Doubt Your Calling

Doubt Your Calling

John 1.43-51: The calling of Philip and Nathanael

Calling is one of the more mysterious things we talk about in Christianity.

I’ve always envied people who say they know their callings with absolute certainty. For me – and I suspect for a lot of people – calling is a much murkier subject.

Although there have been times in my life when I thought I knew my calling, those moments never last. Before long, I find myself wandering in a spiritual fog, full of doubt and struggling to discern who I am or what God wants me to do with my life.

In this week’s lectionary reading (John 1.43-51), we have a front-row seat to the callings of two people: Philip and Nathanael. When Jesus calls Philip, Philip follows. There are no questions. No whys or what ifs. No doubt.

But when Philip extends the same call to Nathanael, Nathanael hesitates. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asks. It’s only after Nathanael receives answers to his questions that he accepts the calling to follow Christ.

In the traditional interpretation of this passage, Philip shines as an example of virtue and faith, while Nathanael is portrayed as wishy-washy — a waffler who doesn’t have the spiritual wherewithal to recognize a good thing when he sees it.

But Nathanael’s story is comforting for misfits like me. It also raises important questions about the concept of calling: Is it wrong to question our calling? How does doubt figure into the discernment process? And maybe most importantly, what is a “calling” in the first place?

Calling is invitation

The concept of calling appears throughout scripture. Abram was called to travel to an unknown land. Moses was called to free the Israelites. Saul was called to stop persecuting Christians and become Paul the apostle.

These days, calling is usually connected to vocation. When we talk about discerning our calling, we’re actually talking about discerning our career path or our role in the church. But biblically and theologically, calling and career aren’t necessarily connected.

At its most basic level, a calling is just a divine invitation. Although it might involve an invitation to pursue a vocation, it frequently doesn’t. When Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, he didn’t provide job offers. Instead, he extended a simple invitation: Follow me.

When we re-imagine calling as invitation, we quickly realize that the process of our discerning our calling never ends. Every day, we’re faced with the same choice: Will we accept the invitation (calling) to follow Jesus and all that it entails or will we choose a different path?

Doubt and calling go hand in hand

Doubt gets a bad rap in Christianity. It’s typically seen as a sign of weakness or spiritual defect. But if you think about it, doubt is the flip side of faith. Without uncertainty, we wouldn’t need or value the gift of faith because our spiritual lives would be filled with facts and absolutes.

If we can learn anything from Nathanael’s story, it’s that doubt and calling go hand in hand. Since calling is an invitation, we need to ask questions before we decide whether to refuse or accept. If we don’t thoughtfully consider the invitation, our acceptance rings hollow. It lacks depth and meaning.

The relationship between doubt and calling is biblical. In the gospel of Luke, it’s called “counting the cost.” People who blindly accept divine invitations without considering the consequences are destined to fail. Whether you’re building a tower or deciding whether or not to accept God’s latest invitation, doubting the inevitably of the outcome isn’t a lack of faith – it’s a prerequisite for faith.

The takeaway from this week’s lectionary is to doubt your calling every single day. Ask questions. Consider consequences. Express uncertainty. And when you finally discern God’s invitation, accept it and rely on faith to carry you the rest of the way.

Declutter Your Soul

Declutter Your Soul

We’re drowning in clutter.

Does it feel like your life is filled with clutter? If it does, you’re not alone. In fact, according to recent statistics on clutter, our obsession with stuff is costing Americans time and money — resources that most of us would rather spend on other things.

  • We wear 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time
  • Twenty-five percent of two-car garages don’t have room to park cars in them
  • There is a direct correlation between cortisol (stress) levels and the density of objects in our houses
  • Approximately 10 percent of American households rent a storage unit for their overflow possessions, at a cost of $1,000 or more a year
  • Eliminating clutter would reduce the amount of time you spend cleaning your home by 40 percent
  • Nearly a third of Americans report that cleaning their closets is more satisfying than sex

You can probably identify at least a half dozen areas of your life that need decluttering right now. Like it or not, none of us are immune from clutter and the longer you ignore it, the more the stuff you own will feel like it’s starting to own you.

