Tag Archive for: human

Killing John’s Ego (A Vocational Question)

Today, I’m continuing my series on vocation. For the previous posts, follow this link.

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This week, I’ve been wrestling with vocational irrelevance, with the freedom it could bring if it didn’t hurt my ego so much. As I’ve spilled no small amount of ink on the topic, I’ve been considering whether there might be some secret in the scriptures, some word on vocational irrelevance and the death of ego.  A person of the scriptures as I am (or would like to be), it seems appropriate to mine whatever insight I might from those pages. There’s gold in them-there hills, I’ve been told.

In the quieter spaces of the week, I took inventory of the people of the text, ordinary folks who laid aside their ego for a “cause greater than oneself” or to “surrender to a person other than oneself….” (A phrase we learned from Victor Frankl in yesterday’s piece.) I considered the vocation of mother Mary, how she laid aside her public reputation and endured a certain scandal in order to become a homemaker for the son of God. I considered Matthew the tax collector, who left behind the security and relevance of his businessman status to follow Jesus, who recorded Jesus’s warnings on practicing good works for the purpose of being seen, or relevant. I considered these examples and others, and then I considered the very cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer.

Could you call John’s desert preaching a vocation? I’m not sure, and perhaps desert preaching isn’t a vocation or career as we’d recognize it today (ahem), but it was the thing he did, the thing for which he was known. And in his years of desert preaching, he was quite popular, a known quotient, a relevant fella. In that desert, he told the crowds–rich and poor alike–he pointing to the one who was to come. He was preparing the platform for another. But were those just super-holy-sounding platitudes? Were they nothing more than marketable words?

John 3 records the execution of the baptizer’s ego. There, in the desert where John practiced his vocation, his followers came to him, told him Jesus had set up shop upstream and was also baptizing the people. “Look,” they said, “everyone is going to that other prophet, to the competition.” In his slippery slide from Man-Of-The-Hour to complete irrelevance, John responded:

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I have said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ … Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

~John 3:27-30 (ESV)

With that, the ministry of John ended, and it ended in complete joy. In a matter of months, John lost his head and made his way to the eternal shore.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to draw any conclusions from John the Baptist’s story. After all, how many of us are called to wear animal skin, eat honey-covered insects, and proclaim a prophetic word in the desert? (Though I concede there may be a few, they are likely not reading this piece.) But consider those things that might ring familiar. Consider his disciples, how they wanted their teacher to be The Big Deal In The Desert. Consider John’s response, how he told them that relevance was not the ends of his ministry; his vocational aspiration was to serve the person greater than himself, and in the end, he put his neck on the line to prove how serious he was.

So, as I end this series on vocation and our need for relevance, validation, and visibility (at least for now), know this: it’s okay to languish in irrelevance so long as you’re doing your best to serve the greater cause or surrender to the person greater than yourself. It’s okay to become less, to put the ego to death, so long as you’re elevating the divine. It’s okay to strive less, be seen less, be less known. Less relevant doesn’t make you less successful; in fact, from the eternal perspective, it might be the badge of your salvation.

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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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Bullets to the Bodies (A Vocational Question)

Yesterday, I wrote of my vocational transition, the ways in which I’m trading down–local vocational relevance for an increasing irrelevance. As an attorney, I cultivated the appearance of importance. I was a partner in the largest firm in the state. I worked on the right cases (sometimes), learned the right angles (a few acute and obtuse ones, too). I owned nice suits and power ties.

Then, I quit.

Now, I’ve adopted a new vocational persona–the pensive writer (let’s call a thing a thing) whose local vocational relevance is waning. I peck words on a keyboard in the local coffee shop, and The Suits I’ve known for so many years waive and nod from the counter without stopping by my table. (Except Dale Brown–a gentleman and scholar if ever there were one.) I’m not the person to know around the community anymore. I’m just a guy. Plain and simple.

But is it that plain and simple? I want you to believe it’s all so romantic, so take-up-my-crossy. But I can’t run from the truth: I ain’t no saint.

