Friday Movie Recommendation: Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, the movie about William Wilberforce’s long campaign to abolish slavery in England, has been out for quite a few years already but it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it. It is one of my favourite depictions of someone following their calling.

Wilberforce ended up being called to stay where he was: He was already working in government. He considered going into the church but his calling was to what he was already doing – he was just given the vision for the deeper meaning underneath what he was doing. God asked him to wield his influence and power alongside those who had none. In the movie, we see all kind of different components of the life of calling coming through and I just want to give you a few highlights to watch for:

  • Vision: “God has set before me two great objects: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”
  • Discipline: Year after year he presents his bill and year after year it fails to pass but he doesn’t give up.
  • Humility: “We can change England” “I would change myself first”
  • Community: Thousands of people participated in his work by forming societies, signing petitions, writing and distributing pamphlets etc.
  • Sacrifice: He didn’t flinch about losing his popularity or respect from others when he became a Christian and then started submitting a bill that made no sense economically to a country that depended on slave labour. Also, he remained committed to his cause even though he suffered through illness.
  • Joy: He loved speaking in the house. He enjoyed the bantering and was good at it. He knew he had a good voice and had joy in using his gifts.
  • Rest: He spent time enjoying nature and good friends, prayer, and time alone with God
  • Questioning: As years passed and the bill still didn’t pass, he must have faced so many questions: Was he really up to it, could he do it? Hadn’t he failed? How long could he keep pushing? What about his health?
  • Listening: One of my favourite quotes from the movie was “God sometimes does his work through a gentle drizzle, not a storm”
  • Sabotage: He faced massive opposition but also was sabotaged by people he thought would see the light. One member’s “let’s not be hasty with our good intentions” line is a killer piece of sabotage because it’s masquerading as wisdom.

If you haven’t seen it, you should! I’m just skimming the surface of all the inspiring elements in this film. And if you have seen it, maybe it’s time to rewatch it and make your own observations about living out a calling.

Balance in the Pursuit of Excellence

Balance is something I think about a lot. Seeking balance is difficult at any stage of life I think and these days, maintaining balance in any area of my life has been thrown to the winds, along with other words I usually cherish such as routine, plan, schedule, system, structure . . . you get the idea. Five week old babies don’t know or care for these kind of words yet. They just do their thing. And that’s fine. And balance for me right now means knowing when to keep expectations up and when to let them go.

Gordon Smith has a great chapter in his book Courage and Calling about the need for balance in four areas as we pursue our callings. These four areas are essential to vocational integrity (he defines this as: know yourself and be true to who you are): excellence, truth, diligence and generosity. Meaningful work will engage in the pursuit of these four things. But Smith almost immediately warns that all of these things can be pursued to a fault. Balance is required even here.

Let’s think just about the first one today:

Excellence.

The pursuit of excellence is a given. Smith writes, “we are given gifts and capacities and to be true to ourselves we must exercise them to the best of our ability.”

The key is that excellence will be judged based on your best, not a universal standard. It’s between God and you. The pitfall is that pursuing excellence is easily confused with pursuing perfectionism. We can go overboard on doing our best.

Smith has some convicting words for those of us who struggle with perfectionism:

“A genuine love of excellence is rooted in the conviction that God deserves our best and that other people deserve nothing less. But the perfectionist is self-centered; excellence has become an end in itself. Perfectionists are always dissatisfied – with themselves and with others. Their work is never a joy because it is never good enough. They are never good enough. Rather than delighting in work well done for the sake of others, they are consumed with themselves and their own performance” (p. 87).

Ouch. Even on little things, I know I can be consumed by my own performance. Chronic dissatisfaction should be taken as a major red flag that we’ve gone too far in our pursuit of excellence. Letting go of expectations that are about our own needs and self-image is part of pursuing excellence in a more balanced way.

Being the best is different than doing our best. The first isn’t necessary, the second is.


 

Components of Calling: Power

The mention of power and humility in the quote I shared on Friday reminded me of an excellent chapter in Andy Crouch’s book Culture-Making. He spends an entire chapter talking about something we don’t address very often in our everyday lives: the use of power.

