Of Tightropes & Canvases. Or, God & Us.


By now some of you have been subjected to the “forced family fun” that is a company or organization retreat. For those that haven’t, allow me to explain. You and your coworkers head to a retreat center in the woods and engage in a litany of team-building exercises, many of which require awkward looking helmets and ill-fitting climbing harnesses.

Teams work together to accomplish a goal, getting from point A to point B. Many involve the dreaded tightrope, a steel cable of shame. A journey across a tightrope only a few feet above ground can be harrowing and exhausting. So much energy is exerted staying on the rope.

A former student astutely recognized this as an apt metaphor for her previous understanding of God’s call. If God’s call is a tightrope, there’s only one place to go and one way in which to get there, with virtually no margin for error.

Tiring.
Exhausting.
No place to rest.
Can’t fail.

Thankfully, she’d grown into a healthier understanding of vocation, which she described as a canvas and a box of paints. It’s an image full of freedom, risk, and some healthy room for error. She could stop, look at the canvas and think. But a canvas also has some boundaries, which she found helpful. The paints are for the canvas, and the canvas is only so big. She possesses a unique palette of colors, and can mix them and allow them to interact with one another.

The ways in which we imagine our response to the call of God reveal so much. Walking a tightrope and painting a canvas are vastly different ways of understanding. They carry with them fundamental assumptions about who God is.

Granted, our understandings and descriptions of God are always insufficient. We can only know so much, and the rest we must chalk up to a glorious mystery. The best we can do is ensure that there is congruence in our views of vocation and God. After all, a calling requires a caller.

And if a calling requires a caller, it begs the question:

If you believe in a God who calls you into being, a God who calls you to lean into faithful dimensions of the good life, does your understanding of vocation flow from a healthy understanding of who God truly is?
My sincere hope is that you experience a God who is good, compassionate, loving, helpful, generous and patient.

My sincere hope is also that you experience a vocation that is good, compassionate, loving, helpful, generous and patient.

This doesn’t make it easy, or perfect, or fun all the time.
But with congruence comes a deeper sense of peace. Perhaps, a peace that passes understanding.

This week let’s all agree to step off the tightropes, pick up a brush, and paint.

ATTENTION MUSIC LOVERS!

RoNSoundtrack

Ok friends, Jessica Fankhauser and I need your help. In preparation of the release of our book “Ready Or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties” (in 3 weeks!), we’re curating a ‘soundtrack’ for the book of songs nominated by YOU.

WHAT SONGS EXPLORE THE DEPTHS AND POTENTIAL OF THE TWENTYSOMETHING DECADE?

We’ll put the final list together on Spotify for all to enjoy. Give us your songs in the comments. Please and thank you!

Listen to Drew on The Enneagram Journey Podcast with Suzanne Stabile

IMG_7503Drew Moser was a guest on The Enneagram Journey Podcast with Suzanne Stabile. Suzanne is a master enneagram teacher and author of The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery and The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships.

Drew spoke with Suzanne about how being an enneagram type 3 impacts his relationships. The conversation covered work relationships, marriage, parenting, and friendships. Take a listen!

Why Does it Have to be so Difficult? The Challenge of Vocation

F A T H O M || T R I B E


I ONCE ran a marathon. It was a bucket list goal, unlike any of my prior athletic pursuits. In my former sports life, running was always a necessary means to an end. You have to run the bases to score a run. You have to hustle down the court to set up an offensive play. You have to sprint across the goal line to score a touchdown.

I soon learned: to run a marathon you had to view running as the end itself. Or you go insane.

This is because a 26.2 mile race is too much for an average human being to consider all at once. When I first started training, the thought of running that distance was overwhelming. The prospect of crossing the finish line felt too abstract. Too far. Too hard.

Ponder the difference between “I have to run over 26 miles today” and “I get to run as much as I can today.” The running distance was the same, but the perspective shift was profound. I’d be lying if I said it was easy.

The challenge of vocation isn’t all that different. We view God’s call upon our lives at BIG; therefore our response must match the grandeur. Mustering up a big response to a big call often leaves us paralyzed in our insufficiency.

And, we are prone to want our response to God’s call to be perfect, as if we are to hit a bullseye far out of range, with only one arrow left, in the midst of a storm and the clock winding down.

Truth be told, most of the time we don’t receive the big booming call, and our responses to what we hear are often imperfect. The shrub next to our sidewalk doesn’t burst into flames. The donkey doesn’t turn its head our way and tell us what we need to hear. The angel doesn’t descend from heaven on a cloud. Our calls are often found in the realm of hunches, clues and glimmers. These whispers of inspiration require small, faithful steps along a relatively uncertain path.

To respond to a call, I’ve finally learned, you have to view the call as an end itself.

When we do…
we step into vocation with freedom, not backing away with fear…
we actively participate in vocation instead of drumming our fingers waiting for the miraculous…
we see vocation as a process of faithful, incremental steps in the here and now, not some far off
destination…
we know that vocation is not a curt exchange between God and us, but a long obedience in the same               direction with the triune God.

The challenge of vocation, in a word, is attention. Distracted by the enormity of it all, it’s tough to pay attention to God, others and self in the present moments. When we pay attention, the whispers of inspiration compel us to widen our eyes, perk our ears, fix our jaw, and keep trudging. Even when things seem overwhelming.

I’ve only run that one marathon. I checked it off the list and haven’t mustered the motivation to endure another. But the lessons remain.

  • Resist the urge to ask: “Will I ever get there?”
  • Instead, lean into the question: “What’s the next right thing for me to do?”

Playing the Waiting Game: Cultivating Patience

pexels-photo-298018Life can often give us a sense of feeling stuck. We know what we want, but can’t seem to make any progress. We can often find ourselves playing “the waiting game” (Whomever coined such a phrase clearly doesn’t like games. Or, perhaps, never played one.).

We wait for the career we’ve dreamed of . . .
We wait for the end of a long work day. . .
We wait for a spouse share life with . . .
We wait for the pizza to cook in the oven . . .
We wait for a text from a friend . . .
We wait to emerge out of the hole that is our student debt . . .
We wait for this long overdue letter (sorry ’bout that) . . .

We wait. We wait. We wait.

At times, it feels as if the twentysomething life is a series of waiting games. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Consider what so often bursts forth in the waiting:

  • In waiting, there is still much work that can now be done. There is good to tend to in the here and now. Thinking is action. Small, incremental steps are simply right in front of us.
  • In waiting, there can be greater depth. Time and space to ponder, inquire, and reflect brings much needed wisdom to steward future opportunity.
  • In waiting, there can be increased growth. Instant gratification does not mature us. Growth comes through trial and difficulty. The friction that is waiting can spark something within us.
  • In waiting, there is a call toward gratitude for what is as opposed to what could be. We have an opportunity to take stock of the blessings of the present.

Your twenties are, in a sense, a decade of waiting games. But rather than drumming our fingers on the table impatiently, try to embody the anticipatory hope of the Gospel for this day, this week, this season, this decade. Live your lives within the tension of being:

Fully present, fully prepared.
When we do, we practice what the Christian spiritual teachers have called The Holy Delay; a spiritual practice of letting God work in us in the waiting.

Choosing is Not Discerning

pexels-photo-258510Any time we turn the page on a new year, our thoughts turn to anticipation, curiosity, and an evaluation of our place in life.

The coming new year often compels us to consider some spacious questions:

  • Where do I want to go?
  • What do I want to do?
  • Who do I want to be?

These are goood, tough questions that have within them significant implications for vocation. Such questions are complex, and they demand some complex work. Too often I see twentysomethings view these questions through the lens of choice, evaluating the options before them, and making the best decision.

But here’s the problem: to choose is to rely on preference. And our preferences can get in the way of the discernment. And, if we take these questions seriously. . . we need discernment.

Discernment is the quality to grasp and comprehend the obscure. Discernment is marked by insight and understanding.

Choosing is better for the simple quandaries of our day:

  • Do I want a gagel or cereal for breakfast?
  • Which shirt to wear to work?
  • Which TV show to watch?

Beyond the thousands of trivial choices in our days, we must make room for the truly important decisions that come with pondering the importance questions of our lives. This is the realm of discernment.  The deep questions of life require more than mere preference. They too require choices, but of a very different sort. These are the choices that arise from the cultivation of wisdom; and wisdom’s fertile ground is discernment. Thomas Merton once wrote,

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”

Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Annie Dillard:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Discernment requires space amid the multitude of triviality to think, reflect, and ponder.