Decluttering is a spiritual necessity

Clutter is an unavoidable side effect of consumer culture. When we declutter, we make a conscious decision to turn over a new leaf and reject the misguided notion that things could ever lead to happiness or personal fulfillment.

But material things aren’t the only source of clutter in our lives. Non-material sources of clutter are often more spiritually damaging than the boxes of clothes stacked in your spare room or the piles of plastic toys taking up space in your garage. Donating or discarding unused possessions is a good start, but don’t stop there. Use it as a catalyst to begin the more difficult process of decluttering your soul.

  • Regrets — A lot of us go through life carrying a bag full of regrets. Whether it’s things we did or things we didn’t do, regrets weigh us down — just like the clutter in our houses. Worse yet, they hold us back from trying new things or becoming better versions of ourselves.
  • Unhealthy Goals — There’s nothing wrong with having goals. But sometimes our goals can become unhealthy, especially if our ambitions drive us to achieve things that don’t line up with our spiritual values. For example, when the desire to earn a living morphs into an obsession to become filthy rich, it’s time to clean house.
  • Relationships — Purging relationships from your life gets dicey. I’m not talking about cleaning up your friends list on Facebook. I’m talking about distancing yourself from friends or even family members that are no longer supportive or represent a positive influence in your life. Sometimes you have to walk away from those relationships to move forward, especially if the relationship has turned toxic.

How to declutter your soul

If it’s any consolation, Jesus was a big fan of decluttering. In Matthew 10, he sent the disciples out without any money or spare clothes; in Luke 14, he told his followers that taking up the Cross might require them to “declutter” their relationships and leave behind family members.

Although you probably won’t have to do anything that radical, there are several things you can do to declutter your soul and improve your spiritual health.

  1. Take inventory. Spend a few minutes each day in prayer and meditation, evaluating the material and non-material clutter in your life. If it isn’t useful anymore or if it’s weighing you down and holding you back, add it to the list of things that are ripe for removal.
  2. Create a plan. Create a plan to eliminate each area or piece of clutter from your life. If you can, donate material possessions to a local charity. For non-material clutter, consider practical steps you can take to change unhealthy behaviors, relationships or obsessions.
  3. Don’t replace old clutter with new clutter. Avoid replacing unhealthy goals or relationships with new ones, at least not right away. Over time, you may discover removing negative things from your life has created space for positive ones. But for now, focus on enjoying the freedom of living your life without unnecessary burdens or distractions.
4 Things You Don’t Want to Know About Your Thanksgiving Turkey

4 Things You Don’t Want to Know About Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Count your blessings, but beware your Thanksgiving turkey.

I love Thanksgiving. It’s one of the few times that our extended family gathers to reconnect and remember the blessings God has given us. And then there’s the feast — dishes and dishes of fixings to complement the guest of honor, the beautiful golden-skinned bird in the center of the table. But before you sit down for your big meal this year, there are some things you need to know — or maybe things you don’t want to know about your Thanksgiving turkey.

1. Your Thanksgiving turkey is full of antibiotics.

The overuse of antibiotics has created drug-resistant strains of bacteria, causing previously treatable illnesses to become dangerous and even life-threatening infections. If you’re a science geek, check out the animation the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created to explain antimicrobial resistance.

But here’s the really bad news: Around eighty percent of the total antibiotics used in the U.S. go into livestock production – and the turkey industry is a major culprit for the misuse of antibiotics. Corporate turkey operations rely on antibiotics not just to cure and prevent disease, but also to help fatten foul for slaughter.

Because turkey meat can pass along resistance to your gut, it’s entirely possible that drug-resistant bacteria will make it’s way from your Thanksgiving table to your intestinal tract.

2. Your Thanksgiving turkey lived a short and pathetic life.

Four poultry corporations produce more than half of the turkeys sold in the U.S. How do they do it? Factory farming.

In a typical scenario, the poultry company signs a short-term contract with an industrial farmer and delivers chicks to the farmer’s location. Just six weeks later, the poultry company returns to pick up big, fat birds ready for the table.

