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The Telepathic Man

Yesterday, an older gent said, “Young fella, you know you don’t have to save the world, right? Peace, peace, peace.”

I didn’t respond, but in the recesses of my noggin, I said, “older fella, thank you. How did you know I needed to hear that?”

The older gent must’ve known my thoughts because he said to me (without moving his mouth), “young fella, I’ve been a young fella before, too. It’s the trying to save the world that put this crook in my back and this cane in my hand. Peace, peace, peace.”

Again, I was silent and a bit mystified, and he musta picked up on it because while I was staring at him, eyes wide as moons, he said more words, words I’ve heard on a thousand Sundays, but this time he says them all telepathic-like, and he winks, and somehow that gives the words heft and meaning. He says to me, “stop striving. You ain’t God, or a god, or demigod, or even some kind of nano-Bono.”

It’s the nano-Bono thing that got me, if I’m honest. And so, I looked at him all bumfuzzled and smiled.

I love that old gent, with the crook and cane that is somehow a comfort. His wisdom is older than the dirt under my fingernails. It’s better than my best intentions, too.

And so, in light of his instruction, I leave you with the same encouragement: peace, peace, peace; in all things peace.

 

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My Priestess

It’s a season of unexpected motion, of movement. Amber, my wife of nearly 18 years, has reached the end of a sort of wrestling down her identity, or maybe it’s just the beginning. She’s been my girl, my beauty, my prophetess for all these years. She’s been the thing that’s brought me to salvation again and again, even in the bleakest seasons. What is a lover but a type and shadow of divine love? Lover–I could use this could be a sort of holistic nomenclature, but is this who she is?

She’s been my lover, yes. She’s been the mother to my children, too. There were years of sippy cups, diaper changes, and late-night feedings. The years that followed have been filled with other things–comforting hugs, words of discipline (perhaps frustration), gut laughs. What is a mother but a shepherd? Mother–this is also a facet of who she is, but it hardly names the gem.

She’s been a friend, a giver, an encourager. She’s been faithful to minister Word and sacrament to her people, I suppose. Maybe more, she’s been faithful to the ministry of flowers, one of the unsung ministries of friendship. What is a friend but the embodiment of Word and sacrament? What is a friend but the gift of flowers. Yes, a flower knows a flower; a friend knows a friend, but even these are not taxonomy enough for my lady.

She’s lived into all these roles, roles that fit in her skin like a soul. Even still, she’s wrestled down her Who Am I? over these last 18 years, and she’s come to know this for sure: she is a chosen, a royal priestess, a peculiar woman. In this, she’s found a new sort of calling, one that’s taking her to seminary, to training, to stepping into the thing that so many have said she can’t, woman as she is. She’s walking into holy orders, maybe, and in that, she’ll preside over so much life and death, weddings and funerals alike. She’s accepting the role of shepherd, teacher, perhaps evangelist and prophet, and wearing these roles like some brilliant stole. And here’s the humbling beauty lacing it all–there may come a day when others come to see her as my shepherd, teacher, evangelist, and prophet. (This is what happens when your wife is a minister.) They’ll ask me how I feel about that, I suppose. I’ll smile, wink, knowing this isn’t the whole of who she is, and I’ll tell them this: “She’s always been all of this and so much more.”

 

 

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The Wedding of Weddings

There are things you hear at every Christian wedding:  the two shall become one flesh; what God has joined let no man put asunder; Christ will come for his bride.

The coming of Christ for the bride–this is a cosmic wonder. See him, the groom, waiting for the woman in white, composed of all of us, saints and sinners alike. See the witnesses, the stars and moon, the sister planets, the grasses of the field standing at attention. “Here it comes,” they whisper, “the end of all that groaning.” Hear the scriptures as they lead the ceremony, the vows, the pronouncement.

He leans in for the hot-mouthed kiss. We receive it. (Isn’t it passion that purifies?)

