Here or There

Like most people, I wanted to be a number of things when I grew up.  I remember wanting to be an architect, a writer, a teacher, a counselor, a pastor, and a geographer.  As it turned out, I became none of those things, but in growing up one of the difficulties I faced was in knowing what God wanted me to do with my life.  My belief was that God had a specific will in mind for my life and that, if I failed to discover what that was, I would miss out on God’s best and be miserable.  Since then my understanding of God’s will has undergone some transformation.

For one thing, I have come to the conclusion that God’s will is more about living in relationship with Him.  Regardless of our circumstances, God’s will is that we daily abide in Him.  Out of that relationship, our responses to what we encounter in life will more naturally be in line what that of Christ’s.  The late Dallas Willard shaped my thinking in this area when he wrote, “Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us. And that leaves a lot of room for initiative on our part, which is essential: our individual initiatives are central to his will for us.” 1  Here, the case is made that God is not trying to dictate every decision we make in life, but trying to form us spiritually.  Willard expands on this concept by clarifying to what end God is forming us.  “God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. The development of character, rather than direction in this, that, and the other matter, must be the primary purpose of the Father. He will guide us, but he won’t override us.” 2 God is more concerned with forming us into a people who reflect the very character of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But how does knowing this help us in our journey through life and deciding what to do?  I find the poet T.S. Eliot to be of some assistance here.  In his Four Quartets, he writes in “East Coker” that “Home is where one starts from. As we grow older / The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated / Of dead and living…Love is most nearly itself / When here and now cease to matter. / Old men ought to be explorers / Here or there does not matter”. 3  T.S. Eliot is not merely describing a physical exploration, although that may be implied.  Rather, life itself forces us to be on a journey.  I am not an old man, but I do believe that we all ought to be explorers, and that we have to move outward from where we are starting at, whether physically or relationally.  On some level it does not matter where we are as long as we are in the process of exploring.

Stepping out in faith and leaving home, or the place one is starting from, is risky and there are some people who, like I was, fear making a mistake and falling outside of God’s plan and purpose for them.  Regardless, we we are called to act.  In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus is dictating a letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea when he proclaims, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.”  I have often heard this interpreted as Jesus wants people to be either for God or against God, rather than be a person who is lukewarm in their commitment to Christ.  However, scholarship has placed this passage more firmly in it’s first-century context and the meaning of this passage had subsequently changed.

Laodicea was located in modern-day Turkey near two other Roman cities, Hierapolis and Colossae.  Hierapolis received warm water from nearby hot springs, which was used for healing.  Colossae, on the other hand, received refreshing, cold water from nearby mountains.  Due to Roman aqueducts Laodicea received the lukewarm mix of hot and cold water, which was not very useful for either healing or refreshing drinking.  Jesus would not want us to be against Him. 4  Rather, this passage is saying that whether we live a life of warm healing or cool refreshment, we are to act for God.  Or as Scripture makes more plain elsewhere, “Therefore…whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I’ve drawn upon the wisdom of Scripture, Dallas Willard, and T.S. Eliot, because I firmly believe that where we are at and what happens to us in life is far less important than how we choose to respond.  Before ending, I am going to draw upon the wisdom of one other individual.  I always experience a sense of excitement and possibility from the following scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo is in despair at all that has gone wrong in Middle-Earth.  After learning of Sauron and leaving the idyllic Shire, being pursued and injured by Ringwraiths, and pressing onward from the haven of Rivendell toward a perilous journey, Frodo bemoans, “I wish it need not have happened in my time”.  And Gandalf responds with, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 5 There is wisdom and simplicity in this perspective.  We can’t control what comes to us in life, but we can decide how we want to respond and choose to act accordingly.

Who we are and who we are choosing to become is more important than where we are physically located or what we are doing.  My life has taken me to places and given me experiences I never would have expected when I was a kid trying to puzzle what I should do with my life.  I’ve been an explorer, whether I’ve wanted to be or not.  And I’m all the better for it.  May you go and explore likewise.

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1 Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 13. eBook.

2 Ibid., 31.

3 “Four Quartets” Wikiquote. Accessed on 27 January 2018. <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Four_Quartets&gt;

4 Although my first exposure to this way of interpreting this passage came from a Ray Vander Laan video, one can also read about it at the following blog: “A Lukewarm Interpretation of Hot and Cold: Revelation 3:15-16” Andy Unedited. Accessed on 12 May 2018. <http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2014/01/a_lukewarm_interpretation_of_h.php&gt;

5 “J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes” GoodReads. Accessed on 20 May 2018. <https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/656983.J_R_R_Tolkien&gt;

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Still Bearing Fruit

In recent years there have been a number of books published on the topic of aging, dying, and the Christian faith.  No doubt, this is to meet the needs and to answer the questions of an aging church in the West and to help those in the latter half of life respond to spiritual concerns about growing older.  While there are other books that examine the spirituality of the second half of life (Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward readily comes to mind), R. Paul Stevens takes a more unique approach in that his book relates primarily to the question of what one’s calling is in later life, and especially after one retires.