In the downward slide of local vocational relevance, I’m learning how easy it is to transfer my need for relevance and competency to the new vocation. Now, relevance isn’t measured by suits, or the amount of money in my account, or the size of my nest egg. Now, it’s measured in page-views, or book sales, or new subscribers, or social media shares. (That was a most embarrassing sentence to write.) It’s measured in the CLANG!-CLANG!-CLANG!-look-at-my-opinions-and-say-MMMMMMMMMMM-HMM (with all those M-s).

Relevance is the dog you adopted from the animal shelter, the one who will not ever leave you be.

My confession today is simple: my need for vocational competency and relevance did not die the day I left the law office, the day I’d have you believe I left everything behind to follow the divine path. (Doesn’t that sound so spiritual?) Perhaps leaving my previous career was a bullet to the leg but not to the head. And though I apologize for the metaphorical crassness, did Paul not say we had to murder our lesser selves to be set free? (Romans 6:7)

Like so many, I’m still looking for freedom in my vocation, and by freedom, I mean a way to be myself, free of expectation, the hounding need for competency, the need for relevance that’s as persistent as a hangover. I’m looking for a way to become more by becoming less. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m starting with the right question, I think:

What is the aim of my vocation?

Keep asking the question with me. Keep digging, digging, digging. Keep noticing how much of your vocation is driven by the need for relevance, competency, and validation. Keep noticing the lesser bodies that need killing.

Come along?

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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.

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

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Are You Real?

I put off reading A.W. Tower’s The Pursuit of God for almost twenty years. (I suppose my years are showing.) Yesterday, I cracked the spine, and there I read some of the most beautiful writing on experiencing the presence of God. One passage in particular–a passage on the real man–captured me. Today, I’m recasting that passages in my own words.

I suppose the foundational question for today’s piece is this: In a digital world, a world of avatars and personal branding, what does it mean to be real?

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The Simple Real.

There are simple, devout men and women who know the solid state of the world around them—the atoms that build molecules, the molecules that hold hands, link arms, come together in the solidarity of the ground, the ice crystal, the rose bush, this desk. In the morning, they feel the firm mattress, the cold stone floor, the cool water on the washcloth. They know the secret—this is the real world, not a world of bytes, or megabytes, or terabytes. Could the recognition of this solidarity be divine wisdom? Could it be the antidote to doubt? Yes; just ask them.

Be like him, the man who stands in the dirt, wind in his hair, rain soaking impenetrable skin, pointing always to what is real. Be the woman who cannot bear to look at the burning sun, who always gazes at night’s unhid stars. Be like them, the father and daughter dancing to the band’s song.

Know their fear—lightning splitting the forest with fire, the thunder that rattles the brain. Remember the pain of your wife as your firstborn divided her, divided time; remember how soon that pain melted into joy. Remember the pain of your husband after the layoff, the way his joy in the new gig is unmatched. (This river of joy and pain–what could be more real?) Eat; drink; taste; touch. Go into your yard in the early evening; lie in the grass; know that the ground is a place for rooting, for building actual things. Tomorrow, that ground will still be there, as it was the day before, and the day before that. It will be there when you close your eyes. It will be there when you no longer breath. Live in the perpetuity of that ground; take joy in it. Sing praise.

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Original quote by A.W. Tozer:

“The sincere plain man knows that the world is real. He finds it here when he wakes to consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being. … By the deep wisdom of life, he is wiser than a thousand men who doubt. He stands upon the earth and feels the wind and rain in his face and he knows that they are real. He sees the sun by day and the stars by night. He sees the hot lightning play out of the dark thundercloud. He hears the sound of nature and cries of human joy and pain. These he knows are real. He lies down on the cool earth at night and has no fear that it will prove illusory or fail him while he sleeps. In the morning the firm ground will be under him, the blue sky above him and the rocks and trees around him as when he closed his eyes the night before. So he lives and rejoices in a world of reality.”

 

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A Letter From My Grandson

I don’t normally post on Sundays, but the events of the weekend this poem out of me. Thanks for reading.

