Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential

Gordon T. Smith, Courage & Calling: Embracing your God-given Potential, IVP Books, 2011, Revised and expanded, 269 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3554-6

Gordon T. Smith mentions three types of calling in his book, Courage & Calling: Embracing your Potential. First, there is the general call to be a Christian. Second, there is a specific call--"a defining purpose or mission . . . . Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world" (10). Third, is the call to respond to daily duties and responsibilities. Courage and Calling focuses on the second of these calls. What I like about this book is how it shows that our call(s) may change during different transitions in our life. Another focus that was helpful is the author asserting, "we are called to be stewards of the gifts and abilities and opportunities that God gives us" (28). A third point the author makes is the distinction between sacred and secular calling is false. All callings are "inherently and potentially sacred" (44). In addition, he distinguishes between vocation and career. He notes, "We may be called to a particular work that is reflected in a career," but they are not the same thing. "The language of vocation is a reminder that our work is given to us by another, by the God who is our creator" (47). The purpose of the book is to help the reader to achieve his potential in God's service. I have become convinced that our giftedness shows where our calling lies.

Gordon T. Smith has been an academic administrator and missionary in Canada and the Philippines. He is now the president of reSource Leadership International, an agency that fosters excellence in theological education in the developing world. He also teaches part time at Regent College in Canada.

The book includes twelve chapters that can be divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the characteristics of calling. The second focus on elements needed to fulfill our calling. Chapter two provides a theological understanding of work. The authors states that good work is work that agrees with God's purposes for our lives. He shows how work is a means of service which is a religious act. The author assumes that our work "is done in response to the calling of God. God calls us to the work we do, and thus our work becomes something that we do as an offering to God" (43). Chapter two shows how our call should match us with our personality, gifts, and opportunities. He shows how our calling could be either payed or volunteer work. In addition, he provides help to the reader to discover her calling. Our calling will have something to do with how God has made us. Smith believes that our calling is discerned and lived out in community.

I particularly enjoyed chapter four which discussed the different stages of adult life. He dives these stages: From adolescence into early adulthood, early to midadulthood, Midadulthood to our senior years. He shows how our calling might change in different stages. He believes as young adults the major challenge is to take responsibility for their lives. Midlife adults' task is to accept themselves. Senior adults need to let go and bless and offer wisdom.

Courage & Calling is recommended for any reader who is interested in discerning God's will for his/her life. The author has a lot of experience and provides much wisdom on how to achieve our "God-given potential."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Called to Study

I am re-reading Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. I am about half way through. In the first half Gordon describes general principles on knowing God's calling in our life and the need for courage to fulfill it. The chapter I am now reading takes these principles and apply them to four different occupations or vocations: business, the arts, teaching and scholarship, and the ministry. I was reading the section on the arts this morning. The author made some interesting comments. One point was the need for excellence in the arts. Christian artists should not accept mediocrity. A second point was the importance of beauty. Third, the need for dedication to the craft and not commercialization. This mean not producing just because it sells. The author does realize the artist must make a living. Of course, this can come from his art, but he lists two other ways. One was is having a patron that will support your craft. Another way is to have an occupation that would allow you to be your own patron. The author also states how many artists get barely by economically, so they can practice their craft. This brought to my memory to my own calling.

Early on in college I realized that learning was an end in itself. Learning was worthwhile even without any utilitarian end. Over the years I realized I had a calling to study. Reading, studying, and thinking brings me great joy. My desire to follow a calling to study motivated my future decisions. I wanted to choose a career and lifestyle that would be centered around study. I wanted my life to make study possible. I did not want to work 60-80 hours a week that would leave no time for study. Through different circumstances and a sense of calling I became a librarian. Librarianship is my career, but it is not necessarily my calling. My work is a calling and a ministry. It makes it possible to do many of the things I enjoy doing, like research, writing, reading, and teaching. However, my passion is study. I make it a practice to get up before 5 a.m. in the morning for the purpose of reading, studying, and thinking. Some people think it strange that I do this. All I can say is woe is me if I did not do this.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Catholic Authors

I must confess that I am an Evangelical Protestant and have been one for over thirty years. However, my favorite authors tend to be Roman Catholic. My favorite author is Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis would probably be my second favorite author. As observed by Father Schall C. S. Lewis had a Catholic mind. Sometimes I wonder why Catholics tend to be my favorite authors. It is probably because intellectually and philosophically I am Catholic.

