The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner
Here is how my call would have happened if I were writing it. I would be outside in late fall, sitting by a firepit at dusk with a glass of wine. I would just have finished a time of prayer and scripture reading pulling a soft cotton throw around me as I felt the autumn chill. I would be singing along to my favorite gospel songs on my phone. Then suddenly and clearly, I would feel the warmth and coolness go through me in a sort of electric sensation. I sit perfectly still trying to figure out what is happening as I stop the music. I open my mind, and I feel a voice—not hear, feel. Immediately I understand what is being communicated to me, and by whom. God is calling. God insists that I turn my concern away from material things and toward God’s own passion, God’s creation. God assures me I will not be homeless or flat broke if I do this. And, if I do have need and must do without, God tells me God will provide. God promises I will find a vocation where I can both serve God and make a living. God concludes, I will be perfectly content in my vocation, no longer seeking out whether there is “more” to life than what I have. Then I am filled with a feeling of profound understanding and clarity. I am confident of my path.
Here is what really happened. I was walking my Scottish Terrier outside the apartment complex where I had moved after my house had lost all its value in the economic crash. I was involved in one unfulfilling relationship after another. Professionally, I dreaded teaching, so I did not do a very good job at it. I had plenty of writing projects in the pipeline, and colleagues sought me out to collaborate with them and contribute pieces to their books and journals. This was my version of an academic life, and it is not hard to imagine my day of reckoning would come.
As I walked Duncan, I was really dreading going to work later that afternoon. I kept asking myself what it was all for, anyway. Why did I work? Why did I work there? Any way I asked it, the answer came down to paying the bills. Without a job, I’d be out on the street, no car, no groceries. Simple—and obvious—as that. And for a brief moment, I experienced clarity—the epiphany that working to earn a living was not living. More earning, more buying. It just. Seemed. So. Dim. I had identified the wasteland of capitalism, and it hurt my spirit. But what, then, was life about? Where others might at this point consider finding a new job, the only place my mind would go to was serving God. I started seminary. At the same time, I kept advancing at work, moving from the classroom to administration, which I am good at and enjoy well enough. God was giving me options—that’s how I see it now. I quit seminary without regret, understanding that it was not yet time for it. One major event happened after another over the next three years. I (unsurprisingly) had a major breakup, met and married my wife, bought a house, became a full professor and department chair. My life was full of good things. I was free to walk toward God’s call instead of run away from my life. I started seminary for good in 2018.
My call is contextualized by the social, political, and cultural climate in the United States. My process matured during twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racism. I felt those around me hurting, and I felt called to bring them comfort. The message I was given was, “They need to hear ‘you are not alone.’” I saw Christians being used by a corrupt political system that needed their votes to stay in power. I felt about the world as I had felt those years ago about my job—the lack of meaningfulness. How do people live in times of distress and turmoil? How can they see God? The year 2020 had been the culminating year of my discernment process, and I had found the place where my deep gladness met the world’s deep hunger met.
My idyllic call scene is not going to take place—it’s fiction. What I have done is try to pay attention. All along the way, God has put sacred opportunity in my path. Like how I feel when I preach, or how I felt each time I would pray with a patient or family during my CPE experience. The love and support of Sarah who said, back in 2014 when our relationship was new and I tried to explain my desire to serve God to her, “Whatever you need”—and meant it. A month ago, a job came available at KSU that I had my eye on for some years. Others told me to go for it, that I would be great at it. And I would have. I let the deadline for applying go by, thinking back to 2013 and realized that this was not the trajectory I felt called to follow. God had again put a choice in my way. The next day, I was offered a Spiritual Health residency. God’s message was as clear as if God had been beside me at the firepit.