This is the second time this has happened to me. The posting I had planned to write – in this case, rather ironically, on the topic of “truth” – now seems both trite and false.
Instead, I have spent this morning contemplating the distinction between “making oneself vulnerable” — seen as a virtue in these reveal-all days – and mere self-indulgence. I don’t know the answer. But I’m going to take a chance, and tell you what’s really on my mind.
It’s this. During the past few months, I have been thinking about vocation, inspired partly through my own restlessness and a consciousness that my working years are quickly disappearing, and partly by my conversations with John Elliot and the writings of Patricia Thompson.
Thompson pointed me to the work of Quaker author and educator Parker J. Palmer. In a slim book called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Palmer describes his own recognition that his chosen work as an academic and activist was worthwhile work, but not his work. He observes that “vocation does not come from willfulness, no matter how noble one’s intentions. It comes from listening to, and accepting “true self” with its limits as well as its potential.”
Palmer recounts a Hasidic story where a Rabbi Zusya says, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” Parker then tells how his own acceptance of his own limitations, often learned through failure and pain, opened the way to his true vocation.
Which brings me to my current struggle. Six months ago, I was feeling stagnant. But ever since Christine “uncorked the bottle” I have been bubbling over with ideas – chiefly about my work in non-profit housing. I feel like the cow in an old Far Side cartoon, standing amidst the herd in the farmyard, who looks up suddenly and says, “Hold it. This is grass! Hey everybody. We’ve been eating grass!” I want to run around telling my colleagues what I see, what’s wrong with it, and the half dozen promising leads – none are fully formed ideas – that are swirling in my mind.
What’s stopping me is my depressing track record in introducing new ideas to others. In the movie fantasy, when I say, “Hey, we could put on a play in the barn,” the response is, “Yeah. And we could sell tickets, and my mom could make costumes.” But my ideas do not capture the enthusiasm of others. I’m struggling to know why not, and what to do about it.
Amidst my swirl of thoughts is Ursula Franklin’s comments at the Quaker meeting today, who warned about the hubris of good intentions, and the pride of thinking we know more than we really do. Maybe I need to temper my enthusiasm for my own ideas.
There’s the speaker at last week’s Quaker meeting, who reminded us of the parable of the sower, where even God’s perfect ideas sometimes fall on the path, or are snatched up by birds. It seemed to me that if God is willing to persist, despite this dispiriting reception, perhaps I could do the same.
There’s the reminder from Parker Palmer not to try to be someone we are not – that I may simply not be an “ideas sort of person” even though I want to be, and I should stop trying. But there’s also the insight from Paul and others who know me well that I may have inherited mannerisms – things that are not fundamental to my character but may lead people to misunderstand me or my motivations – and these are things I should try to change if I can.
Okay. This is self-indulgent.
Friends, you see this mess. I am interested in your own experiences with sifting through competing ideas. I also have a clue that my dilemma somehow ties into the concept of humility, but I’m not quite sure how. If you can see the connection, let me know!