The book is broken up into three sections and the first part deals solely with calling.  The first chapter is notable for it’s argument that retirement is not a biblical concept, in that in the ancient world one had to work as long as one was able.  After a brief history of how retirement came about, the chapter one looks at how retirement can be a catalyst for growth and of a broader and more biblical concept of calling. While Stevens does not suggest we should not retire, his emphasis is that the idea of idling one’s remaining days in self-leisure is not a Scriptural notion and that one can still contribute to society, even if one is not receiving remuneration.  This last point is addressed in more detail in the second chapter as the concept of calling is explained and some guidelines on late-life calling are provided.  And the third chapter takes a closer look at some Scriptural examples of those who lived out their late-life calling faithfully, with special emphasis on Abraham and Jacob.

The second part of the book reflects on the spirituality that comes with aging.  Here, I felt the book had some similarities to Richard Rohr’s book, especially in chapter four where midlife is viewed as a time of transition from doing to being, and from living to accomplish much to living into a more contemplative lifestyle.  Stevens lists a few ways that aging provides opportunities for us to grow spiritually.  The next two chapters detail the potential vices and virtues that arise as one grows older.Aging Matters

The third section looks at how one’s calling affects others beyond one’s death in what we refer to as “legacy”.  Chapter seven is about different facets of one’s legacy, including factors to consider when bequeathing a monetary legacy.  There were two things that stood out for me in this chapter that are not talked about often enough: one’s non-monetary legacy, to include out investment in other people and how that affect our relatives for good or bad even after we are gone, and the importance of writing a living will.  The next chapter, chapter eight, is about preparing for death by reviewing the life we have lived and along that review to enable us to “finish well”.  And the last chapter looks forward to what we can expect in the life, in the new heaven and new earth, and does so by way of clearing some misunderstandings on the nature of death and on Scripture says about our life after death.

Overall, this was a welcome book to the growing bodies of literature on calling and on aging.  While some, perhaps much, of it was already familiar to me, I think Stevens did a great job at exploring the intersection of calling and the spirituality of aging.  He draws upon and interacts with some interesting thinkers in this area, some of who were familiar to me, including Catholic Richard Rohr and Jewish Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and some who were unfamiliar, such as psychiatrist Paul Tournier.  I think one of the best features of the book was the Scripture studies at the end of each chapter.  One of the studies that impacted me most was Jacob’s blessing of his grandchildren upon his deathbed.  Having practiced vision divina with an artist’s rendering of that scene and knowing Jacob’s history, as one who stole his brother’s birthright and blessing, made it a very impacting study on aging, calling, and gaining wisdom from one’s mistakes.  Ultimately, Stevens, who has written a number of books on calling and the workplace from a faith perspective, and who is also in the third third of his life, draws upon a lifetime of wisdom and experience.  To the extent that this book passes on his accumulated wisdom to the next generations, I would say he has embodied the generativity that he wrote about in this book.

Small Beginnings

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

~Zechariah 4:10

What Erik Erikson did when he gave description to the stages of life development, Beth Booram has done for the process of birthing a God-given dream.  In her book, Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-Given Dream, the reader is introduced to the various stages of discerning, shaping, and birthing a dream.  The basis of the book comes not just from the above Scripture passage, but also from her own experience of fulfilling a dream to start an urban retreat center. Starting Something New Each chapter also features other individuals who have followed the Holy Spirit’s promptings, following the format of interview, chapter reading, and reflection questions.  The examples range from entrepreneurs who started their own small business to Christians who started a non-profit organization to individuals who simply felt called to use their talents differently.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book lies in the reflection questions or discernment questions at the end of each chapter.  It really is almost as though one has a spiritual director through this book, asking the insightful, Spirit-prompted questions that spiritual direction is all about.  I think anyone who has a desire to start something new should consider reading this book, but this is an especially excellent “go-to” book for spiritual directors themselves.  As for myself, I have been in the process of following my own God-given dream over the past year and this book has helped me to understand where I am at in the birthing process.  It has also helped keep me from getting ahead of myself and God.  Having seen some progress in fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was in Germany, I’ve been somewhat anxious to get started, wondering if I should pusue this path or that, when I know I need to wait and follow Christ’s leading.

I do want to point out that while one chapter does mention writing a business plan for those whose dreams require it, this book is less about the technical details of creating a new venture and more about the discernment process and stages of a dream.  The result is a book that is applicable not just for entrepreneurs in business or non-profits, but for all who feel a “small beginning” stirring in their heart.  To learn more about the book, the following link will take you to a beautiful promotional video for the book: http://www.ivpress.com/videos/3597.php.