The Call

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know that I seek wisdom from a number of sources.  I wrote a blog on that awhile back, titled “What’s Black and White and Red All Over?”  Since I’ve joined the staff at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, I’ve learned that I had better be aware of recent columns in the New York Times written by David Brooks.  Our senior pastor reads just about everything Brooks writes, including the books, and it’s good to be prepared for the discussion.

david-brooks

We take turns sharing devotionals in our Wednesday morning staff meetings, and I was called on to share in the last month or so.  Coincidentally, Brooks had just published a column the day before, which I read, about distinguishing between vocation and a career.  Brooks wrote in the context of Leadership in America, the current election, and the choices we have when we cast our vote.  You can read the article here;  please stick with me, though, because I’m not talking politics (not today, anyway).

As I read this column, I reflected on how the same concepts apply to each of us, as we strive to find joy in the work that we do.  Let’s break down some of what Brooks shared, in this new context (pushing Brooks’ context of politics to the side for another day):

A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.

 Maybe this resonated with me because of an interview I had participated in recently.  As you might know, I am seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church, and on that day, I spent one hour answering questions in front of my district’s Board of Ordained Ministry – questions about my theology, doctrine, sacraments, etc.  The first question we are asked is, “Tell us about your call.”  We proceed to share how God called us to ordained ministry, and how we embrace that call.

The same holds true for everyone – because we are all called to a vocation and to ministry, just in different ways.  Some are called to be teachers, or first responders, or a full time parent.   Some are called to build houses, or buildings, or household appliances.  When you find the joy of that call in your life, it is undeniable.  This is what Brooks means – a vocation brings joy to your life; a career brings a job…  And a call is so, so much more than a job.

calling-career-job

A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur.

You know you have found your calling when you feel joy, even when there are challenges.  Trust me, even in ministry, there are times when I struggle to keep my head above water.  But when I am a part of something – a program, a conversation, a bible study – where someone is so obviously transformed, even for a moment….that’s a sense of overwhelming joy.  Kind of like the scene from “The Incredibles”:

incredibles-totally-wicked

The careerist mentality frequently makes [us] timid, driven more by fear of failure than by any positive ideal.  This timidity results in fear which plays out as self preservation, or the ambition of self over others.

Brooks also quotes the poet David Whyte:  “Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself….losing all sense of our own voice, our own contributions and conversation.”

When we find that vocation or calling, and more importantly, when we respond to it – we find ourselves helping others and striving to lift up (yes, to love) others in need.  Even better – we find when we help others find joy, our own joy is increased.  When we love each other as Christ loves us, our fear and anxiety decrease, and we truly live into our calling – a calling so big, and so vast, that we find ourselves using our imagination – our voices – our hearts – to life others up to a better life.

Here’s the challenge: don’t be afraid to listen for the call, and to respond to it.  As we read in 1 John 4:18:

1-john-4-18

Don’t stop seeking your true vocation, your call, for it will bring you unlimited joy, and with that, you will bring unlimited joy to others.

 

 

The Side Door

There’s a meme making the rounds again in social media, starring a toddler who wants to go home after church, but his mom is still ‘chatting’ with others:

church over and trying to leave

My son and my husband (both sans tie) have experienced this emotion.  I can see their faces now: “Will she ever stop talking?  Is there anyone she doesn’t know? How does she know every.single.person’s.name? ”

The answers to those questions: I don’t know.  Grandma Mary just passed on the gift of gab to me; part of that gift is being aware of what others are going through in life, trying to make them feel better, and being genuinely happy to talk with them.  I don’t pull it off half as wonderfully as she did, but I try.

So yes, I linger in the lobby, talking with those who want to say hi, catch up, give a hug, etc.  It’s usually a festive area, with lots of laughter and smiles.

But here’s the thing.  If I only use the front door, and if I only talk with those in the area that is known for smiles and joyful chatter, I have to ask myself, “Who is not included here?”  In other words, “Who is using the side door, and why?”

Stop to consider – is anyone using the side (or back) door because they feel out of place?  Is anyone using the side door because they don’t feel deserving?  Is anyone using the side door because they think no one cares whether they were here or not?

If we are all, truly, one body with Christ as the head (as I discussed last week and referenced by the verses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26), then we must care for each individual part, to keep the body healthy.   We need to care for each other – the familiar and the stranger; the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick.  We need each other.

And what happens when we show we care?  I don’t think I can show you any more clearly than in this video from one of my favorite You Tube sites, Soul Pancake: http://bit.ly/1VFvxkN

How can you show someone you care, today?  Are you willing to search out those using the side door, to let them know they are equally important?  I’ll bet you are.

And if, when you check out those in the side door, you run across a 15 year old trying to sneak out because his mom is still talking …. feel free to chat him up until I arrive.  His Great Grandma Mary would be proud to hear he’s carrying on the tradition.

 

 

 

Am I a 10?