Since their contracts with the poultry companies are short-term, industrial farmers face constant pressure to deliver bigger birds in shorter timeframes. So, the birds raised on these farms are genetic “frankensteins” – turkeys that could never survive in the wild.

To stay afloat, factory farmers house their birds in extremely crowded facilities and grow them so quickly that many die of heart failure or experience bone fractures before they even get to the slaughterhouse.

Grocery-store turkeys that sell for $1.50 or less a pound are products of the factory farming system. Free-range or pasture-raised turkeys are also available, but they tend to have significantly higher price tags because they cost more to raise.

3. Thanksgiving Turkey is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Turkeys make ideal breeding environments for Salmonella and other bacterial pathogens. In most cases, you can neutralize the risks these pathogens pose with proper handling and cooking techniques. But it only takes a single misstep to turn your holiday festivities into a gastrointestinal adventure.

The magic cooking temperature for killing bacteria is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Although most holiday chefs take measures to ensure turkey meat reaches 165 degrees, the biggest threat to your health is found in your birds’ gut. If you stuff your turkey, you have to make sure the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees F. Turkey cavities are hotbeds for Salmonella and a failure to properly cook the stuffing can easily result in a nasty case of Salmonella poisoning.

Many experts also warn against washing the outside of your turkey before you cook it. When you spray water on the surface of a thawed turkey, it sends bacteria into the air, potentially infecting kitchen surfaces and raising the risk of cross-contamination. Because cooking the turkey to 165 degrees will kill the bacteria anyway, there’s really no point in washing it before you cook it.

4. Grocery-store Thanksgiving turkeys are “enhanced.”

Believe it or not, turkeys aren’t the easiest beasts to cook. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily find yourself serving a dry, overcooked turkey to your Thanksgiving guests. But if you’re a turkey producer, you have a vested interest in making turkeys as easy to cook as possible. So what’s the answer? Enhanced turkeys.

Turkey producers enhance their products by injecting them with a solution of saltwater and other additives, making your Thanksgiving turkey next-to-impossible to screw up. The downside is that enhanced turkeys introduce shockingly high levels of sodium into the meat. The sodium level is even higher if you brine your bird before you pop it into the oven.

If you’re on a low-sodium diet, enhanced turkeys are an obvious concern. But a whopping nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium and that’s a problem because excess sodium can put you at risk for stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, kidney stones and other illnesses.

The good news: Your Thanksgiving turkey won’t contain hormones.

Having second thoughts about diving into a heaping pile of turkey this Thanksgiving? Well, here’s a piece of good news: There is zero chance the turkey that lands on your table will have received hormones – at least not directly.

Although it’s common for producers to advertise their turkeys are “hormone-free,” the label is misleading. It’s illegal for producers to use hormones in the raising of turkeys and other poultry. But turkeys can be fed animal byproducts that may contain hormones and other artificial products to stimulate growth. They just can’t be directly injected with hormones.

It’s important to be mindful about the food we eat. Often, food items we consume are alarmingly unhealthy, and have been raised in a way that is harmful to people, animals and the environment. As you gather around the table this year, thank God for your blessings. And then, maybe say a little prayer that we might all do a better job reducing food waste, and making our food supply healthier and more sustainable.


Lectionary This Week: Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)

Lectionary This Week: Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)

This Week’s Lectionary Reading: The Parable of the Talents

People have used the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) to justify everything from the prosperity gospel to an image of God as a vengeful despot. In many cases, preachers and homilists have misunderstood the word “talent” to mean actual talents or skills, and used the parable to recruit deacons or Sunday School teachers.

Make no mistake: The Parable of the Talents isn’t about your ability to organize church projects or manage a room full of hyperactive third graders. It’s about money. More accurately, it’s about what you do with the resources God has given you.

From Hoarders to Healers

The Parable of the Talents is about money.

A “talent” was a unit of weight and value, a way to measure precious metals like gold and silver. It’s derived from the Greek word talanton and although the translation of the word is identical to the English word meaning skill or aptitude, it always refers to money in the New Testament world. In fact, a talent was the largest unit for measuring weight — in today’s dollars, a single talent of gold would be worth as much as $1 million.

So the Parable of the Talents isn’t just about money. It’s about a lot of money.