You might assume you don’t have much power, but we are all capable of influencing others and in fact we probably influence people more than we realize. When we talk about calling, we’re often talking about using the power we have been given to serve and help others in creative ways. Power is difficult word to address because it brings up many negative connotations. By nature, most of us are suspicious of power but we can’t just let it remain an elephant in the room. We need to be aware of good and bad uses of power and our own temptations in regards to wielding what power we have. And, if you’re a Christian and you believe your Bible – you actually have quite a lot of power to consider. We’re told that we have been given power from God in the form of the Holy Spirit acting in our lives ( see Acts 1:8, 2 Cor 4:7, Eph 3:16&20, Col 1:11, 2 Tim 1:7, James 5:16 for just a few examples!). I think many of us are hesitant to even consider using this power. How do we learn to use power wisely?

Crouch tackles this subject head on. He writes, “As with all temptations, the temptation to amass power is most acute when coupled with the best of intentions” (p.223). He describes examples we know all too well: For instance political parties that start out to make positive changes but compromise what they are trying to do as they try accumulate enough power to force through their own agendas, “We are tempted to let the end start dictating the means. We begin to accumulate power for its own sake, which requires separating our quest for power from the goals that originally motivated it” (p. 224).

Crouch suggests two ways we can resist the temptation of power without shying away from it altogether: viewing power as a gift intended for service and understanding ourselves as stewards or custodians of a power that is not our own.

He writes, “The only place to begin with the goodness of power is to understand it as a gift” (p. 226) He describes how God gives Adam the gift of cultural power to name the animals. Adam doesn’t have to strategize about how to get this power from God. By contrast, when we read the story of The Tower of Babel, we see humanity actively grasping after power. When we can resist “plotting our way to greater cultural influence (the lure of power) and instead focus on where we already do have influence” then we’re on the right track, operating in a stewardship mentality.

We counteract our desire for power by clinging to its purpose: service. He suggests that, “Servants are anonymous and often all but invisible, and the more powerful we become, the more we should seek out opportunities for anonymity and invisibility” (p. 228). It’s easy for us to use our power for good condescendingly, and Crouch warns us not to let ourselves feel superior to those we serve.

Crouch suggests asking yourself, “With whom am I sharing my power? How am I making it possible for others to cultivate and create culture? How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself” (p.235)?

Feel free to share thoughts in the comments!

Calling Essentials: Understanding Your Limits

Here’s a short excerpt for you to chew on today. This is from Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak (p.13-14):

The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?”

Everything in the universe has a nature, which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of the world. Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do – and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly. Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do. If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood or the stone, his failure will go well beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.

The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you.

 

 

 

Components of Calling: Sabbath

I just finished The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan and it was excellent! As I read, I saw again and again how Sabbath is essential in our callings. So many great thoughts – where do I even start?!

Sabbath rest is about remembering, reflecting, and anticipating.

Remembering: Buchanan notes that remembering is literally to “Re-member” or put back together. He writes that, “Sabbath-keeping is a form of mending. It’s mortar in the joints. Keep Sabbath, or else break too easily and oversoon” (p. 3).

I’ve written about rest quite a bit recently as we walked through some of the ideas from The Power of Full Engagement. Those authors recommended building rest and recovery rituals into our lives so that we don’t burn out. Sabbath is about rest and recovery of our energy on all planes – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It’s a full one-day reprieve from the rest of the week and builds that healthy rhythm of working hard and then resting properly into our lives.

Reflecting: Sabbath is a time to reflect on life. It puts things back into perspective. In order to do this, in order to do Sabbath at all, we have to step outside our normal perceptions of time.

Buchanan writes that the Greeks had two words for “time” and they meant very different things. The first one, chronos is our default view of time, “Chronos was a nasty minor deity, a glutton and a cannibal who gorged himself on his own children. He was always consuming, never consummated . . . Chronos is the presiding deity of the driven.”

