Simplicity and Calling (Part 2)

 

In the previous article we offered a definition of minimalism which took the focus off of stuff and placed it upon purpose.  It isn’t about getting rid of things per se, but about getting rid of the things which do not contribute to our purpose in life.  This is the reason that minimalism looks different for every person.  Every one has a different purpose.  This is also the reason that no one can give you a list entitled “The Things You Must Get Rid Of.”

Also in the previous article we suggested that simple living is beneficial because it provides the time and space you need to pursue what you love.  But this assumes that you know what you love or what your purpose is.  That knowledge seems to me a necessary beginning.  If you don’t know what you want to focus on you cannot proceed because you cannot know what is necessary and what is superfluous.  You will always be plagued by the question whether or not you might need this or that thing, whether or not you will regret getting rid of it.  So, this article intends to explore the relationship between calling (or passion or purpose, whichever term suites you best) and simplicity.

Passion, Purpose, or Calling?
Passion.  It is common amongst self-help books about happiness, business, and success to read about following your passion.  I prefer, however, not to talk about passion (though I may use the word occasionally).  This is because passion is too often equated with excitement.  To follow every “passion”, thus defined, would be a license for mere self-indulgence.  While I believe that a person will indeed be passionate about his place in life, self-indulgence is a world away from calling.  Also, excitement is often fleeting whereas true passion is a steady sense of desire and direction.  Though I think Cal Newport oversteps when he says, “there is no special passion waiting for you to discover,” I think that he is on the right track with a number of his observations.  His chief contribution, in my opinion, is that he mitigates the glib use of “passion” in our contemporary society.1

Purpose.  Another word used to describe one’s place in the world is “purpose.”  The benefit of this word is that it moves beyond the syrupy-sweetness of excitement-mistaken-for-passion.  It extends beyond the emotion of a moment and considers the farther reaching vision of an all important goal.  Another advantage to “purpose” is that it carries the idea of an individual place.  It suggests that there is something that you are uniquely suited for in the world (contra Newport).  The disadvantage of the word, however, is that purpose is sensible without any reference to God.  Much of the literature in the self-help genre discusses purpose with no talk of God whatsoever.  Further, because it does not require reference to God one’s purpose can only serve two things: self and society.  The best of the literature points out that fulfillment is only found when talents are used to serve others (society).  The worst of it makes discovering one’s purpose sound as if its only goal is to make money (self).

Calling.  I prefer to speak of “calling” or “vocation.”2 I prefer “calling”, first of all, because of its obvious religious connotations. I am a Christian and I believe in calling because I believe there is a Caller. Second, I prefer “calling” because it has the virtues of “purpose” with none of its vices.3 Insofar as we are called we receive it as a gift, not an achievement (this need not, however, preclude effort/development of our call–Newport is good here). Though it remains possible to brag about one’s calling, acknowledging the Caller helps to suppress the prideful impulse. In the Corinthian church it appears as though there were some who thought highly of themselves because of their gifts, indicating that it is still possible to brag. But that one should not brag seems obvious in Paul’s retort, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Os Guinness describes this necessary humility when he writes, “God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”4

General and Specific Calling
Both our general and specific callings are correlates of our being human.  First, as human beings we all share a common purpose, i.e. to image God into the world (cf. Gen. 1:26-28).  We are to imitate him by shining his love and creativity into the world.  This is our general purpose.  It is incumbent upon all men and women every where.  Regardless of whether a person is an author, a health coach, a bank teller, a garbage man, a surgeon, a musician, a dancer, or an elementary school teacher, he must always perform his duty with love and to the glory of God.

Second, as human beings we are also finite.  This is the condition which requires our specific callings.  No one person can do all that needs to be done.  The skills necessary to create a peaceful and productive society do not all reside in one person.  This requires that each person have a specific place.  A politician may have little interest in mechanics but when the politician needs her car repaired she will be thankful for the mechanics in the world.  Likewise, the mechanic may have little interest in economics but when those issues are debated he will be thankful for those who are well versed in such things.  We need one another.  We ought to be thankful for those in the world who have different interests and talents than we do.  We need them all to preserve and improve the world in which we live.