What do I mean when I say I am philosophically and Intellectually Catholic. I think what I mean is that I accept Catholic tradition and its historical position on the relationship of faith and reason. Once I was driving Peter Kreeft to the airport and I asked him why Catholics accept that Faith and reason are compatible but evangelicals still argue about this relationship. There are even those who argue the position of faith against reason. Kreeft told me that Catholics had been thinking of this relationship for two thousand years and the topic is still quite new for Evangelicals. I consider myself Catholic because I endorse the position that faith and reason are compatible. A statement made my Walker Percy which I like very much says: "it is no small thing, either, to turn your back on two thousand years of rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judean-Christian tradition." I have observed that Catholics see both faith and reason as sources of truth.

I would like to show two examples of the contrast between evangelicals and Catholics. The first one has to do with the relationship of Church and State. Our church has been doing a study on the relationship between Church and State using teaching by R. C. Sproul. Basically, the study looks at what the Bible tells us about politics. It tends to emphasize divine revelation. I think Catholics would look at reason. They would look at Aristotle and other important political theorists and discuss what reason can tell us about the relationship of church and state. There is a tendency among Protestants to look at topics from a Bible alone perspective. An example would be Wayne Grudem's Politics according to the Bible. A second example would be the emphasis on philosophy in Catholic colleges and university and the lack of it at evangelical colleges. For example, our school has many Bible courses and only a few philosophy courses which are under theology. I think the Catholic perspective would be that you could not understand theology without understanding philosophy.

A question I have had in my mind for a long time was why Catholic priests are educated in so many field besides theology. I have many priests who have graduate degrees in psychology, philosophy, political science and other disciplines. What is the reason for this? The few Catholic priests I have interacted with were very knowledge and widely educated. My question is regards to this situation is it because on the stress of reason in the Roman Catholic tradition?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lear Thou Me On

One of my favorite poems is "Lead Kindly Light" by John Henry Newman. Is is in addition one of the best prose writers and thinkers of any age. Here is the first part of the poem:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,--
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,--one step enough for me

The link above is audio to the complete poem.

The poem is special to me since for the last few years I have been seeking God's direction for my life. I have wrestled with the idea of doing a Ph.D for twenty years. I started a program a few years ago but did not have the funds to complete it. Recently I tried again and all the doors seemed closed to me. I told myself instead of putting it on the shelf I will bury it this time. I told my daughter and wife that I buried my desire for a Ph.D. They laughed at me. I was sincere in my statements, but before I knew it by resolution collapsed once again. I received a letter in a mail telling me I had received a scholarship that would cover part of the cost. Having the letter in hand made me reconsidered it. Then other doors opened up. It is ironical that a few days ago I was thinking about the parable of talents. I thought about the response of the third servant who said to the Master: "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground." I found it ironical that I did not think about the irony of this parable and my action until a few days ago. I buried my desire for the Ph.D or the opportunity to pursue the degree. I have prayed, studied, inquired, sought the counsel of others for over a year. I have looked at it from every possible position. All I know is that it seems like a call to ministry. I felt all I could do is surrender. It is like I must do this. Please pray for me as I seek to follow God's guidance.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Live Your Calling

Kevin and Marie Brennfleck, Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life. Jossey-Bass, 2005. 277 pages. ISBN 0-7879-6895-1.

Kevin and Marie Brennfleck's Live Your Calling is a practical handbook on discovering your interests, goals, values, passions, gifts and talents and living out your mission in life. Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck are specialists in helping people identify their giftedness and find their purpose in life. They are National Certified Counselors and National Certified Career Counselors. This book was helpful to me in better understanding my own calling in life. The authors lead the reader through some different exercises to fill out their own Life Calling Map.

Live Your Calling is divided into six parts. The first two chapters provide an overview of the book. In chapter one the authors discuss God's general calling and individual calling. Our primary calling is to follow Christ. Our work, or vocational calling, is one of our secondary callings. The authors note, "Your vocational calling is a summons from God to use your gifts in the world, whether it be within paid employment, the home, or volunteer activities" (7). Chapter two describes "Life Calling Compass" principles. The first principle is to "keep our primary calling primary." The primary calling is our relationship with God. The second principle is to "use our gifts to meet needs in the world" (15). The last principle is "God calls us to proactive stewardship of our gifts" (17).  To be faithful stewards of our gifts we must cultivate and exercise our gifts. Another point made in the chapter is that vocational calling is a "lifelong journey."

