News - Calling: The Politics of Hearing a Call

Calling: The Politics of Hearing a Call

Amanda (Griffen '12) DiMiele Calling: The Politics of Hearing a Call

Recently I earned my master of divinity. Naturally, this resulted in me questioning every decision I had ever made. As part of a desperate attempt to re-plan the rest of my life real quick, I met for coffee with Tomi, who had been a teaching assistant in many of my favorite classes. Tomi is a fantastic human being, and she deftly practiced great pastoral habits of asking good questions and listening carefully. I deftly practiced my habit of rambling a lot and getting nowhere. When we had been dwelling on one topic for a while, she asked point blank, “Is this something you feel called to?”

I hesitated, then I gave a tired laugh and ran my hand through my hair—a nervous gesture. “I mean, I’ve been affirmed . . .” seeing Tomi raise her eyebrows in a that’s-not-what-I-asked way, I stopped. Sighed. Then, as sometimes happens, I said something true that I did not know was true until I said it: “I have trouble claiming things for myself.”

When Conditioning Clouds Discernment

I know I am not alone in that trouble. It is especially common in—though not exclusive to—people like me who do not happen to identify as (able) (heterosexual) (middle class) (white) men. Part of that is because we have been taught from the cradle that our particular bodies do not wear self-assurance well. We are invited to try on humility or deference instead. They are more flattering to our shape, we learn. They better complement our coloring.

I routinely uncover new ways that this social conditioning hurts me and the people I love. One way is in the struggle to discern calling. I first realized this thanks to the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman. At a women’s retreat three years ago, she pointed out that most of us grow up learning what “call stories” look like. For instance, many of us learn that a call is a thing thrust upon you. It is not in any way related to the dreaded a-word, ambition. You are to feel and express unworthiness in the face of this call.

I already knew my experience did not match those patterns. I did not feel ministry urged upon me. I wanted it, and I felt shame for that. More scandalous still, instead of insisting on my unworthiness, I actually thought I’d be good at it. I worried it meant I was not really called. I worried it meant I was arrogant or narcissistic. I worried I was a problem.

This was all spinning in my head when Dr. Marshall Turman paused. She made eye-contact. Then, she announced, “That story was not meant for us.”

Fighting For the Call

The notion, she went on, that you might be open to hearing a call; that you can have it affirmed; that you can go on to official recognition—all elements of most “call stories”—depends on privileges that women and other minoritized people often lack(ed). At least since Lydia in Acts 16:13-15, some Christians have had to fight for our call. Many of our denominations still do not ordain women. Many that do have a long way to go before they can say they truly support women, as opposed to tolerating or tokenizing them. By centering these stories, Dr. Marshall Turman made me a little freer that evening.

Of course, acknowledging all that is one thing. Three years later, my conversation with Tomi makes it clear that I still struggle to name my own complex call. I struggle to fight for it. I rely too heavily on external validation and direction—which is a problem in a world that, for many of us, is not structured to validate us or direct us to flourishing.

Still Learning to Write My Call Story

In other words, I am still learning to write a call story of my own. And that’s fine. I once heard Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas say, “Calling happens one ‘Yes, Lord’ at a time.” In the meantime, I draw strength from a paraphrase of my favorite moment in Dr. Marshall Turman’s talk:

You have to believe in your call. You have to believe it, because other people are going to do your doubting for you. Trust yourself. Trust the Spirit.

Amen.

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This story was published on September 07, 2016




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