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January 29, 2067

Dear Grandpa,

The historians remind us, now, how you and yours leveraged your last gasp to make us and ours great–definitions being what they are, fracturable things.

Yours were the days of the news outlets, the reporters, the cameramen and college-educated journalists chasing the facts by the tail, and what are facts but wild dogs, tamed now by the great government then given to The People on a leash. It was the time before the New Iron Curtain was built by the chicken pullers in De Queen or the ranch hands from there to Brownsville, before an avocado cost more than a line of coke or a good night with the women who negotiated affections to stay in this great America. (There are always ways of getting around a wall, they say.) Yours were the days before the brown huddle masses were returned to their wars and rubble, before you crucified the many Jesuses–women-Jesuses, child-Jesuses, honest-men-Jesuses–and left their remains to the many devils.

(At night, I pray “forgive them, Father, they know not what they’ve done.”)

The new Oligarchs have won our hearts, now. For free whiskey and all the American flags we could drink, they worked their ways into our homes, and we came to count them as friends, and if not friends, at least kind, and if not kind, at least as stern fathers who might excuse our drunkenness so long as we waived our flags and paid the poll tax.

Your people might call this greatness jingoism or xenophobia–definitions being what they are
these days, fracturable things–but The People see past small notions of equality, now. We are called The Patriots, and we were fashioned by strongmen, by paid-for history, by the projection of fears you harbored in secret without speaking, without acting,

action being divisive as it was,

action being destructive as it was,

action being revolutionary as it was.

And what are revolutionaries but people whose bones are scattered as forgotten martyrs?

Sincerely,

Your Grandson

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Sense over Significance

Today, I’m continuing an examination of the senses. Come along?

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What is a man’s life? 

A man’s life is a few thousand breaths of time, a unit of history, at best a memory though usually forgotten within a leap-year’s cycle.

What does a man want from life?

To reach past his given breaths, to be certain of his purpose, his life, and his death.

What is certain?

The only things that are certain are the things that can be measured by the senses–tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, smelling. Significance and purpose–these things cannot be measured with any certainty. They are illusions at best.

 

Can man find what he wants?

If a man plots a course for significance (i.e., transcending his few thousand breaths), no. If a man sets his sights on certainty about his legacy (or bank accounts), no.  If he wants to truly experience life, to let the tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling leave their mark on him, yes. If he wants to take the information of the senses in, interpret them, and draw some conclusions about what might be eternal, perhaps, yes.

What does a sensory life give us?

The senses give life to emotion. You feel the kiss of your lover, and you sense love. You hear the wind through the autumn oaks or the patter of the rain on the tin roof; you smell the decay of pine needles or muddy banks of the mountain lake; you touch the curve of your wife’s spine, see the shape of her hips; you taste the earthy coffee or the fatty slab of aged beef–these things give you great joy. In that love and joy, a man is left with this question–could all this be a happy accident? (The same holds true for pain, though that might be an altogether different conversation.)

What are these emotional interpretations of the senses?

These emotional interpretations are guideposts. They point us beyond the present sensory experience and into something more. Joy and love–don’t these things leave you believing that there must be some guiding force? Don’t you feel that there must be some grand Gift Giver?

Our emotions teach us to search beyond the temporary–meaning, significance, purpose–for what is eternal. They are the tendons connecting those things we know with the hope of the things not seen.

What is there to fear in the full experience of the senses, then?

Nothing, especially if we push past pagan experience and search for the seeds of something more eternal, especially if we allow that Something-More-Eternal to guide our experience of the senses.

What have the senses shown me?

The senses have lead me to the seat of my own emotions. The emotions have led me to the search for the Giver. The Giver has given me the person of Jesus, who lived a sensory life, and whose sensory life led him into the expression of perfect anger, sorrow, anticipation, trust, joy, and love. My attempts to understand his life, the way he interpreted the world and pushed into the perfect expression of his emotions, has led me into healing and wholeness. This healing and wholeness–partial though it may be–has become the stuff of my faith.

The senses scared me, once-upon-a-time. (Weren’t they the seedbed of sin?) They scare me no longer.

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