Discernment implores us to deeper questions that cultivate the wisdom we need for a year well lived, a decade well lived, and a life well lived:

  • How do my current contexts help prepare me for what’s next?
  • How do my own wants and wishes align (or not) with the needs that I see around me?
  • What do I need to let go of to truly understand who God has called me (and created me) to be?

These will, perhaps not right away, present options which will require a choice. I don’t have the answers for such discerning work, but I believe you do. Dig deeper than simple choice and discern. It takes time. It takes energy. But to embark on a discerning journey is a year well spent.

Got One of ‘Those’ Relatives? How to navigate family

pexels-photo-868330For some, family gatherings are nostalgic affairs. For others, they stir up feelings of dread. Family is messy, complicated, and tricky. And holidays are often lessons in patience when THAT relative starts going on and on about their conspiracy theories, political views, or theology you find suspect.

Your twenties are a time in which you begin to realize the ways in which family has shaped you: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Family gatherings at the holidays press this realization right in front of our faces. Depending on your family, a Thanksgiving meal can be marked by laughter…raised voices…or tears…or passive aggression…or silent resentment (or all of the above). Some of the best family work you can do is to spend some time deeply exploring two things:

  • If I’m honest, what are my expectations of my family?
  • If I’m honest, what are my family’s expectations of me?

The roots of family disfunction often start here. What complicates this is the in-betweenness that often marks our twenties in our own family. It’s a decade of transitioning from receiving from to investing in.

Truth be told, healthy family should have healthy, reciprocating rhythms of both giving and receiving. These rhythms in our twenties can feel confusing. There’s no simple formula for this that applies to all twentysomethings. However, it’s often an excellent idea for you to consider:

  • How can I contribute to my family in healthy and meaningful ways?

Bonus: If you’re in a particularly trying family environment, I strongly suggest you try the spiritual practice of Welcoming Prayer. It’s a way of processing through conflicting or frustrating moments in real time. Welcoming Prayer involves 3 steps:

  1. Focus and sync in: Allow yourself to feel the tension or frustration. Acknowledge it.
  2. Welcome it: Acknowledge the frustration by naming it and literally saying to yourself, “I welcome you (anger)…” NOTE: This doesn’t mean you condone hurtful or abusive behavior. Rather, you are acknowledging the feelings you have.
  3. Let it go: Simply, let it go. Not too quickly…but don’t let it linger. Tell yourself. “I let go of (anger)”

Welcoming prayer disarms the power of offenses…and provides you with a means of proactively dealing with it (as opposed to simply reacting).

The Pain That Comes with Healing

pexels-photo-167699I received a flu shot last week, which means I stood in a line and paid money to get poked with a needle. On the surface, this seems ridiculous. But it was a voluntary choice to experience momentary pain in hopes of a healthy future.

As I waited in line, a nearby TV was running the 24 hour news cycle; a series of hot takes of controversies over #takeaknee, white supremacist rallies, the political gridlock in Congress, and the like. The tension and strife pervades to the point of feeling overwhelming: how can we be about the work of healing amid such division and brokenness?

I don’t have all the answers, but I find the wisdom of Thomas Merton powerful and helpful. In his classic work, New Seeds of Contemplation, he refers to the followers of Christ as “A Body of Broken Bones.” Much like Christ’s crucifixion, which broke his body, we suffer our own division and separation from one another.

The New Testament refers to us as the Body of Christ (I Cor 12), and if you look around, you truly see a body of broken bones. Merton writes:

“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.” (p. 72).
The glass-half-empty-take? Life is painful no matter what.

The glass half full Good-News-of-the-Gospel-take? We are free to choose love or hate. Both paths involve pain, but only one path is the pain that leads toward healing.

To love is to see the healing role that pain can play: like the resetting of a broken bone, like the poke of a needle providing a flu shot, like the cleaning of a scrape or cut, there’s a vision of what could be . . . what must be. This provides the grit to endure the pain for a higher purpose.

This is the essence of a faithful life . . . not merely a system of beliefs, but the recognition and participation that Christ living in us unites us to one another. Like the resetting of bones, the love of Christ painfully, but healing-ly brings us back together. Sometimes it’s excruciating. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s frightening.

