The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: God (page 1 of 2)

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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Why is God so Demanding of Us?

From a very young age we’re taught the value of accruing knowledge, relationships, popularity and success—a storing up and clutching onto good things that can help us sail effectively toward a happy life. We’re groomed not to dispense of anything we own or acquire that has value, but instead to cultivate it, protect it, hold onto it with tireless resolve. What we have and collect—our education, gifts and talents, intellect, possessions—we are expected to use strategically to our advantage. We become hoarders so we can navigate the world and be victorious within it.

From a rational vantage point, it makes complete sense. It seems an absolutely necessary mindset to have in order to be successful in the world. These things, in their goodness, can point to God and allow for happiness. When I review the many good things in my life—my family, group of friends, job, health, home in San Diego, access to delicious food at will—sometimes I’m met with an overwhelming sense of comfort and contentment. For me, such a realization invites me to thank God, acknowledging that such things can work as refreshment on life’s journey. These moments, as good and nourishing as they can be, though, also have the capacity to dim my reliance on God. I can easily take comfort in the things around me, becoming resistant in handing them over to God should he ask for them.

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Giving God Our Full and Undivided Attention

We’ve all been in the middle of a conversation, telling a story, asking for advice, or sharing how we’re doing when we notice the person across from us isn’t paying attention. Maybe they’re eyeing some odd character who just walked through the door behind us, or they’re glancing at their phone in response to a text alert, or they’re simply exhibiting that glazed-over look accompanied with an agreeable, I’m-not-listening-but-am-pretending-to head nod. I’m guilty of this, as I imagine we all are. In many cases, it’s not because we don’t care, are bored, or necessarily have something better to do. Instead, it often has to do with the understandable reality that it’s hard, even at times exceedingly difficult, to give our full attention to something or someone for an extended period of time. And although I think the way we consume information these days, in short, easily-digestible snippets of content at an unending rate, definitely doesn’t make things easier in this department, we can’t blame it only on technology (yes, we’ve all heard a thousand times that the digital age is shortening our attention spans).

The reason it’s hard to pay attention—to give ourselves fully to the moment before us no matter what we’re doing—is because it often requires us to turn away from what we’re naturally conditioned to do. It’s hard to keep our thoughts reined in; it requires an act of the will and a firm commitment to staying focused. And with a weakened ability to focus—to be fully attentive to what’s in front of us—we hinder our relationships with others, the fruitfulness of our prayer, and even our union with God and the knowledge of his will.

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Curing Spiritual Procrastination

An old man rests in bed, coughing, spitting up blood. His children and grandchildren are huddled around him. In the midst of the group, another man stands donned in a Roman collar. The priest urges the old man to make amends with God—to repent for his sins, receive the Eucharist, and make peace with his maker. After a life lived according to his own will—a life that kept God tangentially in the background, if present at all—the old man realizes he won’t ever get up again from his bed. And so, just as he intended in his youth, he opens himself up to God’s love, asks for pardon for his past life of sinfulness, and waits peacefully to be ushered into God’s Kingdom.

This is commonly referred to as a “deathbed conversion”—a situation where someone has put God off for his entire life only to convert right before the lights turn off, the signing of a last-minute eternal insurance policy. That’s not to say there isn’t great joy in heaven over anyone who turns his or her life over to God—even at the last hour—allowing God’s mercy to sweep him or her into eternity with the rest of the blessed. Like with the Good Thief, we can—and must—rejoice in this soul’s turning to God in this life. However, God obviously doesn’t prefer that we live a life of sin and separation from him, harboring only the vague intent of reconciling our souls with him at the very last minute, when it’s convenient, or, just in case.

Such a way of life is often indicative of a muddied understanding of God and his love for us. Not only are we, in effect, telling God we don’t love him now (and might love him eventually on some undefined day in the far-off future), but we are depriving ourselves of a life of grace—one that offers joy, peace and meaning, even through suffering and difficulty. Continue reading

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Is Busyness Jeopardizing Our Souls?

Today it seems everyone’s favorite response to the common, probing introductory question, “How are you?” is this: I’m busy. Very busy. Extremely busy. I’m guilty of this response more than I care to admit. Of course, many of us are—actually—extremely busy. Many of us are stretching ourselves razor thin, fulfilling the necessary obligations of life: tending to our jobs, families, and children, addressing the infinite list of errands and to-do’s, scheduling time for exercise, friends, entertainment, bills, volunteer work. The list goes on. Endlessly.

Technology, despite its aim to lessen our collective human burden (which it no doubt has in some ways), has helped fuel this increasing and widespread condition known as busyness. The ease with which we can connect to the world—be it to our work emails or social media relationships—allows us to be permanently “plugged in.” We can get away from the crowd and commotion of our lives physically to seek rest, but we can still pick up our phones to engage with them just as if we never left.

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The Paradoxical Allure & Terror of Death

Most of us fear death on some level—that final stroke of our lives that will push us off into the hereafter and the mystery that awaits. To some, death marks an end to an otherwise short flash of conscious life in a vast, mysterious cosmos. To many others, Christians especially, it’s a beginning to a new life—a rebirth into an eternal state of being based on the state we’ve chosen for ourselves. And even as Christians who profess the resurrection of Christ and the eternal Kingdom of Heaven for those who choose love in this life, there is still something fearful, unnatural, and—paradoxically—alluring about death.

