on vocation and discernment

Saturday 26 April 2008

A little while ago I was asked to write a short article for the newsletter of the campus ministry I attended at college. Here is what I wrote:

There are two big words I remember hearing during my time at ULC: vocation and discernment. Pastor Lloyd reminded us all that during our time as students at Northwestern, our vocation was just that – a student at Northwestern. And when it came time for me to leave that place, it was a process of discernment I used to figure out where I would venture next. How could I “decide” where God was calling me? I needn’t worry if I had made the right decision, for I was assured that God would use me wherever I was, whatever I was doing.

I think about both of those words – vocation and discernment – as I approach the fourth anniversary of my graduation from Northwestern. After graduating in 2004, I spent my first two years teaching HS Math in the northern Chicago suburbs. However, I also spent the summer of 2005 and 2006 in Ohio, working as a camp counselor, as I had a few years during college. From there I moved to Milwaukee as a part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps – a year-long program where I lived in intentional community, attempting to live simply and sustainably while exploring spirituality and working toward social justice. My placement was in an “alternative” HS, co-teaching Math to about 100 students who didn’t quite fit into to standard Milwaukee Public Schools. This past August, when my LVC year was over, I moved to Washington, DC to take a position recruiting for LVC, in which I traveled around the Midwest, sharing about LVC at colleges and universities. I was recently hired to remain on staff to continue working with recruitment initiatives until Easter. And after that? – well, who knows!

It’s interesting to think I’ve now spent nearly as much time out of college as I did in college. But am I any closer to finding “my vocation?” A common definition of vocation is that of Frederick Buechner: “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And what happens when you throw the idea of discernment into the mix? Mustn’t we allow ourselves time to figure things out?

What I’ve come to believe is two-fold: First, our entire lives are a process of discernment. From the time we can talk, we’re asked something like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Thus begins one process of discernment. As we age, we are constantly discerning the kinds of relationships we want in our lives and if there might be a significant one among them. As I move around and do different “jobs,” I’m continuing to discern where to go and what to do next. And even if I come to a place I’m happy with, I’ll continue to discern whether to stay in that place and position or to maybe do something else.

Which flows into my second realization: Our vocation isn’t some job that’s perfect for us, but truly is, “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.” In all my different locations and positions, I feel I’ve been filling the hunger of the world around me while finding deep gladness throughout. There might not be one “job” I’m called to for life but instead many positions which fulfill my vocation.

So as I daily discern where God is calling me, I think of my vocation always in light of Micah 6:8b — “Do justice, loves kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

eric (CAS ’04) was a peer minister for three years while at ULC. You can learn more about LVC at www.LutheranVolunteerCorps.org and read eric’s blog @ ericbjorlin.wordpress.com

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the people in your life

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Ever since my blog about 1 million Iraqis being killed in the past 5 years, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I actually might know a million people. The perfectionist in me wants to make an excel spreadsheet list of all the people I’ve met (and remember enough to write down) in the past 25 or so years of my life, but the realist in me knows that would take quite a while and probably not be worth it in the end — and it would likely become just another list I’d want to keep track of as I meet more people, kind of like my ever changing imdb.com list of movies I’ve seen (those I want to see but haven’t just aren’t rated).  Plus, it would kind of be sad, deconstructing the humanity of relationships into simple spreadsheet.

So instead of turning my life into meaningless statistics, I instead try to think about all the lives of others that have intersected mine. There are definitely people I’ve been in the same room with that I’ve ran across but I would not say I “met” and certainly never “knew” them. And there are surely people who’ve “known” me but I never had contact with — those students for who my name came up in conversation and who were aware of my presence but for who I wasn’t their teacher would be one example. If you let the idea of “knowing” someone require the act of an introduction and/or conversation having taken place, the list becomes a little more exclusive, but even then I’m still amazed at the variety and abundance of people I’ve met and places I’ve met them.

School is one of the larger segments of ways I know people. Since I went to such a small school containing pretty much the same people K-12, perhaps I know fewer people than others that way, though with that small town, too, I came to know most of the people in the community in one way or another, and they can’t be forgotten about. I also know a lot of people form college — classes, dorms, and students groups — and if facebook would have came around a few years earlier, I might have a better estimate of just how many people that might have been.

Church and groups with a spiritual aspect are definitely another big connection for me. I’ve attended (regularly) about 4 churches in my life and have built lasting relationships with people in all of them. I’ve also attended many conferences, retreats, assemblies, and gatherings where I added more people to my “list.” I’ve met and formed many amazing relationships with those associated with Lutheran Volunteer Corps — volunteers, LVC staff, and the many people I met during my trip or otherwise recruiting for LVC. And this section would in no way be complete if I didn’t mention Camp Mowana. I’ve probably worked with around 100 people who were on staff while I was there, and then there are the hundreds, if not thousands, of campers and pastors/volunteers who I met during my time as a counselor. Because I have an issue with names, many of those campers would probably be slighted in a name-specific list format, so that’s another reason not to make one.

And then you have all the other somewhat random ways in which I’ve met people — parties, game night, community organizing, friends of friends, rugby/curling/frisbee/etc., jobs/work not listed above — I’m sure I could name many more ways. I invite you to reminisce about the many people who have stepped in (and maybe out) of your life, making it what it is today, for they are the ones who have truly brought it joy and meaning.

And I invite you (as always) to leave some of your comments about ways you’ve met some of the people in your life and why you find them special — be as specific or as general as you’d like, but I think it’s good to really give credit to those who make this life worth living.