Discerning Your Calling
In some sense discerning one’s calling is equivalent to seeking the answer to the question, “Who am I?”  Four answers5 are commonly suggested: A. I am who I am constrained to be.  This is the idea that I am the result of my circumstances.  I was born into this family in this country in this neighborhood to these parents at this time.  That is who I am and I cannot be otherwise.  B. I am who I am constituted to be.  This is the idea that one’s DNA determines one’s life.  C. I am who I have the courage to be.  This is the idea that you are the master of your fate.  Your identity is not fixed by anything but your own will.  D. I am who I am called to be.  This is the Christian belief.  While acknowledging that circumstances and DNA play their part, and that courage is necessary in answering God’s call, it does not make any one of these things the whole.  Our identity is found in God alone, our creator.  Therefore, we may only properly discern our call with reference to him.  I offer here three suggestions for doing so:

  1.  What do you enjoy?  God is involved in forming who we are from the very beginning (cf. Ps. 139:13-18; Jer. 1:4-10).  God also loves us and expects us to enjoy the life he has offered us (Php. 4:4; 1 Tim. 6:17).  It stands to reason then that we will likely enjoy doing whatever God has set for us to do.  As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  If you don’t know what you love to do, take the time to find out.  Try new things.  Dream dreams.  Imagine a life that you would love to live.
  2. What are your talents?  God grants us inclinations and abilities which reflect his varied grace into the world (cf. Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11).  This means considering both your natural abilities and those that you have worked to develop.  And while those may be the same thing they need not be.  It is important here to listen to the people around you.  The primary way God speaks to us is through his word; Second to that is through the community.  It is entirely possible that others notice in you a skill that you have never noticed in yourself.  During this time of discernment speak to others about your journey and listen to what they have to say.  All the while be sure to pray.  When Judas’ apostleship was being replaced the community nominated two to take his place.  The final decision, however, was left to God (Acts 1:15-26).  The decision was made by both community and prayer.  These will help set you in the right direction.
  3. What needs to be done?  This is immensely important.  Without this question calling is tempted to selfishness.  But there is no room for selfishness in vocation.  Our gifts are “ours for others.”6  God is on a mission.  There are things that need to be done in the world, and we are his body on earth.  We are the hands and feet through which God works to accomplish that mission.  The ultimate example of calling is Jesus Christ and his self-sacrifice.  He “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).  Whenever Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discusses discerning one’s calling he suggests our purpose is found “where what you want to do meets what needs to be done.”7

Purposeful Play
These suggestions ought not to be treated as a mathematical formula as if one could put the data into a computer and get the answer.  There is a mystery about life.  God is not in the habit of shouting from heaven.  Our sense of calling rarely comes with such clarity.  Oswald Chambers is supposed to have written: “If you can tell where you got the call of God and all about it, I question whether you have ever had a call.”8 This ambiguity, however, must not stop us from living. We cannot sit back and wait until “we’re sure.” There is work to be done and we must do it. Rather, this ambiguity invites us into purposeful play. If you are unsure of your place in the world then you are duty bound to pursue it, and that gives a purposeful direction t0 your life. But so long as we offer our efforts to God we need not fear his displeasure. This makes it play. We may not discovered a settled certainty until later in life but that is the nature of calling. Wisdom is always a process.  Discernment is a journey.  Life is lived forward and understood backward.

Simplicity and Calling
Simplicity relates both to our general and our specific call.  All people have been called to glorify God in their lives.  Part of that involves maintaining godly relationships and maintaining good health.  Whatever impedes the fulfillment of such a call needs to go.  If that means getting rid of bad relationships, working less, getting rid of stuff and/or buying fewer things then that’s what needs to happen.

