Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

1/12 2021

Are You Called to Vocational Ministry?

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Since the church was born, people of faith have expressed their unique roles in God’s kingdom using language that conveys being chosen, appointed, or called by God. Paul said that he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11), and that he “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised” (Gal. 2:7). But this preparation and equipping weren’t reserved for only clergy or apostles: “for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Sometimes this language of God’s calling can be dangerous. We’re flawed, limited creatures who often err, so it’s wise to exercise caution when we speak about what God has called us to do. But even exercising caution and wisdom, some questions of calling are inescapable: What should I be doing with my time? What does God have in mind for my life? What are the good works that God has prepared for me to do?

There is no magic formula to discover our callings. Nor is there a 10-question quiz that will tell us whether or not we’re called to seminary or vocational ministry. Learning who to be, how to live, and how to best use our gifts to serve others are the works of a lifetime as we seek to walk with Jesus. But here are some thoughts from a few authors who have written on the subject. I hope these help you as you discern which path is right for your next stage of life!

 

David F. Ford is the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He has written and edited many books, including 1997’s The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life. In its second chapter, called “Vocations and Compulsions,” Ford explores the relationship that our desires have with the choices we make in life. After explaining that education and attention will allow us to carefully and wisely decide which desires we will allow to have power over us, Ford provides this broad definition of vocation: “the long-term shaping of our lives by desires that we own.” He then provides some helpful tips for this work of life-shaping, including the need for vocational companions (e.g. a “soul friend” or spiritual director).

  • Which desires will you allow to have power in your life because they are from God?
  • In what ways might these desires shape your life and vocation?
  • Who will walk alongside you as you explore your vocational calling?

 

Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister with degrees in divinity and theology. She will be presenting at the February 2021 session of PTS’s Wise Women and Spirituality series. Her most recent book is Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith. One of its chapters, called “All Work is Play,” invites us to consider what it would mean to “queer” our concept of vocation. Here Kim-Kort offers this description of vocation: “a way to grasp how we occupy space in this world—to delve into the question of what kind of work will be an expression and extension of our deepest selves.” She goes on to note that these callings will reciprocate God’s own loving activity in the world.

  • How will you occupy space in this world?
  • What kinds of work will express and extend your deepest self?
  • Which aspects of God’s loving activity will you reciprocate?

 

Parker J. Palmer is an author, educator, and activist. His work focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. One of his short books—Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation—is required reading for PTS’s Spiritual Formation class, part of the sequence for the Master of Divinity degree program. (Palmer will also present at the Seminary’s 2021 Henderson Summer Leadership Conference May 24-25 addressing Religion and the Common Good.) The book’s thesis is simple but profound: our vocation does not come from an external voice demanding us to become something we’re not, but from an internal voice calling us to become who God created us to be. Once we have begun to discover our inner true self—often by sitting in silent reflection or searching our own past for clues—our vocation will be something we simply can’t not do.

  • When have you tried to conform yourself or your life to a demanding external voice?
  • What clues have you discovered about the true self God created you to be?
  • When you’re in touch with your inner voice and true self, what is it you can’t not do?

 

Jon Mathieu is a master of divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a 2019-2020 Newbigin Fellow. While his background is in mathematics, he has been engaged in ministry in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. After years serving as a campus minister, ministry director, and writer in evangelical contexts, he is now following God into more expansive and inclusive visions for ministry. His writing appears at RELEVANT and Red Letter Christians.

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12/29 2020

Finding God’s Love in the Snow

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I could see my breath in small clouds as I walked down the well-trodden snowy path away from the mess hall. Everything was covered in a thick layer of white. Not the powdery white of fresh snow or the grey of slush, but rather the heavy wet snow that’s good for snowmen. I could hear the crunching of the snow under my boots as I stepped off the worn-down path toward a tree a few feet away. As I sat down at the base of the tree, I felt the roots under my bum.

I just sat there and watched the snow cover the ground, trees, buildings, fences, cars, and people as far as the eye could see. Our confirmation class was on a winter weekend retreat at Camp Crestfield and we had been given time to go off and be alone with God. So there I was, sitting up to my shins in the snow. One might wonder what, if anything, can be learned of God in the middle of winter when the light is scarce and the world seems to have died in the cold, white wilderness. But while I sat there with my hat and pants slowly getting damp from the snow, I realized something. The snow in some way touched everything around me, including me! Its heavy presence reminded me of the way we sometimes talk about the love of God.

God’s love is always around us, at times overwhelming us with its depth and strength. It is what can nourish us when nothing else quite does the trick. In the middle of the coldest and darkest time of year, when the life of spring feels so distant, snow falls on the cold dead ground and nourishes it for the life waiting to bloom. The snow I saw that day often comes to mind when the seasons turn toward winter. I remember how much love God has for what God has made, and I marvel at all the little ways that we are reminded of that love.