“The second Greek word is kairos. This is time as gift, as opportunity, as season. It is time pregnant with purpose. In kairos time you ask, not ‘What time is it?’ but ‘What is this time for?'”(p. 36).

I love that question. You could say that a mindset of calling asks the same question. Sabbath helps us reorients our view of time, to get ourselves out of the aimless busyness of Chronos time and into a reflective Kairos time. When we view our time as kairos time, when we have regular moments of reflection, we protect ourselves and our callings from falling into the trap of busyness.

Why is busyness so dangerous? Buchanan points out two things,

1. Busyness kills our joy, “The Chinese join two characters to form a single pictograph for busyness: heart and killing. This is stunningly incisive. The heart is the place the busy life exacts its steepest toll” (p. 45).

2. Busyness teaches that it’s all up to us, “Indeed, the worst hallucination busyness conjures is the conviction that I am God. All depends on me. How will the right things happen at the right time if I’m not pushing and pulling and watching and worrying” (p. 61).

Busyness is a trap that can consume our best intentions. Callings that start out with the right heart, are easily twisted as we become overwhelmed with doing and lose our focus. Instead of remembering that we’re simply participating in God’s work in this world which allows us to remain flexible, open and humble, we begin to think our methods, our ways and our ideas are the answer to the world’s problems. We put a huge burden on ourselves when we take on responsibility that doesn’t belong to us. Sabbath helps us remove that burden.

Anticipating: Sabbath as a time of anticipation was a new idea for me but it made perfect sense. Buchanan points out that, “If there’s one god of the age that Christians especially pay homage to, it’s the god of utility. As a tribe, we’re deeply, devoutly utilitarian. Everything we do we seek to justify on the grounds of its usefulness” (p. 138). Sabbath flies in the face of usefulness. It doesn’t look like usefulness – we stop, we don’t produce, we rest!

While we remember and reflect, it’s also a time for play and feasting, for enjoyment of what is good. And this enjoyment of good points us to Heaven – reminds us of what will be. In the midst of daily worries, world tragedies and uncertainties, pausing for enjoyment of the Sabbath helps us remember and anticipate God’s promises. Buchanan writes: “When we play, we nudge the border of forever. And this also is what happens when we keep Sabbath. Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel says, is a foretaste and a heralding of eternity. Its joy is precisely this: it rehearses heaven” (p. 141).

Sabbath is about FREEDOM!

To some of us, the idea of practicing the Sabbath sounds like a way to make life a lot harder than it already is. “Waste a whole day?!”, we think (there’s “usefulness” coming in again), “I can barely get everything done during the week as it is.” Sabbath sounds like a luxury we can’t afford, just one more thing to add to the to-do list, one more thing to feel guilty about not doing!

But that is not the intention of Sabbath: “‘The Sabbath,’ Jesus said, ‘was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27). And that, actually, is all we need to know to keep the Sabbath holy. This day was made for us. God gave it to you and me for our sake, for our benefit, for our strengthening and our replenishment”(p. 219).

God wants us to feel freedom on the Sabbath, not burden. He wants us to accept and embrace life in Him.

“To refuse Sabbath is in effect to spurn the gift of freedom. It is to resume willingly what we once cried out for God to deliver us from. It is choosing what once we shunned.
Slaves don’t rest. Slaves can’t rest. Slaves, by definition, have no freedom to rest.
Rest, it turns out, is a condition of liberty.
God calls us to live in the freedom that he won for us with his own outstretched arm.
Sabbath is a refusal to go back to Egypt” (p. 90).

If we can begin to adopt the practice of Sabbath in our lives, we claim this freedom, we choose to live on kairos time, we trust in God rather than ourselves. We know all the benefits rest brings us, so how do we practice the Sabbath? Buchanan offers this:

“So I submit this as Sabbath’s golden rule: Cease from what is necessary. Embrace that which gives life. And then do whatever you want” (p. 129).