Part two begins the process of completing six inventories to identify the important parts of how God created you: "your most-enjoyed skills, core values, preferred roles, personality traits, compelling interests, and spiritual gifts" (xiii). When you finish these inventories you will transfer the results to your Life Calling Map. The authors include examples of other Life Calling Maps and provides hints in filling out your map. The last part discusses obstacles to living your mission. Some of these are fear, money, business, negative thinking, hurts from the past. Each chapter includes methods or strategies for overcoming these obstacles.

Living Your Calling is an excellent handbook for discovering your own calling. It is practical and easy to understand. This book is recommended to anyone who desires to discover their own mission in life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education

What is the purpose of education? What is the difference between liberal and vocational education? What is leisure? What is the difference between leisure and work? What is the difference between living and living well? What does leisure have to do with living well? Mortimer Adler in his lecture, "Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education" addresses these issues. I have read this lecture multiple times over the years. Recently I read it again and was reminded about the importance of liberal education. It is the education that not only prepares us for our career, but how to make the best use of our time our whole life. It teaches us how to live well.

The lecture's main theme is the "distinction between labor and leisure." Though this is the main theme he addresses liberal education in both the beginning and the end of this lecture. The reason he focuses on the distinction between labor and leisure is because without recognizing this distinction, the hearer cannot understand the purpose of a liberal education. Adler believes we can only understand liberal education by understanding its end. And the end of liberal education "lies in the use we make of our leisure, in the activities with which we occupy our leisure time."

To support this thesis Adler proceeds in the following way. First he provides a definition of "liberal education in terms of leisure;" second, he explains the distinctions between work and leisure; third, he draws out implications "for the place of liberal education in an industrial democracy like our."

Now, I would like to describe some of the points he makes that seems significant to me. He tells us that education is a "practical activity" which seeks to improve men and women. There are two ways they can be improved. First, the focus can be improving their specific talents and abilities; or second, it can seek to improve the functions that common to all people. Adler associates a general education with liberal education. What I believe is really significant is that Adler describes the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic ends. Leisure activities are activities that are associated with intrinsic ends. These are "private excellences by which a man perfects his own nature, and those public excellences which can be translated into the performance of his moral or political duty." In other words, the ends are in the activity itself. Extrinsic ends would be work that we do to get a living from. One way to look at work is that it is something we do to earn money to get the things we need or want. Work is compulsory and leisure is voluntary. Work can be leisure if it is done for intrinsic ends, like perfecting ourselves in its pursuit.

An important point of this lecture is that we need a liberal education to be able to pursue leisurely activities. These are "intrinsically good activities which are both self-rewarding and meaningful beyond themselves." Adler states that leisurely activities are "such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity." Vocational education has its place. It prepares you for work or a career. It cannot, prepare you or equip you to use leisurely activities well. It does not prepare you to keep learning your whole life. It helps you meet your subsistence needs, but not to live well. It is liberal education that prepares you and equips you to continue to learn and use leisurely activities well.

Adler makes an interesting observation about the difference between children and adults in regards to schooling:
"Liberal education can involve work simply because we find it necessary to compel children to begin, and for some years to continue, their educations. Whenever you find an adult, a chronological adult, who thinks that learning or study is work, let me say that you have met a child. One sign that you are grown up, that you are no longer a child, is that you never regard any part of study or learning as work. As long as learning or study has anything compulsory about it, you are still in the condition of childhood. The mark of truly adult learning is that it is done with thought of labor or work at all, with no sense of compulsory. It is entirely voluntary."

Let me leave you with one other quote that sums it all up:
"It is clear, I think, that liberal education is absolutely necessary for human happiness, for living a good human life. The most prevalent human ills are two: a man's discontent with the work he does and the necessity of having to kill time. Both these ills can be, in part, cured by liberal education. Liberal schooling prepares for a life of learning and for the leisure activities of a whole lifetime. Adult liberal education is an indispensable part of the life of leisure, which is a life of learning."

Thank you Mortimer for these excellent thoughts. Adler is kind of a hero for me. He devoted his life to this type of learning. I yearn to follow in his footsteps.