In regard to our specific callings: if you have confidence in the particular direction God is calling you then you have a responsibility to answer that call.  To ignore it is to be in dereliction of duty.  That means that whatever impedes that purpose needs to go.  This is the relationship between simplicity and calling.  If living a simple life means getting rid of unnecessary things in order to focus upon what is most important that requires that you first know what is most important.  Hopefully this has helped to give you some perspective into what is most important and how to find it.  The only question is, will you fulfill that purpose?  Being human means sharing a purpose with all humanity (because we are all human) and have a specific purpose (because we are all finite).  So get rid of the junk.  And be simply human.

 

©M. Benfield 2017


1. “‘Follow Your Passion’ is Crappy Advice.” Joshua Fields Millburn. Available at http://www.theminimalists.com/cal/ ; Internet; Accessed 2 January 2017.
2. They both mean the same thing. “Calling” comes from an Anglo-Saxon root while “vocation” is from Latin. Given a choice between these two I prefer “calling.” Although they are technical equivalents “vocation” has often been flattened to indicate mere occupation/job.
3. It is not my intention to argue over semantics. The most important thing is not what word we use but what we mean by that word. I have made a distinction here as a heuristic device to describe different conceptions of “goals” although I often use these terms interchangeably. While I use vary my terms for stylistic purposes one should always understand my description of “calling” as being the background of all such usage.
4. Os Guiness, The Call, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 45.
5. Ibid, 20-26.&#*617;
6. Ibid, 47.
7. “Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Finding Purpose.” An interview for JINSIDER. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDZV6v7BLrs ; Internet; Accessed 6 January 2017.
8. As quoted in The Call, Os Guiness, 51.

Hacksaw Ridge: Teaching Us to Hear One Another

 

Let me begin by saying that at this moment I have no settled convictions about pacifism.  I have my thoughts and concerns, of course, but this article is not an argument for or against pacifism.  This is about urging us to listen to one another.

In person, on Facebook, and on Instagram I often see disagreements take place where the participants fail to listen to each other.  It appears–I say “appears” because I cannot be certain of the motive–that participants have preprogrammed responses to certain words and phrases which serve as triggers.  Things like “religion”, “Democrat”, “Republican”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “fundamentalist”, “redneck”, “hick”, “racism”, “Christian”, “feminist”, “slut”, “player”, “constitution”, “rights”, “peace”, “war”, “terrorism”, “Muslim”, “gay”, “environmentalist”, “hippy”, “sexist”, “guns”, “gun control”, “evolution”, “second amendment”, and others.  The hearer/reader, without listening, then takes the things which he/she associates with those triggers and attributes them to the speaker, regardless of the speakers objection, “That’s not what I’m saying.”  And, as an observer (and occasional participant) of the conversation, I often agree.  That’s not what the speaker was trying to say at all.  On such occasions I have tried my best to facilitate conversation between both sides, and this is one such occasion.  I want to encourage readers to see the upcoming film Hacksaw Ridge (you can watch the trailer here) and to “hear” what the film has to say.  It is the true story of Private first class Desmond T. Doss.  As a devout Seventh-Day Adventist he believed he could not touch a gun, much less take another’s life.  Still, he served in WWII as a medic and received the Congressional Medal of Honor after successfully saving the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers.  I believe this film helps to overcome two common associations I witness in regard to the triggers “pacifist” and “non-violence.”

First, as pictured in Hacksaw Ridge, some associate non-violence with cowardice. One of Doss’ fellow soldiers says to him, “I don’t think this is a question of religion. I think this is cowardice.” In his excellent lecture “Why I Am Not a Pacficist”, which can be read with benefit regardless of one’s agreement or disagreement, C.S. Lewis also suggests that pacifism (he suspects) may be motivated by cowardice.  He makes the suggestion gingerly, even indicting himself, not wishing to insult his hearers. “Let me say at the outset that I think it unlikely there is anyone present less courageous than myself.  But let me also say that there is no man alive so virtuous that he need feel himself insulted at being asked to consider the possibility of a warping passion when the choice is one between so much happiness and so much misery.”1  He goes on to give one of the most succinct and vivid accounts of war anywhere written:

 

“All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.  Like sickness, it threatens pain and death.  Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger.  Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule.  Like exile, it separates you from all you love.  Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions.  It threatens every temporal evil–every evil except dishonour and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it.”2