Remembering What is Essential

“To my mind, one of the great disciplines of any human life is the discipline of memory, of remembering what is essential in the midst of our business and busyness.”
– David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea

 

I’m reading Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte and thought the above quote encapsulates such a core component of calling. I like that he calls memory a discipline and an essential one.

The norm is to forget. What happens when we forget? We lose the meaning in our experiences, who we are and who we want to become based on where we’ve been. So many people forget who they are, what their real skills are, what they’re interested in. They forget what their childhood dreams were.

Why is remembering a discipline? It takes time to record our memories, to process our lives, to give attention to what we’re learning and how we’re changing. Sometimes we shrink from remembering because it seems too painful.

I think I’ve said this before on the blog but instead of “discovering” your calling, the process is really a lot more about “recovering” it. It’s already in your life – but it might be buried underneath the busyness of daily life, it might be forgotten in the midst of other commitments, it might be neglected because you’ve just never taken the time to think about your calling.

Recovering your calling is about remembering. Remembering who created you, remembering how he created you with your personality, your gifts and abilities. It’s about remembering your formative experiences, your true interests and motivations.

How do we build a discipline of memory into our lives? Journals are one great way. If you’re more visual maybe you’re taking pictures and collecting items to collage together. Maybe it’s simply remembering out loud. Sharing your stories with a close friend or a small group of people on a regular basis is a great way to process life together and collectively remember what is important.

 

Two Errors in Following Your Calling

As I was digging into John Schuster’s Answering Your Call again a few weeks ago to discuss his material on Saboteurs, I found another great point he makes to conclude his book.  He writes that there are two major errors we can make in responding to a call.

Inflation and Self-Promotion

Instead of honoring the calling we turn it into ambition. We end up placing our individual call above all else, making it more important than anything and anyone else. People take second place to our need to answer our lofty calling. We see this error made all the time. Someone has a vision, usually a good one, but they pursue it to a fault. As they gain power, they start to believe they’re above the rules. Priorities get so twisted by the ego that the original vision is corrupted and lost. Sometimes we watch these people crash and burn very publicly.

Deflation and Self-Protection

In this case, instead of honoring the calling, we run from it! We give in to fear or believe we are unworthy or unable to carry it out. We see this error made all the time too. People who chicken out, tell themselves they can’t and choose to stay exactly where they are. They “choose the ordinary life over extraordinary purpose.” Being practical or realistic is an excuse for protecting themselves from possible damage. In the process, they die inside. We’re not likely to watch these people crash and burn publicly, but we’ll probably meet hundreds of them in our lifetimes. They’re the people who, “lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” (Thoreau).

Which error is the one you’re most likely to make?

Saboteurs Round II

So I did a little “research” on saboteurs this week to give you a better look at what they do and how they operate. I read some useful articles about Saboteurs usually in relation to a specific scenario, like saboteurs at work, saboteurs of your diet, and saboteurs of creative projects, so I’ll try to give you some general categories in ways that apply to calling.

Saboteurs are usually found in the ranks of bosses, family members, mentors and work colleagues – people who, by the nature of their position, already have some influence or authority in your life.

A Saboteur’s goal is to undermine and discourage you and he or she does this is several ways:

ANGER

This is probably a very blatant form of sabotage. While the Saboteur’s destructiveness is obvious and easy to identify, it does not make it easier to deal with. By sheer force of personality, the angry Saboteur bulldozes your calling, says your ideas are terrible, yells at you for messing up, tells you you’re a failure and insults your character. If you try to move forward and work around them, Angry Saboteurs may impose their own demands on you or interrupt anything that is important to you. In the wake of this kind of attack, you’re left defeated, emotionally exhausted and unable to move forward. Productivity and team spirit among colleagues die.

ISOLATION

John Schuster provides an example of this in a work situation. This kind of Saboteur sets you up to fail. Maybe a manager or a mentor, they give you a project and encourage you to pursue it but then withdraw all support, divert resources and make sure you’re left totally stranded in an overwhelming amount of work. These Saboteurs don’t want to see anyone else succeed. They bury you in stress and hopelessness while finding ways to make you believe this situation is entirely your own fault, that you needed a lesson in humility and that you’re obviously not cut out for the dreams you think you’re capable of achieving.

