Reflections on Calling: Drill Down for this Precious Resource Nigel Marsh, Work-Life Balance

David Brooks, The Road to Character, Random House, 2015. (especially 262-67)

Your ability discern your vocation depends on the condition of your eyes and ears, whether they are sensitive enough to understand the assignment you context is giving you. ~David Brooks

Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous,  can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr Francis Su Harvey Mudd College Professor of Mathematics in Dialogue with Cal Poly Philosopher Kenneth Brown on Basis for Human Dignity and Academic Achievement Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y: Eunice Hill, UBC Grad (co-inventor of the Passion Project)


In his important 2014 book The (Un)Common Good, Jim Wallis posts an epilogue of Ten Personal Decisions for the Common Good which relate strongly to the concept of a calling where human beings can flourish together. We highly recommend this book of solid, tangible vision. ~Gordon

1. If you are a father or a mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives.

2. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse. Demonstrate your commitment with both your fidelity and your love. If you are single, measure your relationships by their integrity not their usefulness.

3. If you are a person of faith, focus on not just what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs. If you love God, ask God how to love your neighbour.

4. Take the place you live seriously. Make the context of your life and work the parish that you take responsibility for.

5. Seek to develop a vocation and not just a career. Discern your gifts as a child of God not just your talents, and listen for your calling rather than just looking for opportunities. Remember that your personal good always relates to the common good.

6. Make choices by distinguishing between wants and needs. Choose what is enough rather what is possible to get. Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same, and model those values for all who are in your life.

7. Look at the business, company, or organization where you work from an ethical perspective. Ask what its vocation is, too. Challenge whatever is dishonest or exploitive and help your place of employment do well by doing good.

8. Ask yourself what in the world  today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help to change that and join with others who are committed to transform that injustice.

9. Get to know who your political representatives are at both a local and national level. Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership. Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.

10. Since the difference between events and movements is sacrifice, which is also the true meaning of religion,  and what makes for social change, ask yourself what is important enough to give your life to and for.

Finding the integral relationship between your own personal and the common good is your best contribution to our future. And it is the best hope we have for a better life together. (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good, pp. 297-8)

II Corinthians 4: The Eternal Weight of Glory

Our discussion centred around Paul’s conclusion that the longing for  eternity (Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the heart’s deepest longing) and the weight of glory put into perspective our all too human trials, frustrations, assignments, exams and sufferings. The glory far outweighs the trials, by an exponential factor. In fact, it was suggested that Paul mean to say that these trials and afflictions could move us towards this glory if we handled them in the right way, and gave them over to God for his transformation. As II Corinthians 3 concluded, it is promised that we can be transformed daily from glory to glory.

This is part of the meaning of suffering. The trials are lightweights compared with the heavyweight eternity. The perspective of a vision of eternity in the heart (like the sun on the horizon, or the harvest moon) can help build ‘spiritual muscle’: realism. It is a kind f haunting. Many of the speakers in the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute series speak of the weightiness and substance and strength of the virtues; they believe that virtues of courage, justice, mercy, duty, honour, prudence , faith, friendship, loyalty, hope and love are heavyweights for human flourishing. Our assurance of this weightiness in the New Covenant is the glory in the very face of Jesus Christ. He is that promise incarnate. We have the privilege to carry such precious jewels as the gospel of  glory (presence, transcendence, transformation) in jars of clay. Even Parisian semiotic professor Julia Kristeva suggests we need to recover this perspective (The Incredible Need to Believe. 2011). The challenge is to wager on the great, well-trodden eternal path with glory as our trajectory for life; it is the way of joy that is a deep longing in every heart. This story is played out in Joseph Loconte’s brilliant little book The Searchers: the Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt.

This is contrasted with the values of people in the Spanish television series Grand Hotel (English subtitles), where the game amidst aristocratic elegance is arrogance, dark secrets, will to power, greed, condescension, murder, adultery, corruption, mutual manipulation, and coercion. Why do we find such drama so intriguing? It is perhaps because it resonates with our trying experience of some people we live, study or work with, share a lab bench with, but these relationships are not praiseworthy. They represent humanity at its worst, spiralling ever downward to greater depths. Jung would call this our dark side. The gospel claims that we have a choice as to which path we want to follow.