There is a delicate oneness, the bride and the Christ becoming one in that apocalyptic moment. And this is the moment you understand–this is why Christ left his father in the first place; isn’t it? Didn’t he come to make a way for our cleaving, the oneness that is the fulfillment of all things? Didn’t he try to tell us this the first time? And there, in that delicate understanding, he spins us. There, we all dance.

The great Christ leans in and whispers something saved for us from the beginning of all time, then releases us to his Father, our Father–hallowed be his name. He takes our hand.

There is the full-throated laughter we know, though we’ve never heard it. It’s the laughter that comes only at the end of one life and the beginning of another. It’s the joy of perfection throwing its head back with unbridled joy. Love has woken us from the long and dark winter of longing.

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Cultivating Contentment

Life has loops. Recurring dreams. Déjà vu. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.(1) The record player needle hits the dust spot and skips back a second; it happens again and again and again. Loops, loops, and more loops—this is the way of conversation for me these days.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had a recurring conversation, a conversation on repeat. I’ve had this looped conversation with a businessmen, a housewife, a part-time spiritual director, and a few folks on social media, and each time, it started with the same way; they asked this question: How did you give up your day-to-day job to pursue something you love? (In my case, the day-to-day job was lawyering and the thing I love is writing, editing, and working with words.) They lean in after asking the question as if I might whisper the same secret life whispered to me just before I left my 12-year career. The question behind the question, the one they weren’t asking, was more akin to this: How did you get the gumption to leave the daily grind, the nine-to-five, The Man?

The question kept coming, and coming, and coming, until I could almost predict where it would come next. Recurring. Recurring. Recurring. And each time, I fumbled out some incomplete, perhaps incoherent answer about guts, or open doors, or courage. Each time, my answer rang hollow as an echo.

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Lying Under the Invisibility Cloak (A Vocational Question)

Relevance, validation, affirmation—if we’re honest, don’t most of us want these? If we’re honest, don’t most of us hope to find these in our careers, our vocations, our workplaces? The more pious might chime in here, might say, “I only seek relevance and validation in the eyes of The One,” and perhaps that’s true (for them). But my life-experience has taught me something about the things we say: so often we use our words like fresh paint (as if there’s no rust underneath) or reverse psychology (as if we can say ourselves into believing) or invisibility cloaks (as if we can hide our human frailty under fantasy and magic).

The desire to be seen, known, and recognized as successful is as human as breathing. It grows from ego, sure, but weren’t we all created with an ego (which most certainly ensures our survival)? But the play of modern career–doesn’t it exacerbate the ego’s already voracious appetite?

Allow me to answer that last question for you. Yes.

This, I think, is why it’s high time we said the true thing instead of the right (i.e., the marketable) thing. And here’s the true thing, at least for me: I want you to see me as a relevant, successful, and important as I go about my craft, my career. (I said as much on Tuesday.)

For three days, now, I’ve been noodling on vocation, relevance, irrelevance, and success. As much as I’d love for you to see this noodling as a poignant, maybe even novel work on the topic, let me be clear: this is not new stuff. (Is there anything new under the sun?) There are others who’ve written competent volumes on the ways in which our vocational aspirations so often fall prey to the ego. Consider vocational guru Victor Frankl’s statement about vocational success from his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success [or relevance, or validation, or affirmation]. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. … [S]uccess, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

(The bracketed language is my own, but seems a fitting addition.)

See?

Success, relevance, validation—none of these things are ends. They are so often outside our control, even if we’d like to pretend that hard work and talent will bring us the goods. These byproducts–they come if they come (or on occasion, if you have the money to buy them), but if they do not, c’est la vie. Sometimes vocational success isn’t in the cards.

So, I can’t make you confront your lesser angel of ego, but I can lead you to purer water. And here’s how I’ll lead: I’ll be honest with the ways my ego drives my work, and I’ll say the true thing even if it’s not the thing I should say. In that confession, I’ll try my best to reach toward what Frankl calls serving a cause greater than myself or surrendering to a person other than myself. Maybe this will set me (even you?) on the proper vocational course. What is that course?

Let’s explore that tomorrow. See you then?

*

As I work through this short series on vocation, please feel free to invite others along.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own vocational questions.

 

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