Listening to your Call through a Rotary Phone #Explo13

imageOn my hotel floor at Exploration 2013, a discernment event for young adults considering ordained ministry, there’s a rotary phone next to the elevators. And in a way, the phone is a symbol of what this weekend could look like for these young adults.

You know what a rotary phone is, right? It is old school technology where instead of pushing buttons (or icons), you put your finger in a ring and turned the ring until it hit the correct number…then you let go and let it reset. Then you do it again for the next number. Like comedian Louis CK says, you tended to be annoyed with people who had zeros in their number as that was the longest the ring had to go. And if the other person was on the line (no call waiting back then), then you had to hand-redial it again. It was annoying technology.

The thing is: this hotel phone isn’t a real rotary phone. You can see that there’s no ring to turn–you just have to push the numbers in an old-timey interface. So you have the nostalgic look to things but underneath it is a newer experience of the technology.

For many people, their understanding of a “Call to Ministry” is like a rotary phone: it has a certain “look” to it. We celebrate and lift up the people whose calls are dramatic: the voice of God in a storm, a spooky feeling when one touches a Bible, a dramatic voice that says “you SHALL be a minister waaooowaaooo.” We lift up the biblical stories of Saul being struck blind as an example of how a call works: it is easily identifiable, it is dramatic, it is a rotary phone because they all look the same.

But that’s not how many people’s calls are–that’s certainly not how my call was. There was no heavens opening or dove flying down and pooping on my head. It was a gradual process where I could look back and see how God was moving in my life, and it wasn’t until I was already on my Call that I could identify it. I was looking for a rotary phone experience when actually the technology–the way how God was interacting with me–was changed.

So take time to listen at Exploration 2013. Take time to seek out what new ways God might be communicating with you even though you are looking for the “typical” ways. See if God is calling you through the conversations, through the worship, through the small groups, through interactions with seminary and short-term mission leaders, through the silence, through the middle-of-the-night wonderings in your hotel room.

Because I truly believe the phone is ringing, and the good thing is that no matter if the Call looks like a rotary, a wireless, an iPhone, or a car phone…the approach is still the same: pick up the receiver, hit “answer,” and listen to what God might be saying to you this weekend.

I’m on the Design Team for Exploration 2013. I’ve had time to listen since Exploration 2011, which I attended and blogged about here


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  1. Paul Anthony Preussler says

    I would say the majority of clergy since the second century at least have been called in a subtle manner, including the vast majority of church fathers. However, we should not discount the possibility that some may be called in a more dramatic way than others. We should not discount as myth the story of Paul’s calling, nor of the tongues of fire at Pentecost; to do so is apostasy.

    In addition, one should not discount the remarkable things that can occur through prayer. I am a fan of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, and also of Eastern Christianity in general, because there one sees movements of God that are both subtle and profound; miracles on a smaller scale perhaps than the epic events depicted in the Bible, but also more personal, stemming from the new relationship with God made possible in this life through Christ. As Christians improve and move closer to God, there is less need for dramatic displays of heavenly lightning, although such events cannot be said to have stopped completely; rather, God is able to approach us in a gentle manner, as a friend. We should not discount the fact that as Christians, we are uniquely privileged to, in this life, actually consume the very body and blood of our savior, a miracle in itself, that offers communion with Christ’s saving sacrifice and the eternal grace of God.

    One aspect of the Methodist church that I appreciate, that is most likely regarded as impious even in my beloved Eastern churches, is that the laity, in the process of intinction, actually reach forth to touch the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Unfortunately, our catechesis on this is somewhat lacking; while the real
    presence doctrine of John Wesley appears to be essentially the same as that of the Eastern churches (an acceptance of the Sacramental mystery, as opposed to the overly technical Roman doctrine of transsubstantiation), influence from the less catholic and more heterodox quarters of Protestantism has resulted in many Methodists who either deny the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, who view it as being merely symbolic, or as merely spiritual. The fact that the Methodist liturgy (at least in its 1962 text; I am entirely allergic to the newer revisions and do not maintain copies of them) equivocates on this by offering two alternate formulae for the reception of Communion does not help. Methodists must emphasize more in catechesis the divine grace that is received; the transformation that the epiclesis of John Chrysostom so profoundly stresses. Methodist parishes should offer Holy Communion weekly, and insist upon its importance as a means for the conferral of divine grace; Methodists should be acutely aware of the rare privilege afforded to them in receiving Communion in this manner.

