Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
June 14, 2016
Food for the Soul:
What's Your Calling? And...Who Are You at Your Core?
Often when I read books, I read them in pairs so that the two different books not only have a dialogue with each other, but so that through their interaction I can benefit from the fruit of their conversation as well. Recently I've been reading two interesting books: Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work
by Dave Isay and The Road to Character
by David Brooks. Both books have much to teach us about life.
Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps and the recepient of numerous broadcasting honors, takes us through the stories of countless individuals as they share their personal stories related to work. In the process, we learn about contemporary dreamers, healers, philosophers, and groundbreakers, who
all teach us about their sense of calling as bridgetenders, library assistants, bricklayers, farmers, hospice chaplains, sanitation workers, grocers, teachers, beekeepers, subway conductors, artists, building contractors, etc. It is an amazing array of vocations that are explored, and in the process we enter a variety of new and different worlds. For me, the value of reading about all these different lives was that my mind and heart grew larger as I learned about the passions and struggles that others face daily in their chosen professions...and "callings." Too often we see the world through our own vocational lens and don't truly understand what the world looks like through the eyes of someone else, whose work takes them into an entirely different realm of reality.
The book opens with Mary Oliver's wonderful question: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Through Isay's book, we quickly learn that people answer that question in a number of deep and powerful ways. Consider for a moment what farmer Johnny Bradley tells his daughter, Kathy, about his work: "You know, if I could live in the house that I really wanted to live in, I'm living there. If I could have married the girl that I wanted to marry, I married her. If I'm in the occupation that I wanted to be in, I'm doing that. I borrowed a lot of money to go back to the farm, but I don't have to share it with the boss man. I worked hard; I do my own figuring. And for that, I guess I'm pretty fortunate. And very pleased."
Or what about what Chassitty, age16, tells her mother, Noramay, who is an engineer and entrepreneur, after hearing her describe her calling: "You graduated high school. You graduated MIT. And you graduated MIT again. I see people who are stuck in situations and they can't get out. But you showed me that anything is possible. So when I do find my career, I want to make sure that it's something I love and don't feel stuck. I want to go to work and be happy." Many of the responses I found in Callings
naturally took me into the realm of character that David Brooks so meaningfully explores.
Brooks believes that "we are summoned by life," and that "character is built both through drama and through the everyday." The interplay between what we experience on the inside and how that is manifested on the outside is evident throughout Brooks' work: "Your ability to discern your vocation depends on the condition of your eyes and ears, whether they are sensitive enough to understand the assignment your context is giving you. As the Jewish Mishnah puts it, 'It's not your obligation to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from beginning it.'"
Through Brooks' book we travel through the worlds of the summoned self, self-conquest, struggle, love, self-mastery, and self-examination. In the end, we learn, as the Yale law professor Anthony T. Kronman puts it: Character is "an ensemble of settled dispositions-- of habitual feelings and desires." So that, in Brooks' words, "If you act well, eventually you will be good. Change your behavior and eventually you rewire your brain." This feels so Wesleyan in many ways. Perhaps this is why Brooks concludes by saying: "There's an aesthetic joy we feel in morally good action, which makes all other joys seem paltry and easy to forsake."
Maybe ICU nurse Michelle Alore sums it up best when she tells her daughter in Callings: "You have to do what you want to do. This is the rest of your life-- you have to pick something that you're passionate about.... Pick something that moves you, something that you're proud of-- something you can keep getting up for and doing the next day. Because it's not easy; it's work. But it's what I love. So I would hope that you find something that you love. too."
For me, both books point to the fact that we can get a glimpse into the Kingdom of God almost anytime, because it is in our midst constantly in everyday life... and in our callings.
Blessings on your journey,
is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.