Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Voice of Vocation

Led devotionals this morning with the AA Colloquium group. Spoke about my sense of call - past, present, future. Began with a "I cannot not do this" moment back at Evergreen in the late 80's, to something evolving from what I and others expect from myself during the early to mid-ministry years of my calling, to now gradually something that I listen for from within the contours of my own life and context.

Resonated at several points with Parker Palmer's journey chronicled in his book, "Let Your LIfe Speak" - a required read for my D.Min program at Northern Seminary. I shared the following quotes this morning with the other pastors, ways that Palmer's journey seemed to parallel my own:

Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” (p.25)

Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for ‘voice.’ Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. (p.4)

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Buechner’s definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins – not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created. (p.16)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Viablity of Virtual Church?

Had a parking lot conversation recently about virtual church. A friend asked me what I thought about the prospects of community via social media and the like. I told him if you were on a deserted island, then yeah, community through computer screen, whether "attending" a worship service, fellowship through ichat, or communing via e-mail or Facebook is better than nothing. But how many of us are really in those circumstances? My fear is that this option becomes the convenient choice to the more difficult but ultimately more rewarding and essential task of actual relating.

To state the obvious, virtual community has its limitations. For one, it seems to me that much of the New Testament cannot be lived out without a real physical community that you literally bump into. Though it is admittedly possible to experience aspects of connection virtually, it is ultimately a challenge to break bread together, to forgive one another, comfort one another, speak truth, and encourage one another short of actual presence with one another. There is something to be said that the Son of God became human in Jesus and came to dwell among us. At precisely this point, Christian spiritually is enfleshed, it is embodied. Godliness looks human, not digital. God becoming flesh and walking in this world was in direct opposition to gnostic abstraction of the day. Arguably, both the Old and New Testaments describe God's people always as a very real people who gather together. Location and physicality are inherent in the expression of authentic faith.

Which leads to the related, and possibly bigger issue: Without a real, particular community that assumes a specific context, it is impossible for a church community to bear witness to the particularities of Christ in its midst. In other words, church is always socially located. If (and I assume it is) the church is the apologetic for faith, then that church is a real people who paint the outlines of the kingdom via their mutual life together, a life that can be seen, touched, and heard as a gathered reality, not just an abstract or idealistic one. For Christ to be made believable (trustworthy, verifiable), there must be a real visible community that gathers, worships, serves, and celebrates the Lord's Supper together - not just a virtual one. This goes directly to the issue of mission. Without a gathered body, bearing witness to Jesus in its very life as the people of God, in a particular social context, the church can barely be called missional. Virtually, the church at best is a mere shadow of itself.

This is the limitation of an on-line community. I am not saying there are not vestiges of community made possible through virtual means, certainly there are. But at the same time it must be said that it falls short of mitigating the tendencies of modernity to mimic true relating where physicality is necessity, not ancillary to true spirituality. The I-thou encounter of the first humans in Genesis 1 suggest that we are always ensouled bodies and enbodied souls, and that this flesh-to-flesh encounter with one another is partly what it means to be fully human and fully alive to God.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What's new?
In 2011 took up road biking, got a new kitchen, first time to NYC, and went back to school for a D.Min. What new things will emerge in 2012?

Already looking forward to Hawaii in July with the family. But before that, my first winter in Chicago coming up in a few weeks and great stuff around culture and connecting points this year at Epic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello 2012. But first, goodbye 2011.

Went biking yesterday with Brice, Charlie, and Lodi, third time this week after resting my knee for about 3 months. Beautiful ride with climbs up and behind Fullerton Road. Want to make this route part of my regular repertoire. Since purchasing my first road bike this past June, hope to ride more in 2012.

Two goals that I set out to do in 2011 finally come to an end (though their impact will hopefully continue)...

I took a sabbath from clothes shopping having been convicted of 1 Timothy 6:6-8, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." I had vowed to not purchase any clothing unless it was somewhat necessary or if I already a gift certificate for it. Overall, I did fairly well; though I must confess that I did make a few purchases: As I said above, I bought a road bike in June and with that needed some legitimate bike clothing; I also bought two pairs of jeans because they were 50% off - jeans are both my everyday and work clothes; and this December I purchased an on-sale REI down jacket with a gift certificate anticipating many trips to Chicago in winter…this first being later this month. During this self-imposed sabbath from shopping, I noticed I tended to stay away from malls and places I know I would see something enticing; I also realized I simply shopped less because I knew I couldn't buy anything anyway. Interestingly, the next verse in 1 Timothy say this, "Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (v.9). I learned one way to deal with a temptation is simply not to indulge it, to stay away if physically possible.

A second 2011 goal was to reflect on "abiding" based on verses from John 15:5…"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Couple of thoughts: I tried to pray more, or more deeply; one of my practices every morning is to recite the Lord's Prayer as a framework for my prayers. I tried to make room for more praise of God and also to think more deeply about my real concerns and hopes, to lift those up and trust God with them. I also felt that I was able to let go of results more this year; maybe this is part of getting older and realizing that there is much to this life that I will never be able to control or will into existence. Whether this is part resignation from being tired or just a bit of wiser living, I let more things be. This year also involved a season of loss (mostly of people moving away), but also of new growth (particularly going back to school - a doctoral program at Northern Seminary).

For 2012, I need to reflect a bit more, but in addition to reading through the New Testament I am considering what Proverbs 3:3-6 might mean for me, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and humankind. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." I thought of these verses the last week because they came up on two separate occasions: the first time was when Luke Mason read those verses on the bottom of his strawberry shake cup from In 'N Out; the second time came a few days later when my friend Eddie told me a funny story about a friend of his who was considering whether he should date a gal who wasn't a Christian; this young believer was getting advice from Eddie while he was driving (Eddie was in the back seat listening and texting at the same time). Eddie encouraged his friend to read the Bible and ask God what He thought; almost immediately the guy said, "Proverbs 3:5-6". Eddie, without looking up, replied, yeah, that's a good one. The friend said, "Whaaat? I was just reading the license plate of the car in front of me!" Eddie exclaimed, "Dude, that's God speaking to you!"

Maybe God was speaking to me, too, when Eddie told me that story. Verse 3 is about focusing on growing in love and faithfulness. The result is favor with God and others. I'd like that. Verses 4-5 is about trusting God with everything, letting things go to him, resting in the knowledge that He will make my paths straight as I (we) move into the future. I'd like that too.