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  ~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

“I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done. I restore the years that the locusts and the worms have eaten. I restore the years which you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheelchair. I restore the symphonies and the operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massive which you eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder, and the identity lost to you through calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your foolish mistakes have cheated you of. And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets, and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.”

~Thomas Howard, Christ the Tiger. (p. 159)

“If there is a Bach, there is a God. All the hauntings seem to come from the same source and point back to it, however diverse the media through which they come. Not only faces, romantic love, pictures, stories, and music, but also the sense of almost unimaginably remote lands hinted at in the smell of certain breezes, the fascination that children have with colour (remember that?), the unforgettable power in certain lines of poetry–all these and thousands more are hauntings that seem today the same thing. There is something bigger than the world out there hiding behind everything in the world, and our chief joy is with it. The world is its mask; we must unmask it. We are outsiders, aliens, exiles; if only we could get in!”

~ Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing, (p. 111)

Key Markers of GCU Convictions

  1. Exploring a robust pursuit of excellence in truth, beauty, creativity and goodness/virtue in the academic context.
  2. Working from the agape posture in relations with others in the academic community; people matter as much as academic achievement.
  3. Commitment to a stance of intellectual openness and human hope beyond the confines of philosophical materialism/naturalism and nihilism. Seeking mature dialogue with people of other persuasions to promote responsible academic discourse.
  4. Optimistic that the rich heritage of Judeo-Christianity and the biblical story has much wisdom and balance to offer to the academic enterprise. Appeal to a deep church outlook, entailing strong benefits to a closer interface between academic and church communities.
  5. Serious about grappling with and developing a robust identity rooted in Jesus Christ, in the context of a pluralistic society, maintaining an openness to the heuristic power of his redemptive vision of the human condition. Recognize human brokenness yet pursue healing, recovery and renewal through connection to transcendent sources of hope.

II Corinthians 3: Talking Points

What does it mean to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ as Paul talks about it late in Chapter 2? Someone mentioned Tim Keller’s book, The Art of Forgetfulness to help us discern an appropriate kind of humility.

As we traverse between the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the metaphors change from stone tablets to human hearts, from letter to Spirit, from a trap to a liberation, from Moses to Paul, from a veiled to revealed status. The theme of transformation through the New is fleshed out in Romans chapter 8 as well as other places. The key verse here is 18. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory  which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The Old was good while it lasted, but now we have the New, the fuller, clearer revelation, justification and sanctification. The aroma of Christ comes through reflection and personal transformation. Bishop Lesslie Newbign says that the most important religious question is: How shall we glorify God?

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Psalm 119 was memorized in its entirety by William Wilberforce a nineteenth century British politician of the Clapham Circle who helped to end slave trade (1807) and slavery itself (1833). It is a profound statement of a heart turned towards God. Once he discovered his calling he never looked back, but put heart and sould and mind to the task of reform and renewal of British society. See Eric Metaxus’ biography of Wilberforce.

Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are a divine choice. Here you can enact eucharisteo; here you can become a current in a river of grace that redeems the world! Here I can become the blessing, a little life that multiplies joy, making the larger world a better place.” Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts. (see also post called ‘Brilliant Quotes from Ann Voskamp’)

Maturity: among other things–not to hide one’s strength out of fear and, consequently, live below one’s best. ~Dag Hammarskjold, second General-Secreatary of the United Nations, from Markings.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

We need a good story, a moral landscape of admonition and promise, for people who have sustained a bad Fall, but nevertheless seek a better city; and en route that the story should tell them who is their neighbour, how to find a way home after prodigal expenditure in a wasteland, and how to recognize a pearl of great price when they see it.

~Christian Sociologist David Martin, Christian Language in a Secular City. (London School of Economics Emeritus)

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”
― Nick HornbyThe Polysyllabic Spree

The meaning of life is to discover your gift; the purpose of your life is to give it away. ~Artist Pablo Picasso

In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from our Study Group. Much more could be added.

  • Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end of creation. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the ground of being). All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships divine and human, the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is present to the world.
  • He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and prophets of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching.
  • He is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As logos (John 1), he is the divine word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the key question: Why is there something rather than nothing? We are called to take captive all thought to his Lordship, his oversight. He is the end point of every spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration. He has renewed and healed the current broken relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter).