God did not create the death that we know—one beset with fear, pain, sadness and horror. We created that death with our decision to turn from God and sin—inviting the natural consequences of such a decision to follow: a return to dust. However, Christ, through his death on the cross and resurrection, has conquered death. It’s good news. It’s very good news that we must proclaim to our culture lest we become filled to the brim with woe. Still, despite Christ’s victory over sin and death, we will still endure a natural death—a reality that doesn’t go down easy for most of us.

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Waking up from the American Dream

There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to direct our own lives. As Americans, we brandish this badge of progress—this stamp of sovereignty. It’s an ideal that has been instilled in many of us from childhood, fueling us to aspire toward some great career or purpose. This encouragement to do something great—and the presence of such an opportunity—is a very good thing. Our Land of Opportunity, despite its shortcoming, is still a tremendously blessed one.

Yet, there seems to be a cloud of disillusionment that’s rolled under the sun of optimism, especially with many younger Americans. There is a loss many of us are experiencing—a sense that things are not coming as easily as we had hoped, maybe even had been implicitly guaranteed. According to a new study by Bensinger, Dupont, and Associates (BDA), Millennials (Americans born between 1980 – 1999) are more likely to experience depression in the workplace than any other generation.

This disillusionment—a lament for the loss of the unadulterated and fully-fledged American Dream so many of us grew up clutching—is causing many to lose their way. It’s not totally surprising, as we’re still recovering from one of the worst recessions in recent memory. In a culture that affirms individualism and the freedom to make choices and push into them with unabashed vigor, something isn’t working out quite right. However, despite the recent findings, this is by no means a new wellspring of angst in our culture. For decades our culture has wrestled with the tension of the American Dream with the American reality. In literature, books like Death of a Salesman and The Grapes of Wrath have explored this tension. In more recent memory, movies like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road (originally a book) have done so as well. Continue reading

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Arian Foster, Atheism and the Lack of Desire for God

ESPN The Magazine recently published an article, The Confession of Arian Foster, that explores the NFL pro bowlers admission to being an atheist, although a term, according to Foster, he shies away from due to his staunch dislike of labels. Regardless of how he chooses to identify himself formally, he remains someone without a belief in God.

It’s a very thought-provoking and interesting article about a man who is rightfully adamant about his identity as someone who is much more than “just a football player.” Foster comes off as empathetic, thoughtful, well-intentioned, and charming. He seems like a nice enough guy, and despite his own personal creed, he harbors a deep respect for those with faith. The article also touches on the difficulty of being a non-Christian in the NFL, a league that has religion woven deeply within the fabric of its core.

It is hardly surprising that the article opens up with the routine pitting of God against the problem of evil. It sounds—at least to some significant degree—that Foster’s own beliefs have been formed by his struggle to accept a god that fits into a world rife with evil and suffering. He takes this further in mildly humorous fashion, wondering why a god of this sort (one without the agency or willingness to rid the world of evil) would empower one football team to win and the other to lose, as if god’s decision to influence the game is based on the team that grovels with the most convincing vehemence: Continue reading

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Giving Up the Faith That Leads to Loss

I had a conversation with a friend once. It was well past midnight and we were sitting outside a bar patio along a sparse, urban street. My friend was talking about what he wanted to do for a living, and specifically, what he hoped to accomplish professionally this next year. He knew he needed a good job and that when it came to plucking one of those the harvest wasn’t particularly abundant. He was worried, unsure of his ability to be successful competing against a swath of qualified prospects just like him.

“Well, at the end of the day, I have to have faith.” He continued, “But not faith in God, or something like that…but faith in myself. I have to trust that things will just work out.”

As human beings, many of us feel compelled to believe in something—anything—in order to secure a remnant of comfort. Even if we believe in nothing, we make a decision to claim that vision of existence for ourselves and then live in it with a vague sense of understanding, expectation. We choose to believe something, igniting a torch that gives light to our reality. If we choose to believe in God, we believe in a world infused with meaning, intentionality, and love, even when it glares back at us. If not, then we have to confer our own sense of meaning in order to get by.

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.
Saint Augustine

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God’s Warning About Judgement: Why Shouldn’t We Judge?

It’s easy to judge others by our own measure. Part of this can’t be helped, since we have no other context to judge anything by other than our own experience—we only have one pair of eyes with which to peer out into the world. And if we’re all playing by the same rules, then it’s easy to assume we’re all playing with the same set of equipment as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, about the idea of grace working differently in other people’s lives. It’s not difficult to give a nod of admiration to people who demonstrate admirable heroics—like missionaries proclaiming the Gospel in politically volatile regions of Africa, religious brothers and sisters ministering in the squalid streets of South America, or soldiers sacrificing their comfort, safety and wellbeing for others. We see—quite clearly—the sacrifice they’re making for humanity. And it’s easy to judge not only their actions, but their character as good and honorable.

Yet, what does Christ mean when he tells us not to judge? For one, he discourages us from judging others because we only have a fraction of information—of conclusive evidence, so to speak—in order to determine one’s culpability. In other words, we don’t know how difficult or easy, based on one’s circumstances, general propensities, and prior experience, it is to do or not do something.

It’s comparable to two athletes running a marathon. One may seemingly be the stronger runner, perhaps winning the race and clocking a superior time. The other may be slower, perhaps blatantly not as physically gifted as the former. Yet, unknown to us, the slower runner could have physical or genetic limitations that make running such a race a profoundly more difficult feat than it is for the one with favorable genetics. It’s impossible to know completely, of course, but perhaps if the better runner had been handed the same set of limitations at birth, his performance would pale in comparison to the one with those same physical obstacles—he might not even have the strength or fortitude to train and start the race, let alone finish it.

And so the small heroics of others often goes unseen by us. Continue reading

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