GUILT

This kind of Saboteur is probably a close friend or family member. This person says that they believe in your calling and want you to pursue it, but then make you feel guilty for every step you take. They’ll make you feel selfish and imply that you’re not balancing your time properly. They’ll let you know they’re making sacrifices and that it’s not easy. Sooner or later, dealing with the problems in relationship consumes you, breaking your focus and enthusiasm. The Guilt Saboteur will have you wondering if you are in the right about your calling at all. Maybe this isn’t your calling, you think, if it’s causing this much trouble and if I’m having to spend so much time justifying it. This Saboteur won’t be happy until you admit you’re wrong, stop what you’re doing and agree to follow their schedule.

PESSIMISTIC ENCOURAGEMENT

Most of us have a pessimistic friend or two. Usually this isn’t a big deal, but when it comes to your calling, it can have serious consequences. This person probably is not malicious in anyway, and probably really does want to help you, but they undermine your ideas and your courage to follow callings because they can’t stop bringing up worst case scenarios and real life disaster stories that clearly prove that you should not move forward. Their favourite line is “I’m just trying to help you be realistic.” They make you doubt yourself, doubt your research, doubt your abilities and maybe even doubt your motives because they’ll always find a downside or a long list of cons. Any pros will quickly be shot down. If the Pessimistic Saboteur is a little bit malicious, you’ll hear “I told you so” the minute you have a small setback.

HELPFUL ADVICE

One article called this type of Saboteur, “The Expert” – they’re people you go to for advice and counsel. People who have much experience in whatever you’re interested in doing. So you go ask for advice, suggestions and blessings because you look up to this person. Instead of receiving a balanced perspective and some solid advice, you hear that your idea probably won’t work, that what you’re envisioning is not the direction to take, that it’s all been done, there isn’t room for a new voice and that it’s unfortunately probably a useless endeavor to try to proceed. This will all be said in a way that implies that they’re really saving you from wasting your time. And these saboteurs may actually believe they are helping you too. Underneath however, their motivation for discouraging you is driven by their own insecurities. These saboteurs feel threatened by your presence and seek to preserve the status quo and their position within it. They probably aren’t conscious of trying to crush you, but they’re not interested in having anyone rock the boat.

So how do we deal with them?

Sometimes the only thing we can do is a leave a situation. If we’re dealing with extreme cases of sabotage, we might have to quit a job with an abusive boss, end a manipulative mentoring relationship or friendship.

In less severe cases, if we’re able to identify what’s happening, let’s say in a situation where someone is guilt-tripping, isolating or discouraging us, it might be possible to have a direct conversation about what’s happening. This may be enough to stop them, or at least give you better armor to deal with their sabotage attempts. These situations also teach us a valuable lesson about who we partner with, who we ask for support and who we look to for advice. The people we trust to be our community as we follow our callings should be carefully chosen (but this does not mean we choose only yes-men and friends who won’t offer constructive criticism!).

When we are blindsided by external sabotage, it usually sets off our own internal saboteurs which reinforce the devastation. It triggers the cycle of lies that each of us wrestles with, that we’re failures, that we’re hopeless, incapable, and probably ridiculous. We start to think our callings must be a joke and wonder why we thought we could ever be part of something worthwhile or meaningful. If the sabotage works, we are paralyzed. To beat the Saboteurs requires the courage to move forward through the perfect storm of doubt, stress, fear and discouragement.

So how do we combat the lies and move forward courageously? We must affirm and cling to the truth. This means careful and honest personal assessment and a commitment to facing weaknesses and character flaws instead of denying them. It means carefully discerning your calling with patience instead of rushing after half-baked dreams or ambitions. It means finding a community that speaks the truth in love.

Any thoughts on this? Have you experienced one of these Saboteurs? How have you dealt with sabotage situation?