Wait, that sounds a bit too much like the loaded question, “Honey, does this outfit make me look too big?”  Hint to honey:  respond ‘no’ under all circumstances.

Perhaps clarification is in order.

perfection

I have a friend who insists that accuracy is important.  And he’s right, especially as it relates to financial analysis, the context in which he was speaking.  In that particular case, ‘perfection’ is important; but even then, inaccuracies are measured in material terms.  Are the errors material to the statement?  If not, probably ok to pass on correction.

Another example, same friend.  This one has to do with those pesky annual evaluations from our friendly human resource department.  You know the ones – rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, a number of attributes on which a person is ‘graded.’  My friend’s outlook on these forms is insightful:  Should we expect that everyone should strive for a 10, on every attribute, every time?   The answer, it might not surprise you, is ‘yes and no.’

See, we are not ‘practically perfect in every way’ Mary Poppins.  And, if you believe as I do, only one human who ever walked this earth was perfect.  So what do we do with this expectation of perfection?  Let’s look at it in three points:

  1.  We shouldn’t try to be a 10 in all categories in all circumstances, at least that’s my friend’s motto.   He is right – especially if we are working as a team.  See, one person might be an 8 in analysis, but a 2 in creativity;  another might be an 8 in creativity, but a 2 in administration.  The question I’ve learned to ask is this:  In which categories am I most likely to move my 8 to a 10?  Is it likely that if I consistently score a 2 that I should expect to raise it to a 10, or even an 8?  Probably not.  So it appears we should be focusing on two things:  finding the strength of each person, and making sure those strengths are appropriately additive to the team results.
  2. Finding our strengths.  Outside of those fun (and often predictable) social media quizzes, how do we know?  Some of us know by instinct; others don’t realize until someone points out the gift.   In a biblical setting, these strengths are referred to as ‘spiritual gifts,’ and once identified to us by the Holy Spirit, we gravitate toward those gifts with a passion.  In            1 Corinthians, 12:4-11, Paul writes about these gifts using the Greek word for ‘charisma,’ or that of which someone is graced.  See what he does there?  We are ‘graced’ with ‘gifts.’
  3. OK, I think I know my gift – what now?  Funny thing – Paul continues to answer the question for us.  In 12:12-31, Paul creates an image that we are all parts of a body, with Christ as the head.  More importantly, each part of the body relies on the other parts.  It matters not what your individual function is; what matters is that together, we make up the body.  Together, we create Christ on earth, to be each other’s strength.  Together, we strive for a 10.

And how exactly do we do that, you ask?  1 Corinthians 13:  The gift of love.  When we act in love – the love taught by Christ – we score a 10.  1 Cor 13:8 tells us that love never ends – all of those other gifts:  prophecy, tongues, teaching, knowledge:  all of these are only part of a whole and will eventually end.  But when we love – when we love and act on that love as Christ calls us to love – that is the perfection for which we strive.

So maybe we should think about changing the answer to “Honey, does this outfit make me look big?”  Consider, instead, the answer: “It doesn’t matter, honey.  I love you even where you aren’t a 10.”

Lessons from the Candy Jar

Outside my church office, on a desk where volunteers gather during the week, there sits a candy jar.  The church staff takes turns keeping it filled, so that visitors and volunteers who meet with us can share a tasty treat on their way out the door.

candy jar

Over the last year, I’ve noticed a few things about the candy jar, and I’d like to share these observations with you now:

  1. Left over candy isn’t very welcoming. After Halloween last year, I brought in my left over candy that didn’t get claimed by the neighborhood kids.  I couldn’t understand it – the sour bites looked good from the outside.  It wasn’t until I tried one myself that I learned the sourness was just awful.  I mean, really awful.  Our guests deserved better.

This lesson can be applied to other areas of life, too.  Our classes, our business presentations, our families:  everything works better when we give out thoughtful attention.  In other words, if we aren’t prepared for class on Sunday mornings, are we asking our class members to eat left over candy?

  1. People have favorites, but they are often pleasantly surprised with variety. I’ll admit it:  I love Almond Joy bites.   They remind me of summer months, visiting my grandmother in Arkansas, and walking to the convenience store with my sisters, quarter in hand, to buy an Almond Joy.   There was nothing about that smooth taste I didn’t like:  the coconut, the dark chocolate, the almonds.  Given a choice, I’d choose Almond Joy candy bars every time.  But every once in a while, Almond Joy was out of stock, and I had to choose something else.  That was when I learned that variety can be a good thing.

Sometimes we get in that habit with our Sunday class planning.  We know what our classes like, and we don’t want to change.  How many times have I heard that comment!?  But maybe – just maybe – the class members want a change.  Maybe, with a little creativity and planning, we can mix things up and put those York Peppermint Patties in the candy jar.  When we put YPP in the jar, our guests are pleasantly surprised and remember that life is about a lot more than just Almond Joy, day after day.  Those York Peppermint Patties are devoured before the end of the day on Sundays!