But it’s a better pain than the pain of avoidance. We must engage and lean into the healing work.

How can you lean into the healing work this week?
A body of broken bones is who we are. But it’s not who we are called to be.

Get Into That Flow

pexels-photo-355288 (1)I was just a 7th grader on the Jr. high basketball team. Basketball was never really my sport, but on this particularly day I was EN FUEGO. I shot (and made) so many free throws that our coach instructed the rest of the team to give me the ball so i could keep sinking foul shots.

Each time I went to the line, the basket looked enormous, the ball small, and I felt like I was within inches of the basket. None of those things were true, but I was LOCKED. IN. I was focused. I was in “the zone”. It turns out, I was experiencing “flow”.

FLOW: when you are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
It was an experience that I continue to remember vividly; not because it was an important game (in the grand scheme, it wasn’t); not because it launched my basketball career (it didn’t). But because I was in a place of focus and enjoyment that is all too often elusive: flow.

This concept, explored most famously by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (We’ll call him M.C., for obvious reasons). M.C. argues that when our minds, hearts, and bodies are stretched to their limits, voluntarily, to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile. . . we enter the mental state of flow.

It can be exercise. It can be sport. It can be art. It can be work. In all arenas, flow is possible when we live deeply with focus.

This is worth a pause to consider:

  • When was the last time you voluntarily stretched yourself to the limit for something worthwhile?
  • When was the last time you were so focused and immersed in something that you legitimately lost track of time?
If we strive to work deeply, if we prioritize our lives for the things that matter, if we’re bold enough to get rid of the superfluous and prioritize things that matter. . . what would happen?

Let’s find out. It’s worth the risk, because i’ve learned,

If you’re always staring at your phone, you’ll never have the opportunity to lose track of time.
Let’s try to stretch ourselves for something that matters. . . and lose track of time. And if you reach that state of flow, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

In Caring for Words We Must Also Care for One Another

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I scanned my bookshelf recently and came across a title that I’ve always loved. This time, my eyes fixed on the book anew with a new sense of urgency:

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Rest on these words for a minute….

They form the title of a powerful little book written by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in 2009, but it speaks to me just as profoundly today. McEntyre winsomely argues

“Caring for language is a moral issue.”

And caring for language is intricately tied to our care for one another. McEntyre explores this moral issue through twelve “stewardship strategies.” I can’t help but think how these strategies may be the most powerful witness we can offer this moment on our campuses, in our neighborhoods, and in our political discourse. Consider their weight here and now:

  1. Love words–“We care for words when we use them thankfully, recognizing in each kind a specific gift . . .”
  2. Tell the truth–Be precise, free of hyperbole. Be careful to say what you mean and be sensitive to how it will be heard.
  3. Don’t tolerate lies–Confront lies by being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do so in love, in truth, and in humility.
  4. Read well–Reading is a morally consequential act. Reading is “manna for the journey,” and a tangible, profound way to the love God with our minds.
  5. Stay in conversation–Conversation is a communal act; a mutual commitment to stick with the topic and one another and see it to the other side. Don’t flee when the conversation gets hard. Stay. Be curious about other points of view.
  6. Share stories–Stories connect. Stories help us cultivate compassion, taking us to places we otherwise wouldn’t go.
  7. Love the long sentence–In an age of 140 characters, to persevere through the long sentence cultivates a mental grit that allows us to sustain thought beyond the clickbait headlines of our day.
  8. Practice poetry–Poetry draws us into paradox; it draws us into play. All the while we are stretched and challenged to understand the complexity of life. You can’t speed read a poem. You must sit with it for awhile. [pro tip: Start with Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver]
  9. Attend to translation–Translation considers for context and culture. Translation takes care to be understood amid difference. It’s an effort to communicate effectively with others.
  10. Play–Play with words.”To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks–what we are called to do in the world–with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider . . .”
  11. Pray–Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are. It uses the gift of language to commune with the Giver of language. It instills a respect of language and from where it derives.
  12. Cherish silence–Silence is not the absence of noise, but “a place we enter.” It’s not empty. Rather, silence is FULL. Silence can restore our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be more caring with our words.

To embody these twelve strategies is to care for words in a culture of lies. To embody these twelve strategies in an election season is to steward our words in such a way that we honor others. This may be the most powerful lie-busting tool we can offer.