Getting Down to The Real Work

This article, presented below, by Jake Owensby, a Bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC), resonated with me instantly. It speaks of the ‘calling of God’ upon everyone’s life to first, understand that simply by being alive as human being made in the Divine Image and Likeness, one can then be led to slowly understand the reason for one’s existence, and then to live out the import of exactly the reason for which each one of us was created.

Vocation is sometimes limited to the idea of one’s future career or special calling – often used in the Church as a ‘calling’ into a specific ministry. The truth is that ‘ministry’ is not just a spiritual calling to become a priest or some other religious leader, but a calling to everyone to ‘live out’ (or, better ‘live into’) their own particular calling from God to become more fully one’s-self; as a living, breathing, messenger of God’s love to the world – most of all, to ‘love one’s neighbour as one’s-self’. (Love may be the one thing that increases as it is shared!). One of the sentences used in the Christian Liturgy, used on Holy Week is this: “Where Charity and Love are – there is God”.

The trouble is, not enough spiritual leaders are aware of their special calling to ‘encourage and empower’ their followers to understand that they are actually tenderly loved and cherished by their Creator, God; to the point where they are able to administer that unconditional love to the people around them – irrespective of race, language, colour, creed, social position, gender or sexual-orientation. ALL people are created by God and ALL are precious to God.

This is the message of Salvation and Redemption that each one of us, through the power of God’s Spirit, has been called to proclaim to ALL.

My Friend-in-Christ, Bishop Jake, of T.E.C., has here written a wonderful piece of advice and encouragement to that end. Be encouraged to really believe that God loves you enough to want you to partner God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in his given task of the salvation of our world.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch New Zealand

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Getting Down To The Real Work

Part of my calling as a Bishop in the Episcopal Church is to help other people discern their own calling. Some people are called to ordained ministry. But it’s important to understand that everybody—and I do mean everybody—is called. 

When people talk to me about their calling, my assumption is that the Spirit is stirring in their life in some way that they just can’t ignore. God wants to be up to something with them.

So what we seek to hear together is not whether the person is called. Instead, we listen with an open heart and an open mind about the the shape that God’s calling will take in their life.

In my own story, getting clear about and responding to God’s calling was not instantaneous. It unfolded in what may seem to be a meandering, stop-and-go, detour-littered way.

For instance, the summer before starting college my friend and eventual roommate Jeff asked me what I would be majoring in. My honest answer would have been, “Beats me. I just want to do something that makes me feel alive and that will make some sort of difference.”

What I actually said was, “Psychology.” 

And sure enough, I earned a psych degree. But along the way I discovered that I loved philosophy. So I not only double-majored. I earned a doctorate in philosophy, taught at a university, and got tenure. And after all that achievement I realized that God was still stirring around in my heart (or gut or head or soul or all the above) about what I might be doing on this planet.

The turning point in my discernment story was not job dissatisfaction. On the contrary, there was much that I loved about teaching and writing and pondering life’s big questions. Instead, I came to see that my approach to life needed to change.

I was leading my life according to the competency-achievement narrative. That narrative says: I am what I can do and what I have achieved.

Up to that point, I was building a career. Increasing my professional competence, acquiring valuable skills, and accumulating achievements. There is nothing in the world wrong with this. As Carl Jung and Richard Rohr have explained, this is the primary work of one season of our lives.

However, the competency-achievement narrative will distort and diminish life if it becomes the only narrative we know how to tell about ourselves and about other people. In that case, we will perceive our worth and our dignity as a function of our accomplishments. The universe, our society, and even our own inner voice will persistently ask: What have you done for me lately?

To put it differently, the competency-achievement narrative puts each of us on an endless conditional-love hamster wheel. As soon as you stop running, you’re nobody. A loser.

Jesus teaches us that hearing our calling depends upon knowing our true identity. And the competency-achievement narrative gives us a false identity. We are more than what we accomplish. We are the Beloved. And sometimes we need to fail to find this out.

The story of Jesus calling Peter makes this point. (Luke 5:1-11)

Jesus was teaching a crowd on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The people thronged to him. They didn’t want to miss a single word that he said. Some were even reaching out to touch him. Bit by bit they had nudged him to the water’s edge.

Earlier, a local fisherman had beached his boat on that very spot. He was still sitting in the stern. So, Jesus hopped in, asked him to shove off a few feet, and started teaching again. That fisherman was Peter.

When Jesus had finished the day’s lesson, he asked Peter to put out to deeper water and to drop his nets. Peter had been at it all night long and hadn’t caught a thing. Weary and more than a little skeptical, he did just as Jesus had asked. And he immediately hauled in an enormous catch.

In response to the amazing catch, Peter fell to his knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Now there are tons of fruitful ways to interpret Peter’s response. But in the context of vocation I want you to consider this. Jesus came to Peter in a moment that the competence-achievement narrative would rank as a failure.

According to that narrative, a fisherman is measured by one thing: catching fish. If competence and achievement make you who you are and determine your value, then a fisherman who can’t catch fish is a serious nobody.

I like to think that Jesus did not make the fish appear out of nowhere. They had been there all along. Peter had simply failed to bring them in. And Peter realized it.

So that leads me to render what Peter said like this: “I’m a loser. Nothing I do is going to get you to take me seriously. To convince you that I’m worth respecting, worth loving.”

And Jesus said, “Friend, it doesn’t work like that. I love you because I love you, not because of what you can do or what you have accomplished. It’s not your resume I love. It’s you. And now that maybe you can see this for yourself, we can get down to the real work.”

Well, actually Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Once we know, I mean really feel right down in our marrow, that we are the Beloved, we can get down to the real work, the work we’re called to do: healing the world with the divine love no matter what kind of job or career we may have.

Each of us is the Beloved. And as the Beloved, we participate in God’s redeeming work. As Henry Nouwen put it:

“The great message that we have to carry, as … followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.” (In the Name of Jesus, 30)

Hearing your calling begins with hearing God’s first and last word to you: I love you.

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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