Maybe your class really likes Adam Hamilton DVD’s.  But perhaps a short 4 week devotional on a particular theme is in order.  Maybe your class likes studying the books of the Bible in detail; but perhaps setting aside time to see film versions of those books can bring a new perspective.  Give your class variety in class programming.  Email me at cathy@cumc.com if you want help with that.

  1. Not everyone can eat peanuts. I am not sure the science of it all, but all of these peanut allergies have really exploded in the last 20 years or so.  As a result, we need to be aware that not everyone likes peanuts, and in some cases, peanuts are life threatening.

That brings an interesting perspective to how we select the candy.  Likewise, we should be aware of ‘peanut allergies’ in our classes.   Are there individuals who are going through a difficult time, and need our prayer and attention on days other than Sunday mornings?  Did someone inadvertently ‘serve someone a peanut’ not realizing there was an allergy?

The point here is in the solutions:  we won’t know if there is a peanut allergy in the room if we don’t allow time for everyone to speak.  We won’t know if there is a peanut allergy if the only time we are together is one hour a day on Sunday morning.  It’s only when a person is comfortable in a relationship, when a bond of trust has been formed, when we spend time with people, and when we listen, that we truly understand the reason that someone doesn’t eat peanuts.  More importantly – when we listen and understand – we might even show compassion the next time we select the candy, and offer an alternative for those with a peanut aversion.

  1. Many people (myself included) feel a need to sneak a treat. “I shouldn’t, but I will.”   “This is something I need today.”  Or, even better, the silent, unspoken word, as the lid barely clangs against the glass jar upon opening and closing.  Maybe no one will notice.  That candy jar has heard it all – spoken and unspoken, the guilt and the excitement, the disappointment that the last of the ‘good stuff’ has been taken.

I can’t help but think that what we yearn for in the candy jar can always be delivered in a talk with God.  “I need you today.”  “I’m not going to talk, but I just need to listen.”  “These are my favorites.”    I’m not in any way distracting you from sharing the candy in the jar; I just want to remind you that, like the love and grace God offers, the jar is there unconditionally.  We love you, and God loves you.  Take the candy – like, God’s love, it’s there for you, any time you need it.

You’ve Heard of Comic Con….Is there a God Con?

If you have access to the internet, or if you are active on social media, you could hardly miss last week’s reporting from San Diego, the city which hosts the largest annual ‘fandom’ convention in the world – Comic Con International.  The city was bombarded with visitors dressed as Marvel Heroes, DC Comic Heroes, Star Wars characters, Star Trek characters, Pirates of the Carribean, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frozen, and Dr. Horrible, just to name a few.

SDCC

For those who are not familiar with Comic Con, allow me to explain.  The first three day convention of Comic Con took place in August, 1970, in San Diego, with about 300 participants attending.  Attendees were treated to panel discussions between well-known comic dealers or actors, exhibit halls, a dealer’s room, and film screenings.  The convention has exploded in recent years to include over 130,000 attendees, 7 venues in the gaslight district of San Diego, producing four days of activity:  film previews and related panels, book signings, celebrity hosted events, ‘teasers’ for popular television shows for upcoming season, general programming and educational lectures, and gala balls in specific storyline themes.

The success of Comic Con has prompted numerous, and smaller, Comic Con productions; and there are spin-off concepts that have specific themes.  For example:

leaky con

Leaky Con (wordplay on Leaky Cauldron), a three day programming event dedicated to all things Harry Potter.  My daughter, Shannon, has attended this for three years.  Really…..it’s a thing.

vidcon

VidCon, which hosts more than 300 of the most innovative and influential YouTube creators, who perform, discuss, and connect with the more than 20,000 attendees at the three-day conference.  Shannon leaves for this year’s in LA next week (she’s actually networking for her internship).  Really….it’s a thing.

anime logo

And even Anime Fest, a satellite convention of the Anime mothership art genre recently held in Dallas.  I have no idea about all things Anime, but really….it’s a thing.

The surge of Fandom conventions – books, films, television, art – the popularity of these make me ask one question:

Is there a Fandom for God?

The answer, as you might guess, is simple.  God’s Fandom comes together weekly, and for me, I celebrate at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas.    Our general sessions take place in the narthex, where we find out the happenings for the day and week, and lead into the sanctuary or Trinity Hall for worship.  Our breakout sessions are the small groups, Sunday morning classes, and bible studies throughout the week.  We have specialty programs for children, music ministries and missions.  God’s Fandom organizes and celebrates at church on Sunday, and takes the celebration to the world afterwards.

church with people

Here’s the real kicker, though.  In whatever location you might worship, with whatever method you might employ, at whatever hour you might choose, God will show up.  In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us, “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.”  Even better, there’s no celebrity fee and no costume required.  The only thing needed is to invite the love of Christ into your heart.

Yes, indeed.  Christ has a Fandom, and it’s called the living church.

Because really…..Christ’s Fandom…..it’s a God thing.   And we’re all invited.