Psalm 46 reminds us that in the midst of shaking mountains, foaming seas, nations in uproar, and melting earth, God calls us to stillness in the knowledge that God is God. Whether the world is as still as a winter’s night or as chaotic as a choppy sea, we can rest on the assurance that God is, has been, and always will be God. Our Divine Parent will not abandon us. God offers us peace and rest from the eye of the hurricane. Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

The love of God, that rest and presence, is often found in unexpected places. I found it in the quiet stillness of a winter day. That peace reached out and gripped me, pulling me to itself and surprising me with its warmth. I could still see my breath, I could still feel the snow on the ground beneath me. But I felt a warmth deep in my chest, at the core of my being. I knew in that moment that I was not alone out there under the tree. The Spirit of the Lord whispered as the wind whistled in the trees and eaves of the cabins. It was then that I heard the Still Small Voice. I heard no words, saw no visions. But I was in the presence of Love.

 

Hunter Steinitz is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her call to ministry lies in her experience living with a chronic skin condition. She wants to explore and express the beauty in a diverse and colorful creation.

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12/15 2020

Breath as Resistance

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The chaos is so loud.

  • This fall has brought photos from the West Coast of ash-covered cars and ruby skylines belonging in a Margret Atwood novel;
  • An unprecedented number of tropical storms have threatened the Southeast, destruction accentuating displacement;
  • Kentucky said that the officers who killed Breonna Taylor did not commit a crime;
  • More than 1.27 million people have died of COVID-19 with no end in sight;
  • An election full of vitriol, coded language, and attempts to undermine our country’s electoral system has broadened the gap between left and right.

 

This is Our World

This is our world. Natural disasters, the pandemics of coronavirus and systematic racism, and tribal politics combine, churn, and froth. The turmoil in their wake is smothering. I feel the tumult crescendo; I see the horizon darkening; and it’s all I can do to breathe. Yet, I am learning, to breathe is a sacred thing.

According to the creation narrative in Genesis 2, we have the Lord’s breath in our lungs. Job and the psalms reflect this miracle proclaiming “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” and “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of God’s mouth” (Job 33:4, Ps. 33:6).

Even the formation of the Jewish name for God requires breath sounds. “I Am who I am,” the Divine name supplied to Moses at the burning bush, comes from the Hebrew root hayah or “to be” (Ex. 3:14). God is. This name for God, AHYH, can be pronounced EH-YH. To speak it, one must inhale to make the sound “eh” and exhale to make the sound “yh.”

The same can be said of YHWH, the most sacred name for God, which is provided to Moses in the next verse. This means that any mammal on earth begins and ends their lives proclaiming the name of the God who is. We are because we belong to I Am.

Science has also proven the sacred power of breath. Research shows that deep, slow breaths – roughly six per minute – maximize ventilation, reduce waste, and stimulate our Vagus nerve, which is connected to our parasympathetic nervous system. The counterpart of our sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system helps us relax.

While the sympathetic “stress” system releases norepinephrine to elevate our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, the parasympathetic system, stimulated through deep breathing and our Vagus nerve, releases the soothing chemical acetylcholine. A study in Japan has shown that we can trigger this reaction in as little as six breaths.

So, if God’s breath is in our lungs, if God formed our bodies so that we can calm ourselves by slowly saying the name of God in our breath, can our breath open the door to a new type of communion with our Creator? Can our breath be a pathway to express our pain? I can’t help but believe so.

 

God with Us: Emmanuel

Our God is one who creates space in suffering. Scriptures demonstrate this for us in all of their God-breathed, contextual stories of God and God’s people. The psalms express every possible human emotion in prayer. The whole arc of Scripture from Exodus to the cross to the new Church demonstrate that God not only hears our cries but comes to live our pain alongside us.

For our God isn’t just an impassive receptacle. But our God knows, still, what it means to experience these emotions. God with us: Emmanuel. The Incarnation solidified forever that our God is not a remote, Divine being but the one who came to us, put on flesh, that we may know the Lord and the Lord may know us.

So, why can’t breathing – intentional, quiet, set-apart breathing – be a way to connect with God here and now, to bring our inexpressible, wordless anger, sadness, numbness, and even joy to God?

In a few short months, I will be able to list a degree after my name that says I will be a master of the divine – master of the divine, how absurd. I’ve learned how to read ancient scriptures in their native tongues, the systematic theological nit-picking over communion, how to preach, and how to listen. But I’ll tell you a secret: What I know, not because of seminary but because of God’s grace, is that God is with us.

Today. Tomorrow. Forever.

I can’t explain, theologically, why natural disasters wreck certain homes or families, why people of color in America are ostracized, hunted, and hated, why COVID has robbed the breath of so many. But I can say, with certainty, that God was with those consumed by fire on the West Coast. God was with Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Daniel Prude, and so many others when their breath was taken from them. God was in the hospital room with the isolated, intubated COVID patient.

God was with them. God is with us. For this reason, I breathe my anger. I breathe my lament. I breathe my joys, too. And in the silence of my breath, I listen for YHWH knowing that the Great I am, Emmanuel, is closer than my very breath.

In my breath, I find my resistance.

 

Rose Schrott is a third-year Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A child of Pittsburgh, she is interested in the intersection between writing, spiritual formation, and theology. On any given day, you will find her reading, writing, or cuddling her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Copper.

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