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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when religion breeds intolerance

Friday 18 April 2008

Religion is an interesting entity, isn’t it?  I’ve been a “religious person” since I can remember, and I would still consider myself one today, though that title makes me a little uncomfortable because of the many negative connotations it conjures up in so many people.  Many people have been hurt by religion, or probably stated more correctly, the “religious establishment.”  Religion can do many amazing things, as can be seen by some of the work religious entities do in times of crisis, but can also conjure up horrors, as we saw in the Crusades.  One could write books about a variety of issues concerning religion (and many people have — just visit any bookstore), but I want to talk about one issue on my mind today that connects with religion: intolerance.

I’ve had a few interesting conversations about religion this past week with someone I’ve met here in my travels, and the connection of religion to tolerance (or a lack there of) has crept into most of those conversations.  Our first conversation talked about how many religions do overlap in some qualities, like love and peace, but somehow the differences are what we tend to emphasize; and then, unfortunately, the values created out of those differences in some way cause us all to forget about the underlying values of love and peace found when one really looks at religion.

(Note: Instead of doing so for each example, I will iterate here that I believe each of the following religions, as a general rule, holds a value of love, peace, and tolerance, though each example shows that this can sometimes be forgotten about when looking at certain issues.)
A few examples:
The sector of Christianity which says God does not love or accept homosexuals.
The sector of Judaism which advocates for the expulsion of Palestinians from certain lands of the Middle East.
The sector of Islam which seeks a “holy war” against Westernism.

There are many great people in religious institutions and organizations working for peace and justice (CPT and LVC are just two examples), but it’s so easy to look at the bad instead of the overwhelming volume of good that is out there (the media certainly does it).  In general, I believe that religion should teach us how to be tolerant of one another and to seek ways to love and support one another in the struggles that exist for all of us in this world.

I certainly don’t want to be caught up in a “religion” which people associate with intolerance, but I haven’t let that be a reason to drop the “religious” adjective when I describe myself.  Hopefully as people experience who I am and what I stand for, they will realize that I, and maybe most of the religious community itself, believe in a life full of love and respect, hope and justice, for all people, and through connecting with others who share those values, we can truly make a difference.

Peace.