Call and Obedience

Frederick Buechner very famously said that "the place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." Isn't that lovely?

I'm not sure it's true. I'd like it to be true, but I'm not sure it is.

Think of Jonah. (I love to think of Jonah. Possibly my favorite book in the Bible.) I really, really get it when he cries out to God, "Are you KIDDING ME? They do all this terrible stuff, and you're letting them off SCOT-FREE?!?!?!

This does not sound like Jonah's deep gladness.

And Moses. You know I've been thinking of Moses lately. Moses was not excited to take God's call to be the Mouthpiece of the Lord. Pretty well turned it down, actually. And then when the Israelites kept complaining to him in the wilderness? Or when he came down from seeing God on Mt. Sinai, and they were knee-deep in debauchery?

Moses was not loving ministry.

So, instead of deep gladness in the work itself (in which I am presently skeptical), I'm thinking instead of Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison's description (I'm still reading their Compassion) of Jesus's obedience to the Father:

Obedience, as it is embodied in Jesus Christ, is a total listening, a giving attention with no hesitation or limitations, a being "all ear." It is an expression of the intimacy that can exist between two persons. Here the one who obeys knows without restriction the will of the one who commands and has only one all-embracing desire: to live out that will ... When used by Jesus, the word obedience has no association with fear, but rather is the expression of his most intimate, loving relationship.

I'm thinking vocation is about being as immersed in the love of God as possiblye and being directed by that love.

Though, come to think of it, that definition might not apply to Moses and Jonah, either.

Which leads me to the happy conclusion that we can be used by God, even if we're bull-headed and crotchety. Praise be to God.

But Jesus's way seems better.


  1. And Peter - he didn't seem deeply glad, either!

    But Paul did, even when he was complaining and not getting any.

    I prefer P. Palmer's definition of vocation: it's what gives you energy rather than what drains you of energy. If you can do something over and over again without getting bitter or surly, it is what God has called you to do.

    Of course, everyone needs to be refreshed: corporate worship, fellowship, and private prayertime!

  2. Wasn't Paul nuts? I don't know that I'd want to spend time with him, but I'm so curious about what he must have been like.

  3. He must have had wild, crazy energy. After taking a course on him this summer, I feel I understand him a little bit better. Poor guy, the centuries have not been kind to his so-intelligent-it's-hard-to-understand theology.

  4. Mrs. M, one of the best articles I have ever read about Vocation/or "calling" is by a Lutheran woman named Jean Larson Hurd. She explicitly answers some of the critics of Luther on calling, and she really deals with the quote you mentioned by Buechner. I can send you a copy. But here's a quote:

    "The reality of life is that its deep gladness is fleetingly glimpsed. The holy beauty of the newborn gives way to the poopy screamer every time. To affirm fully the holy in creation, to participate in that holiness through our vocation, calls for an embrace of the screamers, the struggles, and the boredom....(also) what may indeed lie behind the deep gladness of the most fortunate of us in vocation is not the primary experience of joy, but of suffering. Elizabeth O'Connor, writer and staff member of the Church of the SAvior in Washington, D.c., notes that Alexander Graham Bell's mother and wife were both deaf and that Thomas Edison was afraid of the dark.....vocational vision arises out of our deep-in-the-flesh encounters with real life, cruciform life, holy life."


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins