Monday, March 24, 2008


I was talking with one of my buddies from Purdue when he mentioned that I sounded depressed. Well, not "sounded" depressed, but that my blog made me seem like I was depressed.

I am not depressed. Currently, I am facing a vocational crisis, and it is consuming a good amount of my energy. Luckily, my pal Thomas Merton arrived just in time. The chapter on "Being and Doing" just ended, giving way to chapter 8: "Vocation." Hallelujah (or in other words: it's about time).

So here is a little soothing balm for anyone who is also suffering a vocational crisis.
Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.

We must not imagine that we only discover this destiny by a game of hide-and-seek with Divine Providence. Our vocation is not a sphinx's riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish. Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong. It takes them a long time to find out that they are happier that way.

In any case, our destiny is the work of two wills, not one. It is not an immutable fate, forced upon us without any choice of our own, by a divinity without heart.

Our vocation is not a supernatural lottery but the interaction of two freedoms, and, therefore, of two loves. It is hopeless to try to settle the problem of vocation outside of the context of friendship and of love. We speak of Providence: that is a philosophical term. The Bible speaks of our Father in Heaven. Providence is, consequently, more than an institution, it is a person. More than a benevolent stranger, He is our Father. And even the term Father is too loose a metaphor to contain all the depths of the mystery: for He loves us more than we love ourselves, as if we were Himself. He loves us moreover with our own wills, with our own decisions. How can we understand the mystery of our union with God Who is closer to us than we are to ourselves? It is His very closeness that makes it difficult for us to think of Him. He Who is infinitely above us, infinitely different from ourselves, infinitely "other" from us, nevertheless dwells in our souls, watches over every movement of our life with as much love as if we were His own self. His love is at work bringing good out of all our mistakes and defeating even our sins.
- Thomas Merton. No Man Is an Island. Pgs 131-132.


From January until spring break, I was not too excited about teaching. In fact, I was not excited to the point that I adopted a behavior that had never before existed - I began hitting the snooze button.

Regardless of how I arrived in that low place, nor what I ought to do as a result of it (in terms of life, vocation, etc.), I decided that 2 months of dreading work was just not something I was prepared to accept when I could take steps to change it.

And so, steps were taken.
I purchased a projector. For my classroom.
And for watching movies with a 17.5 foot diagonal screen in our living room.
But mainly for my classroom.

Today was the first day teaching with my new projector. My kids were excited. I was excited. I am still excited. I am actually planning right now (well, not right now).

So, if you ever get to the point where you are hitting the snooze 3 times a morning because you don't want to face the day, all you need to do is visit your nearest electronics retailer or and purchase yourself a projector. Guaranteed to boost morale, or your money back.

Of course, having a week off helps too.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I attended a sunrise service this morning. Setting my alarm for 6 am after not setting it and not getting out of bed before 9 all week was difficult. The service was moving.

The pastor started the service by reading Genesis 1 - the creation story. When he finished, he did not go into any sermon or anything, but instead, he sat down. Thirteen other passages were going to be read, but volunteers from the church body would come forward to read. The second passage was Psalm 46. Then came Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac. Then Psalm 33. Then someone began to read Exodus 14.

I have heard Exodus 14 before. I have read it. Groups have studied it. I am familiar with the story. Moses is an Israelite, but gets adopted into the royal family. He discovers his heritage, murders a slave master and flees. God meets him in the desert. God calls him to lead His people. Moses goes back. He performs miracles. The people leave. Pharaoh chases. The Red Sea gets parted. Pharaoh's army gets swallowed by the sea. The Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years.

I know the story.

But today, as these words were read:
"As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" "
- Exodus 14:10-12
I realized just what the Israelites were saying. They were yelling, demanding, complaining with Moses and with God. They were wishing for the past days, the days when they were slaves.

So I thought, "Wait...they want to be slaves?"

I was surprised. It was almost one of those Loony Toons, eyes out of your head, awooga awooga surprises. How had I missed this? How did this make any sense? I mean, for the first time in their lives, these people are free! Why would they ever want to be slaves again?

The conclusion I came to, that now seems to make sense, is that they were free, yes, but they were immediately faced with a reality of freedom in this world. They found that "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33). They found danger and uncertainty and fear and a God who could do amazing things but who still asked for faith.

I think that this story is my story. I think that God frees me, offers me these amazing and beautiful things saying, "Look, you're free! Now follow me!" but instead of looking around with joy and following immediately, I look around and see danger and uncertainty. I step right back into the bondage because it is familiar and known, and faith is oh so scary.

It is like the story of the POWs that I heard once. The heroic soldiers break-in, knock down the door, letting light stream into the room. They whisper, "Come on! You're free! We are here to rescue you!" but all the POWs do is huddle on the floor. They don't even look at the open door. They don't even look at the faces of their rescuers. They are too broken. They have lost all hope of anything other than their captivity.

So the soldiers try and pick them up. It doesn't work. There are too many. They plead. They urge. They shout. Nothing works.

Finally, one of them lays aside his gun, and gets down, and huddles with the POWs. He becomes one of them. Only then do the POWs realize that this is not some trick of the guards. The guards would never deign to become like prisoners.

I think that I don't know what to do with freedom. Even when it slaps me in the face. I am like the POW. I am so used to my captivity, that even with an open door, I do not have the ability to walk out of it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I am Good

My friends came home yesterday.

Being a teacher, I am afforded an amazing opportunity to vacation. Just like a kid, I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and Spring Break with an eager anticipation that can only be described as liberation. Last year I went to Big Bend National Park for spring break. The year before that I went to Great Smokies National Park. This year, I stayed home.

My friends went down to Port Aransas for 5 days. They rented a house on the beach, and had crazy adventures like going on a casino cruise boat during a tornado warning, not bringing any cash, having credit machines go down in the storm, and being trapped, sea-sick, with nothing to do except watch other people drink and gamble (because they couldn't get any money). I stayed home.

My friends asked me to come but I declined. I was feeling very single. Three couples were going on the trip, and, well, I just didn't want to deal with it. Looking at them, thinking about being in their company seemed to highlight things that were not (I am not in a relationship. I do not know what job I will have. I do not know what I want.) instead of the things that were (My friends love me. They enjoy my company. I love my friends). So I stayed home.

During the time they were gone, I bummed around. I rode my bike. I climbed at TRG. I watched movies. I read books. I didn't cook. I thought about my future.

Thinking about the future is dangerous for me. I start thinking, and the thinking just spirals outward, ever outward. Figuring out the future is hard because it hasn't happened yet. And I don't want to mess it up. Those two governing criteria make success pretty difficult. Especially because I am not that great about Today, and shoot, I'm doing that right now.

Take teaching. I guess I am an okay teacher. I am not great. I am not bad.
Take engineering. I am an okay engineer. I am not great. I am not bad.
In fact, there is a list that could extend across multiple pieces of paper listing the things I am okay at.

And this fact also adds to the spiral of future thinking. I don't know what I want to do. I look around at people around me, like my friends, and I see qualities that I want to emulate. I see there not-singleness. I see there plans. I see their passion. I see their success. And those things stand in stark contrast against the corresponding abilities in me; the only difference being that I find my qualities to be lacking.

I've been reading a chapter called "Being and Doing", in Thomas Merton's No Man Is an Island.
Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?

We cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves....We cannot begin to know ourselves until we can the real reasons why we do the things we do , and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions, and our intentions are appropriate to our own situation. But that is enough. It is not necessary that we succeed in everything. Am an can be perfect and still reap n o fruit from his work, and it may happen that a man who is able to accomplish very little is much more of a person than another who seems to accomplish very much."
- Pg 126

I think this is very true. When Jesus called his disciples, they were not Torah rockstars. They were not rich, successful people. They were fishermen. They were the people who were not good enough to make the cut to be disciples of Rabbis in the regular Jewish culture. And they messed up. They messed up a lot.

Right after Jesus was crucified, he appears to the disciples and he has a conversation with Peter. Peter was one of Jesus' three closest friends, but Peter lied about this friendship 3 times while Jesus was imprisoned. He had messed up. But the conversation is not about the betrayal. Instead, Jesus comes to Peter and asks if him if he still wants to follow, if he still wants to take part in Jesus' work. Peter doesn't respond with joy. He doesn't even respond with guilt. He responds with, "Well what about HIM? What about John? What are you going to do with John?"

I think that I too often act like Peter. I too often "strive to be something I would never want to be" because I see it in other people and it seems to be working so well. But I am not made that way. Currently, I am an okay teacher. And that's okay. It is not okay if I stay here, if I do not try and improve, but for today, it is okay.

There are other things I can do. I can cook a meal for my friends. I can bless them by providing that for them. I can combine tastes into something amazing that makes you pause as it shouts on your tongue.

I am good at that. And that's okay. For today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


My dentist is awesome. She is from Bulgaria or Estonia or one of those Eastern European nations that all blend together to me because I am so poor with geography. She has a pretty heavy accent, and regularly takes breaks while cleaning my teeth to ask my accusing questions like, "Do you drink the soft drinks?!"

When I answer that "No," I don't really drink soft drinks ever, she nods in dubious approval, and responds with a "Soft drinks are very bad. 80 grams sodium in each can. Bad for your heart. And caffeine! Ah! Soft drinks bad for teeth too."

I like her because she gives me information on every single thing she does. She asks about every aspect of my oral health, and then describes, in detail, how that will contribute to either bliss or my imminent demise. Well, she doesn't actual link flossing to my death or salvation, but it seems that way.

And she is extremely thorough. Since most people go to the dentist every 6 months, but rarely go to the doctor, she has taken it upon herself to take heart rate and blood pressure readings upon every visit. Apparently, there is something wrong with me, because in 6 months, my blood pressure went from "Really good" to "You are in the danger area. Do you smoke? Drink? Do you sleep? Ever?"

I think it is stress. For good or ill (and at this time, it seems ill) I have taken the TFA mantra, "I am the instructional leader of my classroom" to the nth degree. One of my roommates, who has a poor opinion of our public schools, says "You can't worry about them (the students). They choose to screw around, so you can't make them learn." Part of me knows this to be true. The whole, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" phenomenon.

