Stay Informed, With or Without Opinions

The last few weeks have lit the internet up with stories and opinions on every piece of tragic news. First there was the Israel and Palestine conflict, then Robin Williams death, and now the horrible situation occurring in Ferguson, MO.

With each emerging story I have considered whether or not to write and share my own set of thoughts. Sometimes having a blog makes me feel overly responsible, as if I need to be constantly ahead of trends and declaring my opinions on every piece of news. Thankfully this isn’t true, and instead of making claims I’m not an expert in I can stay informed through the words and opinions of others.

So instead of repeating what is already out there, here is a list of some of the most important stories and opinions I’ve found regarding current events:
Regarding Robin Williams and depression:

Regarding the Situation in Ferguson, MO:
police

Photo by Mary R. Vogt, courtesy of morgueFile

Regarding the conflict in Israel and Palestine:
Sadly, we can now add the conflict in Iraq to this list, as well as the Ebola virus in Africa and continued tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Although the internet is never a perfect vehicle, it does allow us to stay informed about a lot more than what was previously possible.

To be clear, my intention in sharing these articles is not about political opinions or staunch outcries on one side or another. I typically see myself as a middle-ground type who plays the mediator role in conflict. However, I think a lot of people hesitate to even read these kind of news stories or opinions because they are afraid of having to pick a side. Ignorance is not the answer to the difficult challenges in our world; you don’t have to pick a side, but you should at least know the truth of what is going on.
 
For Christians especially, we should not hide in a false security of religious withdrawal. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, he was specific in distinguishing them as people who would not separate themselves from the world, but rather do his work in and among unbelievers.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
(John 17: 15-19)
In fact, as Christians we should be some of the first people to speak out against the kind of injustice, depression, and lies that go against the gospel of God’s love. I repeat: this should not be political, nor should it be about right and wrong. The life of Jesus was more about compassion for the hurting, not proving a point. As his followers, we should do the same by knowing what is happening in the world, praying for peace, and contributing love to the conversation.

Have you read any other good articles on these subjects?

Calling B.S. on Easy Callings

When attempting to inspire young adults like myself, many Christians have offered this quote from Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

But I’m calling out every pastor that has ever said this to me: stop sugar coating what a “calling” looks like. 

For years I waited, yearning for this jubilant, glad calling. I brainstormed every possible passion I might have, how it could be used for God’s glory, and hoped God would send me a burning bush to guide the way. The problem was, there were a lot of options I could choose from. Did God want me to bring the kingdom through hiking and the outdoors? Or maybe he wants me to start a nonprofit where I make crafts all day for a great cause? Or perhaps I can start a ministry with puppies, there is definitely a deep gladness in puppies.

Not surprisingly, I’m starting to feel like it doesn’t work that way. I’m sure Buechner is a great guy, but his quote made me believe that my calling would start off as a great gladness; now I’m wondering if a calling ends with gladness and begins with a small decision leading to a terrifying mountain of risky, arduous work.

I’m making assumptions here, but I would guess that Noah was not deeply glad when God told him to build the ark. Moses was also not thrilled when he was told to stand up against Pharaoh and lead people through the desert. Esther probably wasn’t eager to marry some old king who had banished his previous wife. And Mary needed an angel to convince her that virgin pregnancy was something to be glad about.

Among the many things the Bible has to teach us, one of its underlying lessons about being a Christian is that God’s “calling” on a person’s life is rarely easy. Yes it will lead to a much deeper gladness and purpose than life without God, but it will not always be easy. Plus, you don’t always get a burning bush to tell you what to do.

It is audaciously bold to imagine God bestowing us with a clear vision of our calling and a long-term road-map of how it will play out. If God gave us the whole picture, many of us wouldn’t have enough faith to believe in it, let along act on it. Instead he gives us ideas, small inklings of opportunities where we decide whether to answer the call and then follow our chosen path until we hit another crossroads.

The idea that we each have one deep gladness that will meet one specific hunger in the world is similar to believing in soul mates. Too much pressure arises from believing that we need to figure out that one thing, and too much fear follows when we think we might make the wrong decision about what that one thing is.

Our calling is not one giant plan of destiny. It is a fluctuating picture that adapts across the span of our lives, changing as we change and growing as we grow. My “calling” for today might look different from my “calling” in thirty years. Even though the look of my “calling” changes, the foundation of everyone’s call is the same: love God and love others.

A recent article from RELEVANT Magazine tackles this same idea. Chandler Vannoy perfectly summarizes the truth about God’s will for our lives when he says:
“No matter what your future plans are, God wants you to seek and glorify Him right now. Simply put, God’s will is your growth to be like Christ and glorify Him in all things.”

My “calling” is not pre-determined by God. In fact, each of us could have multiple “callings” in our lifetime. Free will means that God allows you to choose a passion; after that He simply wants to be a part of it. Once you pick a path and let God be your counsel through every twist and turn, then you have answered His true calling–to act as His partner in living a life dedicated to His glory.

