About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

WIJD - Four Questions for Discerning Call

Charles Sheldon's novel In His Steps, a classic of the Social Gospel movement written at the turn of the century, told of a suburban mainline congregation where people decided to make no decisions in their daily and professional lives without first asking "What would Jesus do"? The question "What would Jesus Do" has become almost a cliche now in youth group and church circles. And it can work well as a way of focusing on discipleship. But I confess I grow impatient with it because so often it is a way of saying "What's the right thing to do in this situation? How can I be a better person here? Or how can I feel that I'm on Jesus's side and this other person is not?" There's a lot of danger of attributing to Jesus our own motives, a certain arrogance in reducing the challenge of the gospel to something that could be read as a daily instruction book. Even in Sheldon's novel, though much of what people are called to do leads to change in the social order, there is a certain middle-class complacency in most of the characters that I suspect the Jesus of the gospels would have a big problem with -- even though they do good works in his name.
But my main problem with "What would Jesus do" is that it misses the power of Christianity's central claim: If we proclaim a risen Lord who is still active in the world, through the Holy Spirit working in us, then the vocation question isn't "What would Jesus do" (i.e., what are the rules here: let's go to the gospel and see if we can find our instructions) but "What is Jesus doing? And how can I participate in that work?" (What do the gospels tell us about Jesus and the "kingdom of God" that we can see happening in our daily lives and in the world around us: where are the places of brokenness; where is there healing and transformation?) So for me it's not "WWJD"(What would Jesus do?) but WIJD: "What IS Jesus doing, and what is my piece of that work?"
How do we work that out, practically speaking? It will be different for each of us but the question is the same. I'm assuming in all of this that we're always grounded in Scripture, and how it has been read by faithful, thoughtful people past and present -- but then drawing on what we find in the whole gospel message, I encourage people to ask themselves four questions that can get to where God may be calling them at this particular moment, and in their particular place in the world. Here are the questions:

1. "What do you do" (station in life - what do you say at a cocktail party or when you're meeting someone socially for the first time? We're a society where a lot of our identity can be tied up in this question, and that is a distortion, sometimes, in discernment. So it's good to get it out there, for starters. )

2. What is your real work (If you're particularly blessed, this may be a part of what you "do") -- what is it that, when you're doing it, makes you feel most fully whole? What is the work your soul must have?

3. When you look around you at the world, what seems to be the most urgent work that God is trying to do in the world (What is Jesus doing). What makes you say, "This has GOT to change" -- or "Why isn't anyone doing anything about ____". What might be your part in this work? (This is a question that both individuals and communities can ask/should be asking)

4. What in your life prompts you to give thanks to God? How do you live out that thankfulness? How do you pray?

My working definition of "vocation" or "call" is what God is doing/what Jesus is doing (WJID) with the answers to those four questions in my life.


  1. Or my personal favorite ...


    What Would Joe Do? (Joe Clark, that is. My former rector is a very smart man. I ask myself WWJD? everyday ...)

  2. Hmm... Interesting post. Two thoughts:
    1) What kinds of social change do the characters in In His Steps succeed in bringing about? As someone who is passionate about Sociology, I always ask myself how inequality can be reduced in society so I'm kind of curious here...
    2)The four questions on "call" are helpful indeed -- I might be able to answer them for myself but I'm not sure. However, I do believe that these questions are helpful for anyone who is trying to figure out his or her purpose on this planet.

  3. Some of the things the characters in In His Steps do include: getting rid of the saloons (it was a time when the temperance movement was very strong in the churches); taking in a poor tramp and caring for him; a singer decides to give her life to singing in churches and revival meetings; a newspaper owner decides not to publish his paper on Sundays and pays a price for his decision commercially. You might find the novel interesting from a social/historical point of view. My reservations about this approach to social change is that it is not particularly systemic; the middle class churches involved in the movement do not have a sense that their own lifestyle is contributing to the social problems that they seek to address on individual levels; however, you do have things like a business owner deciding to treat his workers more fairly, and people deciding to make decisions based on human need instead of their own economic self-interest.