Sunday, October 28, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Week 3

In week three of the Called series, we discussed what it means to lead a public life as a Christian and how it relates to our calling.  If we think of our calling as our true purpose, the unique and personal way in which we are to serve God and the Kingdom with our life, then having a clear understanding of how we live that out in front of an unbelieving world becomes important.  Throughout the series, Frank has related our current cultural situation as to being "exiles" in Babylon; we either live by our values or we live by those of Babylon, and it's very difficult for us to act as "ambassadors" to Babylon if our faith is not evident in our lives.

One of the things that was emphasized in this session was the pressure in our society to remove Christianity from the public sphere.  We split our lives into public and private arenas and draw lines about which things belong where.  In recent years, it has become a widely held, if not prevailing, belief that one's religion and faith belong squarely in the private arena, that bringing faith into the public arena is not just a breach of etiquette but actively hostile to those who do not share your faith.  What's rather ironic about this, at least to me, is how the internet and social media have been tearing down the walls between the arenas.  Many people put their lives out on display for the world to see, reducing the line between private and public to a blur.

For Christians, this split is something we must fight to overcome.  A faith that happens only on Sunday mornings is one that has no transformative power.  If you aren't living by Christian values in the workplace, school, or any other public space, then what values are informing your actions and choices?  It is rather difficult to be faithful to the Christian life, especially when it comes to evangelism, if all evidence of said life is sequestered away from the world we're trying to reach.

It's a complicated matter to address what that "public life" should look like, though.  It's not just the hair-trigger response to displays of faith as "offensive."  Living out the faith can seem obtrusive to certain parts of life.  Nobody wants to be "that guy."  Jesus's promise that his yoke is light seems unlikely if we must fuss and fret over every detail of our day-to-day actions and interactions.  Is it trite to say that we must simply try to be mindful of our actions and always ready to give an answer for our faith?  Probably.  But I'm not sure how else to deal with it without writing a treatise on the matter.

One other issue that was particularly interesting to me was Frank's emphasis on the story of Joseph in Egypt.  If you don't remember, Joseph receives dreams about his family bowing down before him.  His siblings don't take this kindly and have him shipped off to Egypt as a slave, where Joseph continually finds himself rising to the top of bad situations.  The thrust of it is that Joseph spent years in Egypt, first as a slave, then as a prisoner.  His visions, his calling, must have looked very confusing in those years.  It can often be very difficult to discern your calling in light of your current circumstances.  We can only act on the information and wisdom available to us, and trust God to continue guiding us as we go. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Week 2

The best way I can sum up this week is that our job is not our calling, but it is certainly not less than our calling.  Our work, whatever that may be, is a vehicle for living out our calling, even if the work is simply a means to provide for life's necessities.  We were made to work, and to find joy in that work, and we honor God and love our neighbors by the way we perform that work.

I'm really glad a distinction was made between profession and calling.  I think too many tend to blend the two, Christian or not, which can lead to a lot of confusion and heartache.  In times past, a distinction was made between "holy professions," the priesthood or the mission field, for example, and secular work.  One was noble work, the other not so much.  One was a "calling," the other was . . . well, biding your time, essentially.  Perhaps we've gone the wrong direction.  Any work can be a calling, but if your career must be a calling, then you've set yourself up for grief.

The importance of finding joy in work is another important point, and one I think has warped over time in this society.  This NYT article about men who do not work is a case in point.  Although the recession of the last few years has taken its toll on people, purposefully avoiding work because it's "not fun" or "beneath you" is an awful attitude.  Albert Mohler frequently described the dignity of work, that it's not just something we're made for but a responsibility; there is no work "beneath you" if you have a family to support.

The NYT article above made me think quite a bit about people of my own generation who aren't working at the moment.  Many went off to school being told, "Get a degree, something you love, you have to have one," only to end up with an expertise in a subject for which there are few jobs available.  (Though there are some unfortunate people snookered by unscrupulous departments that inflate their alumni employment statistics.)  There are probably plenty who are similar to Mr. Beggerow in the above article, obtained their degree and then won't work anywhere but their purported field, or even their dream job.  In a sense, that's understandable.  If you've spent thousands of dollars becoming an expert in a given field, it can seem like a waste of an investment to abandon said field. 

Those who went off for advanced degrees are an interesting case, though.  Grad school has long been, at the least, an escape from unemployment or a means of advancing oneself in a competitive field.  There's growing sentiment that universities have been over-producing degree holders, resulting in unemployment, among other problems, for the holders.  Folks in those situations can find it especially tough.  Many end up with such specialized knowledge that their options are limited, and jumping fields can be rough if the employer could just find someone who does have the right specialization.  Leaving behind the field for which you spent 5-7 years of grad school can be like amputating a limb, an agonizing decision.  Taking "lesser" work isn't frequently an option, either.  There's little incentive to hire a PhD holder for a minimum wage job, since they will leave just as soon as they can find a better option.