    Although I do not claim to know what God has ordained for me in this life, I will say that my faith began in the Methodist church at the age of five, on the first occasion I received Holy Communion. My minister, in performing the greatest service possible to my soul, did in fact use the form of the liturgy that stresses the real presence of Christ in the elements. Although as a young child, I was naturally credulous, upon receipt of the intincted bread, the very body and blood of my savior, I felt a remarkable transformation. On the first occasion, this manifested itself via sensory perception in the form of a surrealistically good flavor; I had never tasted anything as delicious, and perhaps took the unusual step for a Christian youth of deciding that the Eucharist was my favorite food. However, on each subsequent occasion when I was privileged to receive the Eucharist, the sensation intensified, until around the age of eight I felt a sort of electrical tingling; not unpleasant, but utterly beyond anything one might reasonably expect to experience in childhood (in adulthood, one can obtain such a sensation through the use of intoxicants, but here there was no exposure, especially in light of the fact that Methodists use the pure unfermented juice of the grape). This has happened since, although occasionally on receipt of communion, especially in a church I am not acquainted with, on the first pass there is some anxiety; in our adult life we have to struggle against the corruption years of sin inflict on us, and resist worldly feelings of fear and social anxiety that serve to separate us from our Lord.

    I feel I am not alone in this experience of Holy communion; I perceive a similiar sensation as having motivated Rachmaninoff’s Communion Hymn from his musical setting of the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom. I much admire the Oriental tradition of communing infants directly following baptism and chrismation; Eastern Orthodox theologians refer to the ability of the Eucharist to nourish the soul of any baptized Christian; in the case of infants and the mentally incapacitated, the Eucharist benefits their noetic faculty, even if it does not register in a meaningful way from the perspective of the conscious mind. I do consider the Eucharist experience to be a modern miracle; whereas in the Old Testament, God was compelled to obtain obedience from man through the use of spectacular and terrifying displays of divine force, and even in the modern era we cannot say that God will not use such means when neccessary (consider the case of Paul), the normal experience of being called to any aspect of Christian life frequently manifests itself in the form of the Eucharistic banquet; one might experience a remarkable feeling of love and union with the divine.

    That said, we should not make the mistake of the Pentecostals, and instruct our faithful to assume that they will have such a transcendental experience. God will not put on a magic show for our benefit; the Holy Spirit is our comforter, not our entertainer. It is of vital importance that the sacraments be approached in extreme humility, with the faithful in a state where they will, as children, accept without criticism any grace they may receive. Thus, the grace granted by the Holy Spirit frequently will manifest itself in profoundly subtle ways; what Wesley described as a universal call to holiness can be heard in prayer, or as the result of reflecting on the impact of God in our lives as in the case of UMJeremy, or in countless other ways. However, even when the conferral of grace takes a form that is extremely subtle, we must resist the temptation to say that it is mundane; rather, we must perceive it as the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

  2. says

    I’m struggling with this exact sentiment because that “call moment” is still a big part of the ordination process. The question ‘describe the most significant experience in your faith life’ is still the first question I have to answer to in the certification process. I assume dcom’s are used to hearing, “there isn’t one moment” by now, but it’s still an intimidating question that comes very early in the process.

  3. Kirk VanGilder says

    One of the more interesting things I learned on the way was when I was in the exploring candidate phase and had to do the. ‘Interview three pastors about their calling.’ First one I interviewed basically said, ‘I was tired of my major in college and being a pastor was just the next thing on the list to try out. It seems to have worked pretty well,’

    And Rev. Linda VanHorn won the day for the ‘best calling story’ for me.

  4. says

    I would to some extent agree with Blair’s sentiment. A sentiment of UMJeremy’s that I find myself agreeing with is the idea that we do not need some kind of disruptive, transcendental experience in order to be called. Is it not enough to simply be a devout, pious Christian who simply wishes to become a clergyman? If one is asked why one wishes to be a minister, why can one not simply answer “Because I want to?” Must we needlessly call into question the very faith and moral conviction of those who merely wish to serve their Lord? I increasingly feel like the concept of ‘calling’ itself might well be entirely unorthodox; it seems to me that to some extent, there is a risk of lapsing into a form of crypto-Gnosticism. Surely calling is infinitely less important than the actual process of spiritual formation that is supposed to occur within seminary life.

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