Monday, March 02, 2009

Calling ...

There's a great conversation going on over at Transient and Permanent. My comment was going so long, I decided to move it over here.

First, go read the original post:

Do Unitarian-Universalist Ministers Have a Calling?

Then scroll down to comments to read the conversation.

Now, to answer:


What isn’t addressed overtly is the matter of where the calling comes from, or what it means to use an action verb like “calling” when there may be no being to voice the call. Must one anthropomorphize–if even on the most attenuatedly abstract level–a higher power in the universe in order to maintain the concept of calling? Could you clarify by what you mean by the “mutual” in “inner mutual longing”? I’m curious to learn how different people understand what is going on with this concept, especially those who indeed have a strong sense of such a calling. How did they determine it was a calling, and for the ministry in particular? What does this say about their theology? Perhaps the key to this issue of calling lies in your reference to longing for a unique purpose?

I wonder if the sense of a calling to the presidency of the UUA by a layperson would be acceptable grounds to someone who expected the president to understand the sense of calling to the ministry.

Well, I can only speak for my beliefs. (Why do I say that? I mean, duh.)

Could someone who is strictly atheist – and by that, I mean someone who does not believe in God as a force, a spirit, a process, nuttin', and someone who sees no plan, no “magical” connection of events or people – could that person say they felt “called” to ministry? Well, heck, I dunno. I was only like that for a brief, dry, period. And at that time, I thought I’d never go back to seminary. I was not called, I had nothing to say, how could I minister?

Well, Spirit came back and Spirit said “Do,” so I’m back on my path. So, what I mean by “mutual” is this: that there is a force, a transcending mystery, that knows our spirit force, is connected to our spirit force, and is made up of all our spirit forces (okay, I don’t know where “spirit force” came from and I don’t like it, so just consider it a placeholder for a better term) that wants to best utilize our uniqueness to advance our world.

“Must one anthropomorphize …” Again, I dunno. I did. But I certainly don’t hold myself up as more spiritually mature, or more anything for that matter. Spirit communicates to me through all kinds of mediums, including stupid pop songs. I’m sure there are folks on higher levels than I, who can get the message without such clunky devices as perceiving God on a personal level … but I need it a little more easily digestible.

Now, can a minister pursue ministry purely on logical terms? I know one who did, just seeing it as a natural progression of their skills and what they liked to do. I can’t speak to how it’s working for them.

Probably someone who had a more subtle, complex “call” could respond more eloquently (or at least not as clumsily) as I. For me, my call was a burning bush, Road to Damascus moment, that was then corroborated for me through a series of blatant coincidences that left me tilting my head up to the sky and hollering, “Okay, I GET IT already!!!!”

So, for me, if someone said, “I feel called to be President of the UUA” (or for that matter, called to write a book, establish a foundation, go to law school), it wouldn’t even occur to me that they couldn’t understand my sense of calling. But then, some of my best friends are school teachers. Now, you want to talk about a sense of call!

This is a bit of a side note, but I do wonder if the sense of calling to the UU ministry specifically can be mistaken. We have few spiritual practices, and many UUs who thirst for spiritual deepening or greater religious knowledge seem drawn to the seminaries as a way of indulging these understandable desires. Some may believe this represents a calling, when their real motivation is not service to others or to God/whatever, but personal questing (not a bad thing in itself). Because we lack monastic orders and systematic religious practices, the ministry may seem like the only option to UUs who want more and are already conditioned to fulfill religious needs by yet more reading and debate. But is this a calling as it has been usually understood? Not meant as a slam on people who enter seminary for mixed or questing reasons, just an open question that seems somewhat related.

I do think that’s an issue. I’m very glad that someone is devoting their time and energy to working on it. We have to have more choices than “give them a book and direct their independent study,” “channel their spiritual longing into leadership development,” and go to seminary. Okay, I know I'm simplifying. But I really like the project.


Lizard Eater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Transient and Permanent said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation here with your longer comment. Since you have a theistic UU theology, the language around calling isn't as problematic for you as it might be for an avowedly atheistic UU seminarian/minister, I imagine. James Ford on my blog used the verb "pulled," which seems like a good way for non-theists to conceptualize the impulse that "called" gets at. But I haven't gotten any responses so far from clearly non-theistic ministers, so I'm still left hypothesizing about their perspectives.

The Eclectic Cleric said...

"Pulled," "Drawn" -- does the language of "vocation" become less difficult if we leave it in Latin? And yes, if you're hearing little voices in your head, I would always caution a certain level of suspicion regarding their source and origin. But if one learns to be discerning, and to listen to the Universe and its MANY voices...there are messengers (and messages) everywhere. Just listen up. You'll hear your calling...whether to ministry or whatever other kind of "service" you may feel drawn to, soon enough.

Kari said...

I speak as someone with a wildly deep "calling". It's not something that most people understand.

For me this calling is the work that I'm incomplete if I don't come back to day after day, week after week, and year after year. It wakes me up, lifts my heart and brings me deep happiness almost every day. I was listening and the message was clear. Kind of a "get your butt over here, and don't make me tell you again!" moment.

And yes, having been around this wonderful slightly cracked world of Unitarian Universalism for most of my life, I have known ministers who clearly are "called" to minister, and I've known ministers who see this as the next logical step on their path. Called ministers are more effective, more visionary, and seem to me to be happier in their work. At least that's how it seems to be from outside.

For me? Being a Religious Educator is a calling. It's not professional ministry as ordained clergy. It's not lay leadership, it's a calling of it's own. And it is the best work in all the heavens and on all the earth.