Of course, most of this is just diagnosing the problem.  We have such a strained relationship with work in western society.  At least for Christians, coming to terms with what God intended for work to be is a start. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Week 1

After the first week's session, I can say this will definitely be an interesting study.  Of course, it was great to see everybody again.  There's always a lot of to be said for drawing off the wisdom of those around you.

To summarize the first session:  In order to lead a worthy life, we must not just understand what our calling is, but what it means to follow that calling as servants of Christ in a hostile world.  Much of the emphasis was on the latter,  describing the nature of the postmodern world and how we can set ourselves apart from that. Though there wasn't much said about understanding your calling, I do still have a few things to say on it.

There's a lot of advice about finding or identifying your calling out there.  Our pastor really favors a quote by Frederich Buechner, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  There's a variety of other things said in this regard, but the overall idea in finding your calling is both knowing yourself and "watching the signs," "keeping the antenna up," "listening for God," and so on.  This is frustrating to me, though, because this is frequently described in very mystical terms.

I'm not going to ignore the possibility of the mystical in the faith, but I definitely don't think it's normative.  Finding your place in the world, discerning your calling, is something that everyone will experience, but few will hear that "whisper in your heart," or whatever the current popular term is.  Worse, many Christians discuss it as a definitive manner for discerning the will of God in many other circumstances, making it complicated for those who don't experience it.  Am I a bad Christian?  Am I "ignoring" God?  Am I not paying attention?  Why am I not having that experience?

As I've said before, this is something I've wrestled with for years.  I don't really have any sort of answer, but I think it's something that doesn't get talked about nearly often enough.

The other major part of this session, the discussion of finding our place in a postmodern world, is interesting to me, as I've read a number of authors who suggest that we're not so much in a postmodern world as a post-postmodern world.

It's hard to argue with the idea.  Postmodernism was said to have been the reining mindset in the post-WW2 era, and we are far removed from that society.  People under 30 have most of their interactions with the world through electronics:  Texting, email, Instant Messaging, Facebook, message boards.  So much connection, but very impersonal.  So much knowledge, but no depth.  With the extent of disinformation on the internet, truth, and not even in a metaphysical sense, becomes a tribal matter. 

Even with metaphysical truth we may be in the post-postmodern era.  The postmodern reckoning made morals and truth out to be relative and personal; there was no "wrong" answer to these matters because it was ultimately a question of what works for each person.  Those under 30 have been raised in a society that by-and-large ignores questions of truth, religion, and morality.  It's not that they're atheists, antagonistic towards the idea of faith.  Faith isn't even on their radar, it's an alien concept, an interruption to the status quo.  Morality in the post-postmodern paradigm is a function of victimhood, and everyone is a victim.  Right and wrong isn't a function of values, it's about offering benefits to the aggrieved and punishing privilege, real or perceived.

None of this changes the mission of the church.  I just find it interesting.

I look forward to seeing what Frank has in store for the remainder of the study. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Prologue

At my church, Hunt Valley Church, we're starting a new series this week called, well, "Called."  We'll spend the next seven weeks discussing the idea of the "calling" in the faith, how it relates to vocation and direction, what it means to follow as an individual and as a Christian in a hostile and alien world.

I'm really looking forward to this, as I'll be leading my small group during this series.  This will be the first small group I've lead since I was in college, so I'm a bit nervous, especially because I struggled with the concept of a "calling" in the past.*  The entire series is based off of the dissertation of our pastor.  I can only hope he will address the actual idea of a calling in the series and not assume that everyone is on the same page regarding the nature, definition, and workings of a calling.

If this Sunday's sermon is any indication . . . well, I'm going to reserve judgement.  There was a lot of time spent discussing living in a way that we have been "called" for, living in a purposeful way, leaning on Daniel (as well as Rack, Shack, and Benny) by way of example.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but it didn't hit the points I would have hoped.  We'll see how the first week of small group goes.

* - On a side note, it's really weird reading the older posts on this site.  This blog has been around, ostensibly, since 2003. My writing style and interests have changed a great deal since then, especially since the web has changed since then as well.  My writing has improved over the years, though I suspect it's become rusty, as my blogging slowed to almost nothing after I moved to Baltimore.  I suppose, if nothing else, this study will be an opportunity to find renewed purpose in the blog.