But then the other 90% of me, the part responsible for my high blood pressure, says, "Yea, but isn't that why TFA accepted me? Because I would work relentlessly, I would continuously improve and do all the other rah rah stuff necessary to motivate and inspire and coerce (if necessary) my kids until the do learn?

And so I am stressed out. I am completely wound up. I am getting wound up just thinking about it. My kids need to pass the state test. They need to do well. They need to learn all of my material so they can enter 8th grade on level for a change.

But then I read this passage by Merton:
A simple intention rests in God while accomplishing all things. It takes account of particular ends in order to achieve them for Him: but it does not rest in them . Since a simple intention does not need to rest in any particular end, it has already reached the end as soon as the work is begun. For the end of a simple intention is to work in God and with Him - to sink deep roots into the soil of His will and to grow there in whatever weather He may bring.

A right intention is what we might call a "transient" intention: it is proper to the active life which is always moving on to something else. Our right intention passes from one particular end to another, from work to work, form day to day, from possibility to possibility. It reaches ahead into many plans. The works planned and done are all for the glory of God: but they stand ahead of us as milestones along a road with an invisible end. And God is always there at the end. He is always "future," even though He may be present. The spiritual life of a man of right intentions is always more or less provisional. It is more possible than actual, for he always lives as if he had to finish just one more job before he could relax and look for a little contemplation."
- Thomas Merton. "No Man Is an Island." Pgs. 72, 73.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What Next?

My commitment to Teach For America, and to my original placement school ends with the school year. My friends are all eagerly discussing their applications and interviews, cheering acceptances and morning rejections. I have applied to one position. I was rejected.

But this is not a post about rejection. Yes it sucks, but it does not control my life. It happens, sometimes a lot, and we have the choice to learn or not, try again or not. My thoughts are not on "what did not" but instead on "what I should".

I am envious of people who have a plan. I still remember the cutting words of my friend B., a pivotal person in my spiritual growth, who said, "What are your plans? You don't know? I've been telling boys I know that they should Be a Man, have a plan." It is one of those pithy sayings that makes one's spirits immediately sink. I fear that what was true for me then is still true now; I am big on dreams, pretty light on plans.

I have friends who tell me that I am good at finding opportunities, going or doing things that are out of the ordinary course. My mother says the same thing, which makes it definitely true. But even if I am good at finding opportunities, my current hang-up is on what opportunities I should find. What dream should I turn into a plan.

The normal things are guiding me. I want to get paid. Hopefully, enough to eat, have a place, take some trips, have Internet. I want to meet new and exciting people. I want community. I want to grow and learn. I want to see and live in the outdoors. I want to meet a girl before the questions from my family become to frequent and I stop wanting to visit as a result.

But more than these things, I want to be challenged and I want to know that what I do matters. My application to TFA was centered on these two ideas. Of course I got almost all of the other things as a bonus, but I was seeking a challenge, and significance in my life. And I don't know where I can find that again.

And it is not that my current job lacks significance all of the sudden. Or that I am some amazing teacher and it is no longer a challenge. Maybe I just want more...excitement. Maybe I just want the new car smell.

I guess this post kinda lacks a conclusion. Well, I don't have this figured out. If anyone does, please let me know.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Long Time

I haven't posted in three weeks and five days. Life has been...*head shaking* lately.

I don't know about other people, whether they get in these patterns of behavior like mine. At a bible study a couple weeks ago we talked about how our immediate surroundings make us think that one thing is true, like when you are in the ocean and the waves roll, and you are in a trough and can't see beyond those waves to your immediate right and left. Everything else in the world is blocked from your sight. That's how I get some times.

I was reading something, I think it was this eulogy for a dead high school athlete. The father of the dead boy gets up to speak, and he just can't make it work, but from somewhere, strength musters, and out pours this story. And he talks about how gang violence took his son for no reason, honestly no reason, because his son never put a toe out of line. And he talks about how gangs are this horrible thing and how the community needs to step up to make them not have power in the neighborhoods. And that was all moving, and true, if somewhat cliche. But the father doesn't stop there, for he recognizes this short-coming, and says what I found particularly poignant.

He says, the kids joining the gangs, they are joining for the wrong reasons. But for them, for these kids, its the right reason.

That's how I feel, looking at my life of the past 3 weeks and 5 days. I look at it, and see the lack of...any type of desire, and know that this languor is completely pointless and useless, and yet the reasons seem right for me.

See, I have been kind of riding solo of late. And I am fine with that; I am not the type of person who freaks out if there is no one around. But everyone needs community. And when I feel (note: it doesn't have to be true, it just has to seem true) that my community is absent, I start retreating. I retreat in. And in. And in. And in.

And it seems natural. And then before I know it, I have spent 2 straight days of not talking to anyone, not moving anywhere, not even going outside. And my heart feels like it is dying. Then someone calls and asks how I am, or tells me to come to lunch, and I come, and I remember how much I love my community, and how vibrant and fulfilling it is. At that time, I will look back at myself, and wonder how I could possibly retreat so far, make those choices.

It was the wrong reason, but it was the right reason for me. Which is why I need God.