As a recent college graduate trying to decide my next steps in life, I wrestle with this concept of calling daily. My generation is flooded with the pressure of wanting to change the world, but we can’t expect God to lay the plans in our laps. Instead, I’m learning that God gives us opportunities, small doors and windows that will inevitably involve a lot of hard work. Hard work becomes easier once we let God guide our decisions, not through a burning bush or a roadmap, but through prayer, scripture, and the counsel of others.

No matter what job I do or where I end up, God’s primary calling on my life is to make sure each decision I make offers His love to the world. This a good news for all of us. God will “call” you to many places, and it might involve deep gladness meeting deep hunger, but that call is less specific than you think.

More often than not, our “calling” is to be present in our circumstances and involve God in that place. So in concept it is easy, but in practice it will be hard. In order for deep gladness to meet deep hunger it takes a lot of deep challenges. Be patient, and trust God that you have a purpose no matter where you are or what it looks like to you. He has much better vision anyways.

How have you seen your calling change over time?

Why do you think we latch on to the idea of our “calling” ?

Limitless Limits

Would you consider yourself limitless? Or how would you define yourself?

The essay “Faustian Economics” by Wendell Berry starts out with a observation about the apparent belief that the American way of life is somehow indestructible. If you are like me, just the word “economics” would make you hesitant about reading this essay–economy is practically a bad word in today’s economy. However this essay is more about the limits within our social system and economy of life, so I  recommend it if you are looking for something highly thought-provoking. Berry goes on to explore a number of other dilemmas that the American mindset of limitlessness has presented, but his initial comments on being limitless and defining ourselves stood out to me.

“The problem with [Americans] is not only prodigal extravagance but also an assumed limitlessness. We have obscured the issue by refusing to see that limitlessness is a godly trait. We have insistently, and with relief, defined ourselves as animals or ‘higher animals.’ But to define ourselves as animals, given our specifically human powers and desires, is to define ourselves as limitless animals–which of course is a contradiction in terms. Any definition is a limit, which is why the God of Exodus refuses to define himself: ‘I am that I am.'”

Definition is something that has long perplexed me, not only as an English and Communications major, but as a human being trying to determine my identity. That is why I made it the framework of what this blog could be about. In an age of endless individualization we are all striving to be unique and to carve out an identity that defines us as such. We try to be limitless in these identities and redefine any definitions the world attempts to brand us with. However, my experience has taught me that greater comfort and joy is found in discovering that someone has the same fears and hopes as I do, rather than feeling like I am isolated in my uniqueness.

Somewhere in elementary school I began to hate the color pink. This was not a light emotion, it was a strong distaste for anything of that hue that has lasted until today. Until recently, I never considered that my dislike for that color was a small rebellion in an attempt to be unique among the overwhelming sea of little girls covered in tones of pink. I believed that not liking that color opened me up to a limitless world where I could be free from gender prejudices, but of course we all know this isn’t true.

Limitations refuse to be easily managed or understood. The Israelites barely lasted a day when Moses came them the limit to not worship an idol while he went up on the mountain to talk to God. But then a couple hundred years later, their ancestors the Pharisees had taken those limits too far. For parents, it is a tricky line between allowing children to make mistakes and setting boundaries to keep them safe. More often then not, we all try to push those boundaries anyways. Language itself is a prime example of the human dilemma of definition–because words and the way we use them are in a constant flux of meaning that doesn’t follow the same rules as a hundred years ago, and there will be different rules a hundred years from now.

The solution to this dilemma, according to Berry, is to accept our limitations so that we can actually make the most of what we can be within those limits. Berry notes that we “confuse limits with confinement,” the same way that I thought the color pink was a limit confining me to girlish prejudices. But if we give up on the search for a limitless unique identity, we might accept the identity God has limited us to in our human existence. My faith means that I do believe in a future beyond this human existence that goes beyond our limits, but that doesn’t come till later when Christ returns again.

For now, I must accept that God has limited me in a way that allows me to actually thrive more. My human definitions of what life should be are actually more limited than what God has in mind. Limits are not hard and fast rules that put up impassable walls, they are the framework God gives us to find our way back to the center of our being. It is at the center of ourselves that we become truly free, thriving in the essence of what we were created to be.

This all sounds nice in theory, but it is becoming increasingly real for me as I approach graduation. Many people have told me that I should be excited, because I have limitless options and opportunities awaiting me. Honestly, I hope that’s not true. On the flip side, I have been waiting for God to plop the plan in my lap and give me the limits of what comes next. But in the rush to discover limits or exceed them, too often we lose sight of the reality of where we are right now. I have begun to realize that if I stress out now about defining my future, I will not be making the most of my current limitations. For now I am limited to the city of Chicago, a campus of old friends and new acquaintances, and four months of classes and homework. Some would see these things as constraints. I see them as frames just waiting to be filled. Within those limits there are endless possibilities, and if I’m too busy trying to define the future I will miss out on how defining the present can be.

