Dissed and Dismissed
I flew to Philadelphia then took the Acela Express to New York City. I usually write when I am traveling. On this trip I watched. At my airport gate there was a slight young brunette with 5-inch heels and skinny jeans. Her “significant other” (I use the term loosely) was leafing through a copy of Maxim. Apparently fresh from the gym, he wore a tank top and sweat pants. In the 10 minutes I watched, not once did Mr. Biceps even glance in the girl’s direction, though she talked to him the entire time. I later watched them board the flight. Guess who got on first, and did not help lift her bag into the overhead bin? I see this a lot. You do too. Her face was so fresh and young and vulnerable.
I took a cab from the airport to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. When I boarded the train I took a seat directly across from an attorney traveling from Washington to New York, briefs scattered all over his fold-down tray. He had a square jaw, wavy salt and pepper hair and a gray Brooks Brothers suit. He definitely belonged on the train from DC to New York. Seated next to him was a statuesque blond in Ralph Loren. At first I assumed she was sitting with her boss. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder, not in a daughter-father kind of way. He did not stop tap, tap, tapping on his laptop. He hunched up his shoulder until she had no choice but to lift her head and settle back into her seat. He never spoke to her during the entire 60-minute trip. Same story, different socioeconomic group.
I am a theistic evolutionist. I sometimes imagine a God who gave birth to all of this matter and energy, then pretty much left it alone to raise itself. I know how God felt. You get tired constantly stepping in to resolve your children’s bickering. Eventually you just say, “As long as no limbs are severed, I’ll let them work this out on their own.”
So God stood back and watched God’s “child” unfold. Then God said to himself and herself (that being Jesus and the Spirit), “Uh oh, I was kinda hoping the male humans would evolve beyond the elk, but it doesn’t look promising. We’re gonna have a lot of explainin’ to do.”
About a decade ago an article in Psychology Review said men and women respond differently to stress. Men resort to the “fight or flight” syndrome, while women prefer to “tend and befriend.” In times of stress they tend to relationships and befriend others (primarily women) who can provide emotional support.
On my trip I saw neither “fight or flight” or “tend and befriend.” From the men I saw “bore and ignore” and from the women I saw a willingness to be “dissed and dismissed.” After all, what would cause a woman to be willing to sit in figurative coach while her “man” (again, using the term lightly) sits comfortably in cultural first class, assuming she will answer his every beck and call? It is 2014. There is something wrong with this picture.
I felt badly for these two women. Did someone not tell them who they were? I am learning a lot. A lot.
Your Talent and the World’s Need
Aristotle said you find your purpose at the intersection of your talents and the world’s need. Frederick Buechner wrote that your calling is where the world’s deep hunger meets your deep gladness. Finding one’s calling is the last great task of early adulthood. Sometimes it remains elusive for decades.
My calling has always been clear. I am a communicator. I was once asked if I had a life phrase. Without contemplation I answered, “To alleviate spiritual suffering.” (As a former editor, I value brevity.) In fair measure my answer was accurate. For so many of the people with whom I interact, the church has been a place of great suffering. I wanted to alleviate the suffering. I still do.
Many churches are filled with loving saints and angry fundamentalists. One group gives life. The other saps the soul. I wanted to do something about it. I spent a lot of years trying to tell people who thought they were not okay that they were, in fact, okay.
We are all formed by our experiences. My experience of the church has been like my experience of life – paradoxical. From the same place comes goodness and evil, darkness and light. When I was young I had big plans. I wanted to end all darkness. Nowadays I am content to shine my flashlight in whatever dark cave I happen to encounter. I am okay with my limitations.
In the recent HBO series, True Detective, the two principle characters became obsessed with the extremely dark side of life. I was surprised when in the final minutes of the season finale one of them looked at the night sky and said, “I believe the stars are winning.” I don’t know who the show runners were for True Detective, but I like the way they think. Evil might have its day, but the light wins.
Of late, I too have seen a lot of the dark side of life. I’m reminded of Scott Peck’s statement that 99 percent of the world’s evil is done by people convinced they are absolutely right. I’ve got lots of doubts about lots of things, but of this much I am certain. There is too much suffering, and somebody needs to help alleviate it.
Call and Calling
Recently I spoke with a woman about the joys of serving for a very long time in just one place. For over three decades I was blessed to do varied and interesting work. I did not take good work for granted.
I believe God calls us toward a profession, a calling, in which we can burst forth with color. God helps us see the offering we might make, one that gladdens our hearts and meets a hungry world in need. Then we are given the confidence to do the work and the strength to leave behind the voices with all their bad advice.
The hardest voices to banish are the ones coming from your own head. Often they spring up like weeds from the neural valleys of a wounded childhood. Unfortunately, we are often left to do our own weeding. But with people who love us deeply those internal voices can be stilled, replaced with a beautiful new voice you are surprised to recognize as your own – full of confidence and laughter, fierce determination and abiding comfort.
One’s calling, or vocation, should not be confused with the call of God to a specific task. That call usually arises from within your broader calling, but is a summons to a place as yet unknown, untried, and usually terrifying. It is a call to cross a vast sea to a new land with fallen branches and stones.
If you accept this call you may or may not find happiness. You may not even find peace. Maybe you will find joy, the kind that comes from accepting what is. And you are likely to find power, wisdom, and strength.
My daughters bought me a bouquet of summer flowers. They were beautiful. The strangest thing happened. They refused to die. For weeks they stayed and stayed, offering their welcome with each new morning, blessing me with their faithfulness. I took the last one and pressed it between the pages of a book of poetry, right next to a butterfly I once knew who taught me ever so much. If we are fortunate our calling will be experienced like that bouquet, resilient and full of life.
Over the years I have received a number of specific calls to particular tasks. I answered some. I refused a few. To answer God’s call brought life and strength and hope. To refuse it brought the dull absence of authenticity.
The specific call of God continues. As always it is frightening, exciting, terrifying. The next one is usually the hardest yet. But leaving the voices behind, you answer the call.