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)

  • He is the complete human, a fullness of humanity. He is a gift to us to direct our passions to that which can fulfill them. He came to take us higher, to show us the infinite goodness and agape love of God and to transform us by it. He is the renewed, most excellent representative of God on earth, the imago dei.
  • Jesus is perlocutionary speech act, God’s most powerful communication to human ears. He addresses us, calls our name, calls us forward into an adventuresome life. His words (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) are a culture driver. Through him, we have been identified and called into a new community, given a new identity as royal priests (I Peter) and the people of God. He is the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless (shalom). He is our home, our shelter/refuge, our anchor.
  • He is the Suffering Servant who empathizes with our human struggles, brokenness, alienation and pain, the Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen). He has suffered and does suffer for individuals, society and the world (I Peter); it is a redemptive, deeply meaningful suffering. He is Compassion.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)

Other metaphors: the Vine, Root of David, Teacher, Shield, Son of Man, Lion of Judah, the Way, Portion, Lamb of God, Refiner, the Bridegroom, Saviour, Rock of Ages, Presence of God, Alpha and Omega, Son of God

We welcome you to listen to the Hillsong album called “Zion” to experience these thoughts as worship

Recommended Reading: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( II Peter 1: 3-8)

Shakespeare’s Insight: The tragedy of the young Danish prince Hamlet is that he never found his calling in life. He was constantly tortured with inner and interpersonal conflicts, with lies, resentment towards his step-father and self-hatred. He could have been a reformer for his world, but instead the kingdom imploded and it all ended in nihilism and finally death. Immorality lead to collapse of meaning and the end of loyalty, even of his close friends Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. He was so deeply and painfully alone in the world. Why do we so love this play today and resonate with its classic lines such as “To be or not to be?” Perhaps to some degree Hamlet is us at some level in late modernity. We are lost and cannot find our way.

Alexandr SolzhenitsynOn the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual Iife.

If [secular] humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth … must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully to get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfilment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than when one started it.

~Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian Writer and Dissident during the Cold War, to a Harvard Commencement Class

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father over all, who is over all and through all and in  all.

~Apostle Paul, Ephesians 4: 1-6

Among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilisation … there has been only one—the triumph of Christianity —that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution”: a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as to actually have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good.

~David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies

Most of the discussion of prayer I had ever heard centered on whether God answers prayer and how we can know that he does. But during the past decade I have come to believe that prayer is not a matter of my calling in an attempt to get God’s attention, but on my finally listening to the call of God, which has been constant and patient and insistent in my inner being. In relationship to God, I am not the seeker, the initiator, the one who loves more greatly. In prayer, as in the whole salvation story … God is reaching out to me, speaking to me, and it is up to me to learn to be polite enough to pay attention. God speaks. The big question is do I answer, do I respond to an invitation that is always open.

~From Speech, Silence, Action! By Virginia Ramey Mollencott


Parker Palmer’s Deeper Understanding of Calling and Wholeness

We want to introduce some profound ideas  through quotes on the false and true self from Parker Palmer, a brilliant Quaker educator. They are  from his book Let Your Life Speak which I read  summer of 2011. I trust you will resonate and see their relevance to our discussion on the identity formation of graduate students. Graduate students are not a tabula rasa(blank slate); they are all subjects in process (Julia Kristeva), being formed and shaped by various forces, relationships, politics, experiences and ideas. But they also have an important role in their own formation; they need not be passive. Here is the wisdom of Palmer: Gordon

The people who plant the seeds of movements make a critical decision. They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truth about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside. They decide to claim authentic selfhood and act it out—and their decisions ripple out to transform the society in which they live, serving the selfhood of millions of others. (p. 32)

The pilgrimage towards true self will take time, many years and places. The world needs people with patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that sets us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth … is the authentic vocation of every human being. (p. 36)

To embrace weakness, liability and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self. At the same time, embracing one’s wholeness makes life more demanding—because once you do that, you must live your whole life. Deut 30:19 “I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Therefore choose life.” (p. 71)

Below are five of the shadowy monsters or cultural subtexts identified by Palmer, which biblical discourse can expose in us for our good. I summarize from Let Your Life Speak (pp. 86-90):

1. Insecurity about Identity and Worth: When we are insecure about our own identities, we create settings that deprive other people of their identities as a way of buttressing our own. We deprive the many of their identity so the few can enhance their own (from a win-lose perspective). Identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others. It depends on the simple fact that we are the children of God, valued in and for ourselves.