I took this picture on a recent trip to Sequoia National Park. From this viewpoint the mountains seemed to stretch on endlessly, but the sunset reminds us that, although there is always a limited horizon each day, it is still a beautiful fulfillment of the best it could be.

I took this picture on a recent trip to Sequoia National Park. From this viewpoint the mountains seemed to stretch on endlessly, but the sunset reminds us that, although there is always a limited horizon each day, it is still a beautiful fulfillment of the best it could be.

What limits do you see in your life right now?

How can you turn those into goals to fulfill rather than limits of confinement?

What role does definition play in your life?

Note: In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve added another page to those at the top that cover the basics of what this blog is about (“Redefine”), “Who” I am, other sites “You” might be interested in, and how to “Follow” my other writing (which will be expanded more in the future). Now there is also the “2014” section, which details my goal for this year to read at least 2 books per month. The essay I just discussed comes from the book I’m currently reading entitled Best American Essays: 2009, edited by one of my favorite poets Mary Oliver. Stay tuned for more updates on this book, as well as others, and the jumble of my thoughts that come with them.

Apathetic Attitudes: Mine, Yours, and Ours

Hello everyone, once again I’m sorry it’s been awhile. But I will get to my excuses later…

Thanks to the current election season, there has been a lot of talk concerning the apathetic attitudes of young voters, and even the majority population. Sadly it’s not hard to believe, because it is easy to see that we are more concerned with who wins The Voice, or the World Series, than with who wins the presidency. Although some might say the media has tried to turn campaigns into reality dramas themselves, there is no beating the fact that people just aren’t as interested in politics as they used to be.

I don’t blame them though, I’m pretty apathetic about politics most of the time too.

But where does this come from?
No doubt part of it is because I’ve been handed a lot of great things in life, like the right to vote, which means I don’t appreciate them as much as I should. Lately though, I’ve felt as if this apathy doesn’t just apply to my attitude towards politics, but to a lot of life in general.

Relevant Magazine even made our apathetic attitude the focus of its October Issue. But sadly, the question “Why Bother?” doesn’t only represent my attitude towards politics lately, but my attitude towards everything lately

Being in my third year of college, I’m honestly kind of over it. The enthusiasm of the first two years has died down, the classes have only gotten harder, and the real world decisions approaching are weighing me down. Doing well in class? It doesn’t matter since I can still scrape by. Fighting against injustice? I can’t really make a difference, I shouldn’t bother. Keeping up with this blog (which I have clearly been neglecting)? Well I just don’t have the time, and it isn’t impacting anything.

Even when it comes to my faith – am I boldly telling people about Christ? Well… I don’t want to offend anybody or have someone judge me.

When I read over all those excuses though, I know they are wrong. I know that doubting those things, and doubting my ability to do them, means that I am really doubting God’s ability to do them.

Continue reading

Be Still and Believe

You might have noticed that it’s been a good long while since I last posted. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m going to halt my incessant need to apologize and be honest: I needed this break, and I’m not going to be sorry about taking it. Truthfully I’m probably speaking to myself right now more than you, because you are probably much more forgiving of my not blogging than I am of myself.

 

Either way it has been a good month for me – one filled with lots of reflection and purposefully less doing.

I read this article today on Relevant Magazine’s website titled “The Question We Should Never Let Make or Break Us,” and it spurred me back to a courage I had temporarily lost, or maybe never even had. The article centers on the issue of how we let our jobs or what we do define who we are. This is incredibly common in our culture, and it is contrary to the radical idea of letting who we are simply be a definition in itself.

The writer, Rachel Dymski, said this:
         “I find myself fighting the battle, with others and within myself, to be something. We all do. But I’m learning that the way to this being is not by constant, distracted doing. And so, one by one, I let go of these trophies of doing, and find my heart is lighter than it was when I gripped to them so tightly.  My worth, it seems, was completely independent of these trophies all along.”
 

 
My whole life has been filled with this kind of identity, where my trophies of doing defined who I was. First, I was a dancer, because for thirteen years that’s what I did day in and day out. Next, I was a leader in our student government, doing all I could to be someone who made a difference. Then, I was a college student, who was thus defined by what I did in terms of study: English and Communications major. Now, I have faced all of these things, and have still found my identity incomplete. Why?

Sleepy Dreams and Eccentric Reality

The theme this year for chapel and our University Ministries organization is “eccentric.” Pastor Judy spoke both last Sunday at collegelife and Wednesday in chapel to introduce this theme to us as students.

photo from http://www.geekologie.com – sunrise over the pacific ocean

But I need to stop before I get ahead of myself, because the truth is that my brain is not really flowing well at the moment. I honestly don’t feel like doing much but going back to sleep, which is partially why I didn’t get around to posting consistently this week. Some people struggle with temptations like lust, selfishness, greed, or gluttony. Although I am not immune to those things, my current trap lies in complacency. This is my third year at the same school, there isn’t a lot going on for me this semester, and all I want to do spiritually is nap. Why not right? I’ve worked hard the last few years, gotten through many challenges, and encountered God in all new ways. So I would be fine to rest for awhile where I am right?