The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

How to Live a Life of Risk and Meaning

A little while back, I heard about a zombie run that a friend was interested in participating in for fun. As it turns out, by signing up for such a race, you are tasked with running safely to a destination without being caught by a legion of zombies: actors fully decked in gruesome, Hollywood-esque makeup. It’s incredible, as these actors literally resemble the undead, complete with decomposed flesh, gore, and blood. I can’t say the rush of adrenaline wouldn’t be fun, and definitely not a bad way to ensure the next coming Saturday is anything but mundane.

It’s one of the many modern attractions these days, from various themed runs like The Tough Mudder and The Color Run to a host of cleverly-devised escape rooms where you and a team of friends must solve puzzles and riddles in order to escape within an hour. I personally think these are great, and I totally get the appeal. There is something enjoyable about illusory risk and adventure, about being able to collaborate with your friends on a clear goal while temporarily suspending all of the real dangers and challenges in our lives. But I began wondering why attractions that create hypothetical danger have become so popular. It seems, in a way, we now have the luxury in our restless comfort to subject ourselves to what would be a deranged nightmare, all for the sake of entertainment and fun. And this may perhaps be indicative of a culture that craves an opportunity for a worthy challenge—for meaningful risk.

The unquenchable curiosity and thirst to overcome new challenges is ingredient to being human. We are willing to risk our own safety for something greater—a loved one, a noble idea, a better world. As a race, we ascend to the moon while burrowing into the depths of the ocean, we construct urban kingdoms while designing digital terrains of communication and commerce. These are great things we’ve accomplished from that human desire—that stamp from God—to reach toward a new and better creation. And our culture still very much reveals this reality, as we continuously strive toward the frontiers of medicine, technology, communication, and so on. Continue reading

Our Delight with Disaster

The recent film The Disaster Artist portrays how the oracular Tommy Wiseau achieved his dream of writing, directing, and starring in the cult-classic and enigmatic move The RoomThe Disaster Artist has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews, and James Franco demonstrates his talent with a masterful portrayal of Wiseau, a character who remains ageless and placeless.

The story is certainly intriguing: Wiseau, a man who claims to be from the Big Easy despite his heavy Slavic accent, uses his vast financial resources from occult origins to produce “the best worst movie that was ever made.” Though The Room was released in 2003, it still plays in theaters all over the world. Wiseau originally paid to have The Room screened in theaters for two weeks, so that it would be eligible for award contention. While the original film didn’t acquire any nominations, The Disaster Artist may give Wiseau a ticket to the Academy Awards, after all.

While the film sets out to depict Wiseau semi-sympathetically, I remained slightly uncomfortable throughout my viewing. In college I had no qualms about mocking the original film to the delight (and acceptance) of my friends. But today, being a bit older and more mature, I have to ask: what was motivating my desire to see a movie about a man with no artistic talent waste millions of dollars on a terrible film?

You can read the rest of the article at Aleteia.

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Convenience at the Cost of Our God-Given Choice

Imagine you’re cruising up some famous American street—Hollywood Boulevard, Michigan Avenue, Lombard Street. Although you’re in your car, and no one else is accompanying you, you’re not driving. You’re the single passenger, tucked comfortably in a reclined seat of a driverless car. You look out the angular window and spot a ‘57 Ford Thunderbird, or a passel of men dressed handsomely with bowler hats, bulky coats draped over their arms. Or, maybe, up ahead you see a horse-drawn carriage bounding across an intersection.

Such oneiric instances might not be too far off, at least according to the musings of The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance, in an article, “How to Turn Your Self-Driving Car Into a Time Machine.” The article invites us with a facetious wink to consider the entertaining and exhilarating possibilities afforded to us with a future of driverless cars. Since these automated vehicles would require a robust and extremely sophisticated system for mapping data—from the proximity, speed, and size of nearby objects to precise location and destination coordinates—they could, at least in theory, use such information for the good of entertainment and education: by “combining augmented reality with super-precise location data and real archival video and audio footage (plus a mix of actor reenactments and CGI),” we could recreate the past. In other words, we could drive along a modern street, flip a switch next to the cup holder, and view that same street as it was in the 1950s, or 40s, or 20s.

This would no doubt offer a perk for driverless cars. However, on the other and less whimsical hand, the article suggests that such technology could make for “ethereal billboards that appear only to individual car passengers . . . essentially location-specific, ultra-targeted pop-up ads.” Still, while trips redolent of a Disneyland attraction during a work commute may seem a bit far fetched, the digital, location-based billboards? Not so much. Continue reading

The Spiritual Pitfalls of Wandering Thoughts and Streaming Music

I have to admit, when it comes to doing menial and repetitive tasks I tend to look for distractions to temper the burden. For instance, when I work out at the gym or clean my bathroom, I insist on doing these things with the aid of one of my custom playlists. I do this because I get bored. Really bored. If I could, I would listen to music or a Podcast whenever I did any routine or mindless task: rooting out weeds from a yard, folding laundry into uneven squares, washing myself with soap in the shower. I find focused repetition boring and dull. I still manage to get these tasks done — otherwise I wouldn’t be a functioning adult — but when I do them I’m usually distracted. If it’s not music, then in my head I’m trying to solve a problem related to my work or replaying a conversation from earlier that day — usually while doing something mundane like checking for cracked eggs in a carton at the grocery store.

I’ve gotten much better over the years, and now I make it a discipline to do certain things without the relief of external or internal stimulation. I have to make sure I’m intentional about living in the moment—in its total and unflattering fullness—as much as I can.

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To Be Born (Yet) Again

There is something about the purchasing of a new product that is exciting, and this desire for an experience of “newness” extends well beyond the latest iPhone to all sorts of purchased items and experiences. In fact, compared to purchased items like phones and cars, experiences — vacationing in Oahu, camping at Yellowstone, parasailing off the coast of Miami — may promise a greater and more enjoyable level of “newness.”