2. Belief in a Universe as Battleground, Hostile to Human Interests: This assumption encourages us to create the conditions for war in various aspects of life and work and it is very destructive. There is another way of doing business: which is collegial, consensual, cooperative, and communal. This alternative assumption believes that the universe is working together for the good, that harmony is more fundamental than warfare.

3. Functional Atheism: This is the belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me. It is a life without grace, without transcendence. It causes pathology on every level of our lives—leading us to impose our will on others and stressing our relationships and ourselves unnecessarily. It eventuates in burnout, depression and despair; we hit the wall of our self limits. This drives collective frenzy as well, refusing the ethic of Sabbath. We can, however, share the load, and thereby liberate and empower others.

4. Our Fear of the Natural Chaos of Life: We try to reduce or eliminate the messiness of life and this is projected as rigidity of rules and procedures, creating an ethos that is imprisoning rather than empowering. But chaos is the precursor to creativity; God started with chaos and then created cosmos. To fear chaos may well end in creating death. Think about it.

5. Denial of Death Itself (fear of failure): This leads us to think that we must keep resuscitating things no longer alive, or keep the old battles going (remember the Cold War and nuclear arms race in late twentieth century). This can also lead to depression or getting stuck spiritually, doing the same things over and over again without any improvement or positive change. Science knows the benefits of the death of a theory; it leads to progress of knowledge. Death does not have the final word; new life can emerge from it. Death is not the final limit of our life. Think resurrection, retrieval, renewal. One closed door (as harsh and disappointing as that can be) can lead to ten new open ones. Palmer, p. 94 writes : “We do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world where fear is multiplied. There is also trust, hope, faith. We can choose to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move towards others from a place of promise instead of anxiety … ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.” See also Ernest Becker on this topic The Denial of Death.

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” D. Stephen Long writes (Speaking of God, p. 159):

Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. … Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives.


Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection

Peterson insists that we do not need to be “lost in the cosmos” as Walker Percy speaks of the North American alienation disease. We can find deep meaning in a world of vast dimensions, multi-dimensional spaciousness if we dare explore it for all that it is.

When our walking and God’s calling are in balance, we are whole; we are living maturely, living responsively to God’s calling, living congruently with the way God calls us into being.  Axios, worthy–mature, worthy, robust. (p. 33)

God speaks the decisive word that puts us on the way, the road, the path of life. The Hebrew word for for Bible is Miqra, a noun formed from the verb “to call”, qara. The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to. The word of God that we name the Bible, book, is not at root a word to be read and looked at and discussed. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word that gets us going. Fundamentally it is a call: God calls us. (pp. 33-34)

Paul lays out the conditions in which we grow up, namely, in a profusion of gifts: “When he ascended on high … he gave gifts to his people.” The ascended Jesus, Christ the King, launched his rule by giving gifts, gifts that turn out to be ways in which we participate in his kingly, gospel rule. This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts, and then, as we are able, using them in a working relationship with our Lord … We begin as gift …. If we are to become mature, we must gradually but surely realize ourselves as gift from first to last. Otherwise we will misconceive our creation as self-creation…. These are gifts that equip us to work alongside of and in company with Jesus–the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). We are being invited into a working relationship in the operations of the Trinity…. What Paul insists on is that everything we do in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit is an obedient exercise of some aspect  of the work of the Trinity that we get in on as we become mature enough to do it.  (pp. 46-48)

Everything involved in the practice of resurrection requires vigilance lest we wander off on our own…. Left to ourselves, most of what we imagine God to be and do is wrong. Nearly all of what our culture tells us that God is and does is wrong. Not dead wrong, mind you—there is an astonishing amount of truth and goodness and beauty mixed into it—but enough wrong that if we swallow it whole we risk a “sickness unto death” (Kierkegaard’s diagnosis). Revelation is a radical reorientation of reality—God reality, church reality, soul reality, resurrection reality. We require a continuously repeated immersion in the revelation of God in the Scriptures and Jesus as protection against the lies of the devil. They are such affable lies: lies that smilingly seduce and distract us from the cross of Christ, lies that genially offer to show us how to depersonalize the living God into an idol customized to our use and control. (p. 205)

