is fashioned with little or no awareness of what God is doing in the world” (Schmidt, 27).

I think in many of my own efforts to be sure or comfortable with what I should be doing I have often missed the point. What is God doing in the world and how can I align myself with that? Where is God working? How can I get in on it? Schmidt recommends that we trust and embrace the God-questions so we can move forward with a hope and expectation that the needs of our lives will take shape and significance from something larger; from activity that is no longer focused on us alone, but an enterprise that involves and serves others---whatever that looks like.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

bound to one another....

I have been thinking about the importance of long-term friendships today, having received a beautiful email, filled with good news, wonder and joy from a close friend living somewhere in Croatia. It caused me to consider how often we track our lives with the lives of the people who are most dear to us.

I am reminded of a conversation I had while visiting another friend about fifteen years ago. We were on an evening walk through the neighborhoods near his home, enjoying Christmas decorations so many people had put out. I remember the lights and my excitement about so many things that had been going on in my life. At the time my friend was wrestling with some difficult issues and he responded by telling me that relationships were often like a wheel. Sometimes we ride it together to the top, while at other times we’re alone heading downward. We discover ourselves under the wheel with the weight of others trying their best to stay on top. Eventually something breaks and we find ourselves riding to the top again, while many of those we love and care for are still under the wheel. In these friendships there is no competition, only a desire for each other’s best. It’s a cycle of ups and downs, or the ebb and flow of our lives.

We had a guest staying with us this weekend. She is another “long-term” or “lifetime” friend. I always look forward to spending time with her; she fills me with gratitude. Her friendship, like those I mentioned above, is affirming, understanding and loving.

157683929x01_scthumbzzz__1Eugene Peterson says, “In this resurrection-created world, we find ourselves as allies and companions to friends, bound to one another not out of need or liking or usefulness but because there are common operations taking place among and within us. We are part of something larger and other than ourselves that we cannot adequately be part of by ourselves” (110).

Sunday, January 1, 2006

the mystery of vocation….

On this first day of the New Year I want to look forward to new beginnings, new resolutions, new challenges, probable good fortune and hopeful life changes. My wife read her journal entry to me today and in it she expressed the same desires, but also stated the flipside of things in a most conspicuous way.

She said, “Putting aside the old, always brings to mind the coming winter depression and that everything is still the same; how we are in a rut and haven’t been to church for a month.” She goes on to reflect on more than a few events and discouragements of the past year, not the least of which is a failed business venture, illness, hindered plans to move (the sale of our house fell through three times), and this preventing us from following through with the sale of our business and me attending seminary fulltime.

That should sum things up, but standing out against these things my wife also recognized the countless celebrated and sacred moments of the past year. I ask, why have I allowed the difficulties and disappointments of the last twelve months to overshadow so many marvelous things? For me it has been the mystery of vocation…

About three years ago I had lunch with a friend. I had what seemed like a difficult decision to make about an issue at work and I thought I needed to ask for some business advice on the matter. Like a Rogerian therapist she listened to my complaints until I had exhausted the subject and then I asked her what I should do. She said, "Darren, do you hear what you've been saying?" She went on to inform me that I already knew the answer to my question. I just had to get beyond the obstacles and objections and make the only reasonable choice. She was right, and at that moment I made what has proven to be the best decision; I implemented the change when I returned to my office.

With the business question out of the way I surprised myself by telling this same friend about the dramatic change that had come over my life since I re-embraced the teachings of Christ. I tried to express how I feel; I am redirected, focused, experiencing a renewed joy for life and people. I am a new being, it is a new beginning, I am loved by the Creator and God has given me the Spirit of peace. She listened to what I had to say and with excitement she said, "Darren, do you hear what you've been saying?" I was startled by her reaction and asked her what she meant. My friend responded, “You’ve got the call!” I was stunned by her response and at the same time I was confronted with the truth of what she had said. What made this revelation feel like a bombshell is the fact that my friend claims to be an atheist.

Musicalbear_4It was through this experience and countless others that I began to acknowledge the mystery of vocation. Matthew Fox describes this mystery in his book, On Becoming a Musical Bear, “It is the mystery that one experiences when he says, ‘I feel I want to be a lawyer and work in legal aid,’ ‘I have to write,’ or ‘I feel called to minister the Gospel,’ or ‘I used to play around all the time until I began my own family and I love them so much I want to do everything possible for them,’ or ‘I must make music.’ All of these instances are what we might call ‘vocations’; that is, a ‘being called’ to one’s work or one’s contribution to life. That these callings are mysteries is evident from the very wording in which they are couched. They are convictions, imperatives, that invite one to respond positively. They bring about change in a person’s life or attitude toward life. They motivate and dispose him to dedicate himself. They are inescapable. They imply in every case some passivity on the part of the individual; that is, a claim that something happened to him (whether by words or events is incidental) that was bigger than he and drew him out of his tiny world into a bigger one” (45).