 

If pacifism did in fact call men to avoid that which threatened the realities described above then we would be right to consider whether or not our “conviction” was inspired by a personal wish to avoid such horrors.  We find, however, that Lewis’ picture of pacifism is not nuanced enough.  He goes on to say, “[I]t is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing.”3  Whereas this may be the case with some pacifists (I have not known any) it is not the case with all.  If we take the time to listen we will discover that this is so.  In fact, some shirk the label “pacifism” all together believing it to be too “passive” (though this mistakes the meaning of the word).  They instead prefer the term “non-violent resistance” indicating their commitment to fight evil.4  This sort of pacifism is quite the opposite of what Lewis specifically describes as “nonresistance.”5 This sort of pacifism is that sort pictured in Hacksaw Ridge. Private Doss, nicknamed “Doss the Coward,” proves to be quite courageous. In one scene an officer says to him, “Private Doss, you are free to run into the hell fire of battle without a single weapon to protect yourself.” I feel safe saying that it would seem to take less courage to run into battle with a weapon than without one. Whereas there may be forms of pacifism which cater to cowards we ought not to hear “pacifism” or “non-violence” and simply assume the person advocating non-violence is thereby advocating cowardice. Hopefully Hacksaw Ridge will help train us to really hear one another, to listen to those who think differently than we do, and to learn to consider other ways, other perspectives. It does so here by showing that pacifists need not be cowards.

Second, in conversations I have had in regard to the topics of war, peace, non-violence, and nationalism some have objected on the grounds that pacifism somehow disrespects the soldiers that have fought and died to secure our freedom. It is believed that the suggestion of pacifism somehow belittles the courage and sacrifice of past and present soldiers. It should be noted briefly that though this objection may win a crowd rhetorically it is no accurate measure of truth. There are a great many truths labeled disrespectful regardless of how respectfully they are expressed. Even so, Hacksaw Ridge once again shows that associating disrespect with pacifism is unnecessary. Doss showed great respect for his fellow soldiers as well as his country. He respected others so much, in fact, that he could not simply send others to make a sacrifice on his behalf. He says, “I can’t stay here while all them go fight for me.” We make a mistake when we make people equal to ideas. The result is that when I disagree with a person’s belief that I am somehow perceived as being unjust towards that person. That is not the case. A person may disagree with the use of violent force without insulting or disrespecting those who support violent force. Again, Desmond Doss leads the way.

If our preconceived ideas about pacifism can so successfully be exploded, what other things might have been misunderstood?  Is it possible that we have misunderstood gun control or Just War Theory?  Is it possible that we have misunderstood evolutionary science as well as fundamentalist Christians?  Is it possible that we have misunderstood the Democratic party as well as the Republican party?  Could it be that we have misunderstood Islam and atheists, Buddhists, and Hindus?  Some of these things I agree with and others I do not.  But I do not want to make the mistake of disagreeing without first understanding.  I do not want my prejudices and my fears to make me ignore a differing view.  Sometimes a film comes a long that makes us take stock of our assumptions and question our beliefs.  Maybe Hacksaw Ridge is one of those films.  I believe that it is.

I am hopeful that Hacksaw Ridge will receive a wide viewership. I am further hopeful that we will not view the movie as simply entertainment or “about” pacifism. My hope is that this movie will do much more. I hope that Hacksaw Ridge will cause us to reflect upon all perspectives which may differ from our own. It is my wish that we will learn that those who think differently than we do are not necessarily our enemies, indeed they may be our dearest friends in time of need. I hope this film will help us learn to hear one another–to slow down, listen, and give others fair consideration. This is a Christian virtue (James 1:19), not to mention basic human decency. So join me in being simply human. Because you were born to.

 

©M. Benfield 2016


1. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, “What I Am Not a Pacficst” (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 88.
2. Ibid, 89.
3. Ibid.
4. Preston Sprinkle actually entitles his book on non-violence Fight to reflect this commitment. See Fight (Colorado Springs: Cook, 2013), 25, 29, 30, 35.
5. Lewis, Weight of Glory, 85.