There are no maps to the mature life, and certainly not to the mature life in Christ. Growing up involves the assimilation of nothing less than everything, the “all” to the “one”. The “all” of parents, biology, schooling, neighbourhood, worship, Scripture, friends, prayers, disappointments, accidents, injuries, songs, depression, politics, money, sin, forgiveness, occupations, play, novels, children, poems, marriage, suicides—and the “one” of God, also referred to four times in Ephesians as “the fullness” (pleroma): Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (p. 180)…. The gospel alternative to [the] cultural welter of one-answer advice and crafty deceit, seduction and empty promises to a better life, is church. Church just as it is, revealed to us in Paul’s One and All: the One circulating all the particular blood cells through the body of Christ. (p. 181)

Paul has a strong foundation for understanding and entering into the comprehensive ways in which God is God: the ways in which God reveals himself as Father (the glories of creation and covenant); the ways in which God makes himself known as Son (the salvation accomplished in Jesus and the salvation community which is the church); the ways in which God is present with us as Spirit (the very life of God has given to us as a profusion of gifts empowering us to live the life of God)…. All the ways that God is God are implicit in all that God is and speaks and does…. The life of God and human life are not separate subjects. The primary way in which we participate in who God is in all the particularities of our actual living, deeply, personally, and inextricably in relationship, in the way of the Holy Spirit. It is because of God’s way with us as Spirit that we know that everything in and about God is livable—God bringing us into participation with God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not merely truths to be learned and believed. They are to be lived. The church is not primarily a place for education. It is a place, a playing field if you will, to practice God, to practice resurrection.  (p. 204)

Colossians 1: 15-20 (the Core of Life’s Meaning)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.

Christ Statue in San Paolo, BrazilChrist the Redeemer Statue, Rio de janeiro, Brazil


The freedom question, then, is not whether we can do whatever we want, but whether we can do what we most deeply want.

~Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

David Bentley Hart, Editor of First Things Magazine “[O]nly if the form of Christ can be lived out in the community of the church is the confession of the church true; only if Christ can be practiced is Jesus Lord. No matter how often the subsequent history of the church belied this confession, it is this presence within time of an eschatological and divine peace, really incarnate in the person of Jesus and forever imparted to the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, that remains the very essence of the church’s evangelical appeal to the world at large, and of the salvation it proclaims.”

Calling into Personhood or Rethinking our Narrative in terms of God’s Love: Becoming a person requires all the resources of heaven, but remaining self-centered carries hellish consequences. Hell is a journey into loss of self through contempt for others, a refusal to face the truth about oneself and a misunderstanding of freedom that leads to enslavement by obsessions and addictions.   ~Jim Houston in Joyful Exiles. Obsession with self-flourishing is one of the great problems of late modern people.

Vocation does not come from willfulness,

It comes from listening. I must listen to my life

and try to understand what it is truly about—

quite apart from what I would like it to be about—

or my life will never represent anything real

in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak


Calls are essentially questions. They aren’t questions you necessarily answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose your self, and kneel before. You don’t want an answer you can put in a box or set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life.

~Greg Leroy Callings

In the OT, the idea of calling means to call something into being: “Such decisive, creative naming is a form of making… Calling is not a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but called by God to be.” ~Os Guiness, The Call

In the NT, the idea of calling is almost synonymous with salvation and the life of faith itself. We are saved from being who we are not, and called to be who we are in Christ, our fullest self.

Questions to ask:

What is God saying these days about my calling?

As I settle into myself more fully, what am I learning about my calling?

Is there any place where I am resisting who I am or have lost touch with who I am?

Where am I wrestling with God and needing assurance of his presence with me?

Am I willing to say yes again to his call? Profound Question


Ancient Understanding of Calling: ~Andy Crouch

Stimulating literature is our lifeblood. It takes us to a new level of existence. GCU often sponsors a book study that introduces new ideas as part of its learning process. Our 2012 Spring study involved  a savvy volume: Andy Crouch’s  Culture Makingrecovering our creative calling. He makes note of how people of faith critique, condemn, copy and consume culture in various ways. Sometimes they even feel the need to be counter-cultural in their stance, if they feel that things are deteriorating. Crouch demonstrates that some of the Christian engagement is legitimate and important, even prodfound. But some of it is trivial and shallow, or even wrong headed.