When we read the word “talent” through a modern, English-speaking lens, we water down the message of the Parable of the Talents. A lot of us apply our skills and natural talents to generously serve God and other people. But when it comes to cold, hard cash, we’re not nearly as generous.

Fear and hoarding in Jerusalem

It’s important to recognize that in the context of the parable, the investors aren’t free — they’re slaves who have been commanded to safeguard their master’s wealth. This raises the stakes big time. If a friend asked you to safeguard his property and you messed up, you could probably get away with a sincere apology. For a slave, the consequences of failure would undoubtedly be more severe.

Yet the slave who had the most to lose took the biggest risk and used his five talents to make multiple trades in the marketplace. The slave entrusted with two talents did the same. However the slave with the least to lose (one talent) took a different approach. Gripped by fear, he buried his talent in the ground and waited for his master to return.

We all know how the story ends. When the master returns, he rewards the first two servants and punishes the third. There’s talk of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s not a pretty scene. But the master’s displeasure wasn’t based on the fact that the third slave failed to double his money. You hire accountants or bankers to make good investments — not slaves. In fact, I suspect the master would have been satisfied if the third slave lost his talent in the marketplace. So what was the master’s problem?

The third slave allowed his fear to make him a hoarder.

You and I face a similar dilemma when it comes to the way we spend our money. We don’t earn the same incomes and our bank balances don’t have the same number of zeroes. But we make financial decisions every day. In countless ways, we have to choose whether to embrace fear and hoard resources for our personal enrichment, or risk our relative security and act generously on behalf of those who are less fortunate.

Tax reform legislation and the Parable of the Talents

Over the next few weeks, Congress will make important decisions about the financial futures of millions of Americans. Most experts and analysts agree that the current proposals for tax reform will enrich the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of the poor and the middle class. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, over the next 10 years, families making $75,000 or less will see their after-tax incomes decrease as a direct result of the bill currently making its way through the Senate. This legislation will also handicap future generations by increasing the national debt by $1.5 trillion over the same time period, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Many members of Congress and the White House continue to promise that the legislation will be a boon to everyday Americans, when in truth it’s designed to provide tax savings for large corporations and the rich. To make these tax breaks palatable, they are preying on the financial insecurities of the masses. Unfortunately, that’s not new. It’s what politicians do — they use fear to divert our focus to our own well being so we don’t see the big picture. Over and over, they push the hoarding mentality on the middle class to satisfy the demands of special interests.

The Parable of the Talents is dangerous to politicians because it empowers us to opt out of the hoarding mentality. Instead of incentivizing us to accumulate and protect personal wealth, the Parable of the Talents encourages us to take risks, to be generous, to reject those who peddle in fear and to courageously partner with God so everyone has enough.

Ultimately, the Parable of the Talents transforms us from hoarders to healers. By setting aside our self interest to risk generosity on behalf of others (and encouraging our elected officials to do the same), we stem the tide of income inequality and exercise our belief that in God’s world, everyone has value.

If you think about it, there really isn’t a choice. Because if we don’t risk generosity, the Parable of the Talents tells us that there are consequences. Weeping and gnashing of teeth consequences. So be smart. Be wise. Risk generosity.


What Happens to the Things You Recycle?

What Happens to the Things You Recycle?

Ever wonder what happens to the stuff you recycle?

The average American produces roughly 4.4 pounds of trash every day, according to the EPA. The good news is that you’re recycling or composting a pound and a half – about 34 percent – of the waste products you generate.

But what happens to the 87 millions of tons of materials we recycle in the U.S. every year? Where do those plastic milk jugs go after they leave your curb? What about the empty beer cans you drop off at the recycling center?

Most recycled materials end up right back in your home through a complex (but surprisingly efficient) recycling process. To see what that recycling process looks like, check out this video from SciShow:

What happens to recycled paper?

Paper use in the U.S. has more than doubled over the past 20 years. The average American consumes 500 pounds of paper products per year – the same level of consumption as six people in Asia and more than 30 people in Africa.

