Monday, January 23, 2006


Well, I have spent all day doing things other than preparing for my upcoming comprehensive exam in Systematic Theology on Wednesday. So, why start now. Instead I want to muse a little bit on yesterday's lectionary texts and Joe's thoughts on "call," and how that relates to what's been preoccupying me all day and preventeth me (how dareth it) from getting on with my real tasks of the day.

What is a call? In the texts for yesterday (Jonah and Mark), what constitutes a call in both cases is really clear. God speaks to Jonah, and Jesus speaks to the disciples. There's no ambiguity in any of that. The question in the text is the response to what is a clear call. But I don't get a Jonah-like experience of God speaking to me, nor do I experience the presence of Jesus in any analogous way to the disciples' call from their fishing boats. This pretty much is true for everyone I know, because I don't know people who claim to speak to God personally, or at least, if they do, they don't admit it. The closest I get to that is Friday nights watching The Book of Daniel. So what do we mean by "call" today, when we say we feel called, or have received a call to do such and such?

Brent and I have talked a lot about this as he has begun the long long process of ordination, and also as he ponders his potential dissertation topic. For a call to be a call, it must be, in some sense, external to the self. It has to come from outside. This is a little weird, because we're used to understanding things like job decisions and personal relationship decisions as solely the result of digging into oneself, figuring out what really is going on in there, and making the decision accordingly. Like, do I really want to pursue a career in ________, and do I have the stuff it takes to succeed in it? Do I really love this person and want to spend my life in his company, and do I have the guts to take that risky jump?

But call is different, because it's not only about figuring out oneself. It's not only about coming to a clearer understanding of your own wants, needs, goals and abilities. It's not that these things are irrelevant. But they are secondary. Taking stock of yourself is part of responding to a call, not the process of experiencing it or initiating it.

Maybe I sound all mystical here, which is funny, 'cause reading all those women mystics a few months back confirmed for me that if I err in my walk, it's toward the overly rational and overly-intellectualized forms of faith (rather a "masculine" issue for me to be having). I don't know how to explain the origin or initiation of a call and frankly, I'd rather not try to analyze it theologically in those terms. I want to posit, instead, that the issue of how God acts in the world (while fascinating and intricate and worth pursuing) is secondary in this discussion; when we have a call, we experience it as external and respond to it as such. Some people therefore characterize it as an actual experience. This is why I think this seems natural to them to do so.

The thing is, I have experienced something that I would designate as a "call." I haven't heard any voices or gotten any visions, but I'm just as sure of it as if I had. I haven't had any single experience which I could pin down and say, this is my experience of being called. But that doesn't matter. I still experience it as something which is outside myself, something which, therefore, is beyond my control and beyond my purview to question, negotiate, ignore or deny. It is something which demands response.

One of the things we were asked to ponder as a church was, can we envision ourselves as those fishermen, dropping everything and walking away in answer to a call? It's hard, but I know some people who've done something like it. I've never asked my dad or my brother-in-law to share how that feels, but I'd love to discuss it sometime. Maybe y'all should leave a comment.

What does all this have to do with my last post and my preoccupation with the women's silence discussion? Simply this. I don't feel called to do hermeneutical battle. It's not my work. I do feel called to witness to the called-ness of women to ministry. But doing hermeneutical battle is not a part of that witness. Rather, while the boys duke it out over whether I'm allowed to do this or that in this or that context according to this or that Bible verse, I will be taking any invitation offered to speak in any context where those words will be heard, on any topic whatsoever. Because my call doesn't include justifying to other people that it's real, or that I am equipped and authorized to respond to it. My call is to get on with it. My call is to study, to learn, to share what I've learned, to read the Bible and share what I think about it to people who are interested in hearing it, and to equip people to read and think more deeply in the same way that I myself have been equipped by the long, long line of very patient teachers who have given me this great gift. A call comes with its own authority. It mandates a response.


pat said...

Bravo! Clare is lucky.

MPH said...

I've stumbled across your blog, and while I feel like I'm trespassing by reading something uninvited, I know it's just because I'm unused to blogging. Anyway, I'm working on prying my closed little mind open, and I'm interested in what you have to say. I'm glad I "found" you again. ...and I'm going to sign my name because I don't know if it will pop up anywhere else because I've never left a comment before! How awkward. -Marlea

JTB said...

Marlea! How awesome that you could stumble over my little blog, it's so good to hear from you! You are more than welcome to read whatever crap I treat the blogosphere to when the mood strikes, of course.

Boy do I miss Spain right about now.