In his book, he asks the pressing and important question: How can believers contribute to culture, or make culture? The bottom line for his analysis is to pay attention to how cultural impact happens–through cultural artifacts. In order to make culture, he suggests that we need to first recover the posture of the artist and gardener like our first parents in the Genesis narrative. I am grateful to him for his wise insight that we should first be preservers of good cultural heritage: “People who consider themselves stewards of culture—guardians of what is best in a neighbourhood, an institution or a field of cultural practice—gain the respect of their peers.” He’s correct. Nothing could be more relevant to graduate school; we stand on the shoulders of giants; we enter a conversation that began centuries ago in many cases. Creativity and innovation needs roots in order to last.

Many university students are in search of meaning and a substantial trajectory for life (calling is the deeper word), a niche in which to contribute their whole life. Where does one find this niche? Where will I contribute or make my mark? Andy’s thoughts offer a vision and a constructive way forward in the midst of our broken and beautiful world.

Nihilism, the default option for people who have closed themselves off to grace, is one answer to the question: i.e. the belief that culture is all about power relations that must be negotiated shrewdly in order to survive (M. Foucault). Perhaps the ‘Hunger Games’ novels and movies are a stark illustration of this ideology: children killing children in order to survive, and yet darkly for the entertainment of an oppressive dictator and his elite class. It is a contemporary take on the Roman coliseum gladiator games. Why is it so popular, so gripping? Perhaps the author has struck a deep nerve with how we late moderns feel, and he is positing some tough questions.

Our present culture is riddled with subtle and overt coercion, deception, contempt and bullying. Nihilism (aka antihumanism) is presently lively as a stance, but thankfully by no means universal. In a competitive world, this attitude treats the Other as a barrier or competitor to one’s goals, a means to one’s personal ends, or even a threat to well-being. Will that produce the kind of community most of us desire at university? There is, of course, an alternative paradigm of thinking about our world. It is in the retrieval of the deeper creativity of the Christian heritage of humanism for academic community, collegiality, commitment to the good of the Other, compassion and servanthood? Hear Crouch speak to this concern:

What we are missing, I’ve come to believe, were the two postures that have been least explored by Christians in the last century. They are found at the very beginning of the human story, according to Genesis: like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators…artists and gardeners….Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them. And then, after contemplation, the artist and the gardener both adopt a posture of purposeful work. They bring their creativity and effort to their calling….They are creaturely creators, tending and shaping the world that original Creator made. (Culture Making, p. 97)

This book is well worth the read, a profound attempt to recover an ancient vision of life that goes back over 4000 years. There are many footprints to follow, and many artifacts to examine. Crouch digs deep into the collective memory of Judeo-Christian tradition and comes up with practical, relevant suggestions and illustrations of this pro-active posture on culture making, and calling fulfilment–a lively contribution to our ongoing search for meaning in 2012-13.

See also future UBC speaker Jens Zimmerman’s new release, Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. IVP Academic, 2012. (http://ubcgfcf.comUBC Lecture on Christian Humanism by Dr Zimmermann.


Canadian Folk Singer Bruce Cockburn, captures the spirit in his song ‘More Not More’ on the Humans album.

There must be more …

More songs more warmth

More love more life

Not more fear not more fame

Nor more money nor more games

More current more spark

More touch deep in the heart

Not more thoughtless cruelty

Not more being this lonely

More growth more truth

More chains more loose

Not more pain not more walls

Not more living human voodoo dolls.

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 11.13.12 AM


We need a good story, a moral landscape of admonition and promise, for people who have sustained a bad Fall, but nevertheless seek a better city; and en route that the story should tell them who is their neighbour, how to find a way home after prodigal expenditure in a waste land, and how to recognize a pearl of great price when they see it.

~Christian Sociologist David Martin, Christian Language in a Secular City

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Other Authors on Calling: Gordon Smith, Paul Stevens, Paul Williams in Marketplace Theology at Regent College.

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