Offices continue to be a major source of paper consumption. (So much for the paperless workplace.) But we also burn through tons of paper products in our homes. Everything from newspapers to cardboard boxes to telephone books passes through our lives and eventually lands in our recycling bins.

What happens next varies by the kind of paper you’re recycling. Each type of paper in your home or office is recycled into a unique set of new products:

  • Newspapers – Newsprint is the universal donor of the recycling world. It can be manufactured into things like paperboard, building insulation, paper plates, sheetrock, kitty litter, counter tops and of course, more newspapers.
  • Paper boxes and cardboard – Most paper and cardboard boxes are used to make more paper and cardboard boxes. But paperboard can also be used in the production of roofing materials.
  • Printer paper – Printer and notebook paper are typically used to create other “white” paper products like tissues, toilet paper and napkins as well as more printer and notebook paper.
  • Magazines – Magazine paper is tricky. But with the right recycling process, it can be used to make newsprint and paperboard products.

What happens to recycled plastic bottles?

The recycling process for plastics is complicated by the fact that there are several different types of plastics. For example, plastic milk jugs are made from a different material than plastic water bottles. Each type of plastic requires a different recycling process.

Plastic bottle recycling is a big deal. In the U.S., we empty 50 billion plastic water bottles a year. Fortunately, recycling makes it possible for those water bottles and other plastic products to have a second life.

  • Plastic beverage containers – Soda and water bottles are often recycled into fabrics. Some of the product categories where your empty Coke or water bottles might reappear include water-resistant outerwear, bags and backpacks, and carpeting.
  • Other plastic containers – Heavier plastic containers like detergent bottles or gallon jugs find their way into products made from dense plastics, like buckets, outdoor seating, playground equipment and even Frisbees.

What happens to recycled aluminum cans and glass bottles?

Cans and glass bottles are some of the most commonly recycled items in the home. States with container deposit legislation (like New York) have helped increase the recycling rate for aluminum cans to 67%. That’s almost double the recycling rate for all products in the U.S, according to the Aluminum Association.

The recycling rate for glass bottles is less impressive. In 2013, Americans recycled 41.3% of beer and soda bottles, and 34.5% of wine and liquor bottles. But states with container deposit laws boast a 63% recycling rate, compared to just 23% for states without legislation, according to data from the Glass Packaging Institute.

The takeaway: Container deposit laws work – and that’s a good thing because aluminum cans and glass bottles are 100% recyclable. Here are some of the products recycled cans and bottles end up in.

  • Aluminum cans – The recycling process for aluminum doesn’t degrade the quality of the material, so aluminum cans are in an infinite recycling loop. They are usually manufactured into new aluminum cans. Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a complete album on an iPod and recycled aluminum can reappear on a store shelf in as little as two months.
  • Glass bottles – Recycled glass bottles have to be separated by color so manufactures can comply with industry color standards when they manufacture new bottles. In addition to new bottles, the glass bottles you recycle at home are used to make fiberglass for insulation and other glass products. The container and fiberglass industries purchase more than 3 million tons of recycled glass each year.

What happens to recycled tin cans?

The term “tin can” is misleading. Containers for soup and other canned goods are actually steel cans with a thin layer of tin. These materials are separated during the recycling process and used to manufacture a variety of products.

Interesting fact: Steelmaking is one of the most recycling-friendly processes on the plant. In North America, steel products always contain recycled steel, according to the Steel Recycling Institute. So, when you buy something with steel in it, you’re automatically buying a recycled product.

  • Tin cans – The steel and tin in “tin cans” are repurposed for a range of products, including cars, construction materials, appliances and new tin cans.

Recycling is more than a good idea. For some people, it’s a spiritual discipline

There are encouraging signs that Americans have started to take the recycling message to heart. But with 66% of the products we consume left non-recycled, there’s definitely room for improvement.

Regular recycling habits are a good start. But for many of us, recycling is about more than remembering to drop empty egg cartons in the recycling bin. It’s a spiritual discipline.

Ultimately, we’re all guests on this planet and we’re called to play a role in caring for creation. By embracing recycling and other environmentally friendly practices as a spiritual practice, we can preserve the environment for future generations, while living our own lives in a more meaningful and intentional way.