The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Word on Fire (page 1 of 4)

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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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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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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Why Marrying the “Wrong Person” Is Reason for Hope

A sobering article in The New York Times written by Alain de Botton came out recently, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” As the seemingly pessimistic title states, the article proposes that no matter who we end up marrying, we will ultimately find ourselves disillusioned, disappointed and if not unhappy, bereft of the unadulterated joy we had hoped for and downright expected. To de Botton, the remedy for such discouraging news is to denude our culture of the pervasive romanticism that has haunted it for the last 250 years: a collective lowering of the marital bar. Then, with such ringing hopes dulled and diluted, we can better go about our business when it comes to the institution of marriage.

There are obviously elements of truth to the article. In the piece, de Botton discusses the inherent impossibility of any one person to fulfill us in the way we so ardently desire:

“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement.”

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Is Self-Help Only for the Selfish?

In recent years, there has been a breached interest in self-discovery: a search to uncover the secret to the inner self in hopes of procuring purpose, meaning and abiding happiness. And so many have taken to scouring the self-help sections of bookstores — online and off — to essentially unlock the secret to being. A few years ago I went through my own self-discovery phase. I had just ended a long relationship with a woman and now had the time and freedom to explore myself in ways that I hadn’t before. Here I was, single and in my mid-twenties, wondering what my next step in life should be. I had come back to my faith only a few years prior, and so there was so much I yearned to explore about God, the spiritual life, and myself.

So I dove in.

To be sure, in many ways it was a rich and necessary experience. Being able to peel back the layers of my unacquainted self was exciting, fascinating and informative. I did this in a host of different ways: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder and charisms tests, endless books and articles on discernment and vocation, conversations with friends and mentors, time spent in prayer, even by taking “What Movie Character Are You?” quizzes featured on my Facebook feed. I didn’t discriminate. If it could lead to greater illumination, I was all for it. And much of it did indeed prove to be illuminating: tools that helped me understanding who I was and what role I might be called to play in the world. But at times it also became limiting and stressful, not to mention spurring an obsessiveness that worked against my efforts for clarity. On my less-than-stellar days, I spent hours analyzing every gift and flaw, affinity and quark I had, with the subconscious expectation of wresting a comprehensive, nicely buttoned up understanding of myself. When this happened, my quest for self-knowledge turned sour, an egotistical exercise in concocting a falsely comforting illusion. Continue reading

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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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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and God’s Mysterious Providence

The much anticipated next installment to the Star Wars saga, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has finally made its way to video. The film, carefully and effectively piloted by director J.J. Abrams, crossed the $2 billion mark worldwide at the box office only two months after its December 2015 release. Of course, no one is surprised. Disney spent $4 billion dollars acquiring the franchise and they knew—without any doubt—that they would earn their money back and then some when all three films were said and done. No force required to see this one.

Overall the film garnered positive reviews. The biggest criticism, with which I’m partially sympathetic, is that it was too redolent of A New Hope: an obscure, though unknowingly gifted desert-dweller, the Death Star-esque weapon with the capacity to obliterate entire planets (or in this case planetary systems), the sinister—though vastly less iconic—relative of Vader with the same propensity to force-fully threaten his incompetent underlings. Still, and maybe because there is nothing like sitting in a packed theater, the smell of buttered popcorn and Milk Duds thick in the air, and having that famous score burst in my ears while watching bold Franklin Gothic Demi typeface glide out into space on the screen, I enjoyed it. I just can’t shake its nostalgic charm, I guess. Continue reading

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In Response to God’s Silence

Silence. It can be a reservoir of flowing peace and nourishing grace. It can call to mind our cherished identity, compelling us to respond to God and others with that same, first love he has shown us. Or it can be cold and sterile, a state of abandonment, loss, frustration and sorrow. It’s in the silence that we can choose to trust in his loving presence or his aching absence. We all know of people—maybe even ourselves at times—who turn away from God because in a time of great need they were met with the cold, bitter sound of only their own cries and tears. It’s an experience, I imagine, we can all relate to on some level.

Submitting to God, and the mystery of his sometimes peculiar and painful ways is a sobering challenge, one we can’t escape as we journey back toward the Kingdom of God in this life. God gives us enough grace and light to have a reasonable, firm and joyful belief in him, but so much of our lives remain unclear—we’re asked to trust in his plan even when it appears chaotic, unfair, or meaningless. When the eyes of our bodies are darkened, we are called to rely evermore on the eyes of our faith. This trusting in his will gradually and—at least on our worse days, suspiciously—throughout our lives is hard. And we experience moments in our lives when we cast a full-throated cry to God in words that echo those same ones from Job himself:

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