A 2014 article from The Atlantic, “Buy Experiences, Not Things,” points to recent studies revealing that “experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions.” The reason for this, the article explains, is because there is an emotional benefit that accrues in the anticipation of an experience that doesn’t for material goods. Experiences also provide a lasting benefit after they occur, since their memory can now elicit positive feelings of nostalgia. Although experiences seem to edge out material things in offering a more meaningful and lasting level of happiness, experience shows we all still fall back into a state of restless pursuit of something new. Continue reading

Our Inordinate Desire to Become Superhuman

There is undeniably something beautiful about the thirsting human spirit. Our continued desire to progress and ascend to great heights is commendable, an indelible mark of our image-bearing identity. In athletics, the sciences, literature, art and every other activity under humanity’s domain we as a race seek comprehension, expansion, perfection.

In some cases this quest for more can lead to unimaginable places. I recently came across an article about a diet known as the Bulletproof Diet. Like most other diets, it’s somewhat ascetic with its demands—eliminating grains, sugars and other staples from the standard American diet—with the aim of bettering health, shape, and fitness. Yet, unlike other diets, this one places great focus on maximizing mental capacity by removing hindering “toxins.”

This is all good and well. If you can safely increase your mental capacity through a certain diet, for example, then go right on ahead. We have an obligation to take care of our bodies and to ensure they are healthy. And like an athlete who trains with diligence and discipline, there is a spiritual dimension to catapulting the body to its greatest potential as a way of glorifying its masterful Creator.

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Maintaining Inner Peace

A couple times a week I run along a small bay that neighbors my house. In the early mornings, if I’m able to get out at that time, I’m always struck by the stillness of that stretch of mirrored silver. The bay’s anchored tranquility brings me a sense of peace if I only take a moment or two to look at it. It’s an image that in some way soothes my soul.

In Father Jacques Philippe modest little book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, he calls to mind this metaphor for the soul:

“Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it.”

It’s a deeply simple, yet profound stroke of insight—our souls can only reflect God’s love and grace if they are calm and delicately moored. The peace promised to us by Jesus Christ two millennia ago only flowers in the soil of a serene heart.

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The Great Temptation of Productivity

We move and have our being in a material world, a world that in many ways can be estimated, codified and measured. We do certain things with the hope and expectation of being able to tally up tangible results. We seek education and skills in order to procure a rewarding or meaningful job. We work hard so we can give our loved ones good lives. We seek to realize our dreams so we can catapult society beyond the wondrous heights achieved by all those before us. We act in order to produce: to create a visible good to which we can attribute value. In placing such heavy stock in the results and value of our actions, we are able to validate not only what we do, but who we are.

Naturally, such an aim—to instill meaningful change and effect through our actions—is noble and good. We were created to tend to the garden of human flourishing—to use our gifts, abilities and circumstances to bring about God’s kingdom. Let us recall the parable of the talents, where the servant who buried his single talent is condemned for having squandered his responsibility to act, multiply, create.

Though in the form of the material, we are also made of the immaterial—we possess an eternal soul created and gifted to us by God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church elucidates the unification of these two aspects—body and soul—to form a single, inimitable nature:

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Eyes That Don’t See: To Know Much but Understand Little

Jesus was especially critical of the Pharisees and scholars of the law—those who should have known the most about God’s truth and will, yet slipped into their own intellectual egoism and blindness. They were given much—privilege, knowledge, honor—but they misused their status to conceal, rather than reveal, God and his plan for human flourishing. Gifted handsomely with the knowledge of how to live rightly, they failed to share it, let alone incorporate it into their own lives.

Francis Bacon is attributed with the familiar saying, “knowledge is power.” I would clarify and contend that knowledge only has the potential for power. And to add even more clarification, a potential for power that can be used for good or ill. There is no doubt that the pursuit of knowledge makes for a good and noble venture. We honor God by exploring the vast realms of science, philosophy, theology and so on—bringing to light the Creator’s subtle fingerprints buried within the canvas of creation. The pursuit of any truth, secular or theological, ultimately leads to the source of all truth: God. Yet, if we call to mind those “blind” and serpentine guardians of Judaic law from Jesus’ time, we are reminded that knowledge in and of itself is hardly enough. Knowledge can lead to love, but it can never be its surrogate.

Steven Garber, a contemporary Christian teacher and writer, wrote a book called Visions of Vocation. In the book he questions the role of knowledge in helping us fulfill our vocations in the world. To Garber, vocation remains a complex and multifaceted term and concept.

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Why I’ve Always Believed in God

I was hanging out at a bar once in college and some guy I didn’t know made a comment about how foolish the idea of God was. He was some smug engineering student, and I remember feeling angry, resentful, and — to be honest—a bit fearful. I mean, who was I — a lowly humanities major — to have a worthwhile opinion on the existence (or lack thereof) of a divine being? Now, let me be clear. At this time in my life, though I believed in God, I wasn’t a faithful Christian. Sure, I would try to get to Mass on Sundays if it wasn’t too much trouble, and I committed myself to prayer — the petition sort mostly — when finals neared or I wanted a girl I liked to work out.

But still, I felt angry and fearful when this guy scoffed at the idea of God, as if he was implying, “Haven’t you heard? Everyone knows God is an illusion of humanity’s collective existential neuroses and fears, dude!” At the time, I wasn’t exactly equipped to engage in a vigorous debate with the fellow. Somehow, contending that God exists because I feel his presence and just know there is something beyond what we see wouldn’t be supremely convincing for a self-proclaimed man of reason. Instead, the conversation veered thanks to the arrival of another round of hearty stouts. And that was that.

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