Saboteurs

Saboteurs are people who sabotage you on your path of calling. Like ominous thunderclouds, Saboteurs roll in and ruin our ability to enjoy the sun. John Schuster offers some unique insight on dealing with Saboteurs in Answering Your Call. He writes that Saboteurs cannot be completely avoided and at different points in your life, “the saboteurs will play a major role – negating, casting doubt, and destroying your hopes.” While that might sound overly dramatic, Saboteurs are precisely so effective because we often don’t recognize just how much emotional damage they’re inflicting. It’s important to recognize opposition so that you can deal with it effectively.

Schuster points out that Saboteurs often:

  • Look respectable and have authority
  • Sound and act as if they have positive motives such as your best interests at heart
  • Twist reality so convincingly they go unquestioned
  • Are masters of power and control – they shame, manipulate and play on other’s weaknesses.
  • Cause pain and enjoy watching others regress
  • Do good in some areas, making it harder to recognize their devastation in other areas.

He also writes that we can be our own saboteurs! Saboteurs do so much damage because they “can exploit a weakness” in us, usually because we haven’t taken the time to deal with this weakness ourselves. While it’s important to focus on our strengths, Schuster writes that, “you owe it to your calling, if not to yourself, to lessen [a weakness’s] hold on you.”

If you’ve had a saboteur:

  • give yourself healing time
  • learn to forgive so that you don’t end up cynical and bitter
  • give others the benefit of your insight into that experience

It’s important for all of us to recognize that we will face opposition when following our callings, to view it as a learning experience to be endured, hopefully coming out stronger on the other side with a renewed vision.

Have you ever experience a Saboteur? How did you deal with the situation?

Finishing Well?

Well folks, April is over and so is my project. And, as tends to happen, I learned (or relearned?) a few things, especially about finishing a project.

For some reason, I always think finishing should be the easy part. You’re so close, almost there, you can see the finish line. Shouldn’t that make it a quick, painless, easy finish? After the tentative or rough start, the perseverance through the low patches in the middle, the finish shouldn’t be such an up-hill battle should it?

I don’t know why I continue to so optimistically believe in the idea that it will be easy to wrap things up, to conclude, to complete a task well, that somehow along the way life gets easier to live. Nothing in my life so far would bear out that thinking, so why do I keep projecting it on the future? I’m always so shocked when trying to finish a project, to find that it drags on and becomes unpleasant. I feel like I should know better by now!

Finishing well is not the easy part at the end. This project turned out to be difficult to finish at all, let alone do it well. I think many of us think to ourselves, “We’re tired, we’ve worked hard, we’ve already done so much, it should be enough.” We just want to be done already. We cut a few corners and call it good. That’s not finishing, that’s a disguised form of quitting near the end. And I do it a lot. I think we all do it.

We like to think we’re on this linear path of progress, that our life will just continue to get better. What kind of wishful thinking is that? Doesn’t the second law of thermodynamics apply to almost every aspect of life? Life tends toward chaos and entropy. No matter how much progress we see we’re making, we still have the tendency to grow weary and lose heart. I am so tempted in any project (and this one was no exception) to think “good enough” – keeping up motivation and diligence is difficult. I tend take a break, to rely on what I’ve already done. Look at this progress – do I really need to keep moving forward right now? Do I have to keep growing? It is painful and difficult work after all.

We often expend so much energy starting things – once we’ve cleared initial hurdles to starting, we make quick progress at the beginning, motivating and exciting us. With a clear vision, we can make it quite far into the middle before bogging down. How do we renew our vision for the last mile? I guess I forgot to remind myself of the fact that it isn’t over until it’s over, to be diligent and faithful because I’m not going to get to cruise through the finish line on auto-pilot. Finishing well is harder than it looks – don’t underestimate the resources and times you’ll require to complete something.

So that’s one lesson I learned in the process. What was the project you ask? I wrote a first draft to a book on calling. Now I get to rest and research some more and then tackle round two in the coming months. Someday soon, it will hopefully be ready for people to read.

Oh – and I’m back to my regular posting schedule now, so I’ll see you Friday!