As we come to summer’s end, Labor Day and a new cycle of work and school, it’s good to reflect a bit on how we understand our vocation (latin, “calling”).

More than likely on the golf course if someone wants to get to know me a bit they will ask first my name, and second, within a couple of minutes, “so what do you do?” This reflects a modern cultural understanding of my identity being bound up primarily in what I “do”. Vocation is my career, what I do.

A bit of a quick history lesson helps understand how we’ve gotten here. Back in medieval times, vocation was seen narrowly as a call to a monastic life as a monk or nun, or to serve the church as a priest. These were the special callings of some. Martin Luther and other reformers changed all that with the call to see the primary understanding of vocation as “christian” and that this calling was to be lived out by all christians in their daily tasks. Vocation here is WHO I am (christian) and that affects HOW I do my work, whatever it happens to be.

An example would be a first grade teacher who roots her work in her own experience of the love of God, and extends that love to each of her students, thinking the best of each one and seeing the rich potential in each child. She engages students and families with respect, care, and compassion. First seeing herself as a disciple of Christ, she then is able to live for God’s glory and neighbor’s good in her classroom, and with her colleagues. She lives out her relationship with God (her vocation) in her work as a teacher.

This seems a proper corrective of these two other understandings of vocation as “a career” (what do you do?) and vocation as a special calling for a few (monastic life).

The lat archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, said it well: “How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job is a priestly work, that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench, and each metalworker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, is performing a priestly office! How many cabdrivers, I know, listen to this message in their cabs; you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.”

So for every follower of Jesus, our vocation is the same: Christian, minister of grace. The work we do at our job or in school is how we live out our call to be a christian witness. It’s a helpful and important distinction, I think, to root our vocational understanding in who we are, first, and then how who we are shapes what we do day by day.

Writer Frederick Buechner, who recently left us, had a favorite saying, that “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” That’s an invitation to relationship with the world and those we meet in it that flows from our New Life in Christ. That makes us all ministers and priests.

Contemplate these blessed realities as you take a deep breath and jump back into a new year!

Love from here!

Peter Hawkinson


(Our guest blogger today is Denise Johnson. Thank you Denise! Friends, please send along your guest blog posts, we love them!)

Blessings have been on my mind lately. I found myself drawn to them as a way
of coping with the nonsense and chaos of our present moment.
Once on my mind, I then decided at the close of each day to record what
blessed me. This way I would end on a happy note and fall blissfully asleep.
Hasn’t exactly worked as planned. I forget many nights, have trouble sleeping
and wake up annoyed at both my negligence and the world.

In the introduction to his book, To Bless the Space Between Us , author John
O’Donohue writes: “It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to
bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it
changes the atmosphere.”

If we can say anything about these times, it’s that our atmosphere certainly
needs changing. From the atmosphere surrounding our toxic words to our
toxic behavior to our toxic climate, change is needed. So perhaps we can start
by blessing each other. A simple way to honor the ordinary in the life we share
together. A small act to open a better way forward.

O’Donohue goes on: “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to
enfold you.” These are words we’ve often said ourselves. When we bless, in
even the smallest way, we always receive more than we give.

One of my favorite blessings comes from Psalm 121:8: The LORD will keep your
going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. Simple yet
profound. Acknowledging the holy in the ordinary activities of life. May these
ancient words enfold you this day and may you pass them on to others.

Denise Johnson

Buechner, the Sage

Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister, writer and theologian, died this week at the age of 96. His novels (try Goodrich and Brendan) are filled with spiritual yet earthy wonderings, his autobiographical trilogy (The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, and Telling Secrets) is heart-breaking yet hopeful. His collections of sermons (The Clown in the Belfry, A Room Called Remember) are rich devotionally, and he writes short reflections on biblical characters (Peculiar Treasures) and theological words (Wishful Thinking, which are my favorite of all (Wishful Thinking, Whistling in the Dark). I have them all in my library, so stop by and I’ll get you going!

When I arrived at Winnetka Covenant Church now 33 years ago to begin as youth pastor, Pastor Bob Dvorak promptly took me to lunch and handed over a few of Frederick’s treasures with the caveat, “Read em, and we’ll talk.” And I did and we did, and my pilgrim journey with Frederick Buechner began.

His premise through all his work is that “At it’s heart most theology, like most fiction, is essentially autobiography…that is to say, I cannot talk about God or sin or grace, for example, without at the same time talking about those parts of my own experience where these ideas become compelling and real.” (The Alphabet of Grace)

And grace abounds. I must share here my favorite lines of all his tomes, which his little reflection on “GRACE” from Wishful Thinking:

“After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested anymore. Not so with Grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Rest In Peace and rise in glory, Frederick. Thanks be to God!

Peter Hawkinson

From This Side of COVID


After two years, four months, and several odd days of fearing it, preparing for it, guarding against it, and wondering if I had it…finally, COVID found me.

And while I can confidently say that I am one of the lucky ones, in that it hasn’t sent me to the hospital, prevented me from caring for my dog, or really and truly debilitated me – I can also just as confidently say that it has been rough.

Getting COVID is a surprisingly emotional experience – at least I found it to be so. There are the ordinary emotions of feeling sick, weak, humbled and unable to carry on normally – the things we feel when we have a bad cold or a stomach flu – but with COVID these are also coupled with a good deal of lingering trauma from the last couple of years. Many people have gotten this and died – will I be one of them? It’s scary to get sick, but even more so without the protection of vaccines and boosters, or the promise of antiviral treatments – what must it have been like to have COVID under those conditions?

I texted with friends of mine the day I got that first positive test result, and we talked about the rollercoaster of COVID feelings. I cried a lot that day, from the overwhelm and uncertainty, the pent up anxieties of trying to avoid this exact scenario for so long, and the fear of what this diagnosis had meant for others and could mean for me.

But by that evening, I was crying for other reasons. (My friends and I have agreed: tears should be added to the list of likely symptoms by the CDC).

It was because I woke up to a phone call telling me that there were bags of groceries in my condo lobby, homemade soup and fresh bread, sports drinks and fruit.

There were friends who got my medicine from the pharmacy, friends who took my dog for a walk or an afternoon, friends who saw my name on the prayer list and emailed or texted: do you need anything? what can I do?

One sent a Door Dash gift card, so I could unapologetically order to my door whatever sounded good or necessary.

One showed up with both popsicles and Panera chicken soup when I said that either sounded amazing.

One asked if I needed trashy magazines (it made me laugh then, which I badly needed, and still makes me chuckle today).

And all of them, in their own way, reminded me: I don’t have to get through this on my own.

There will be help, and prayers, and check-ins, even after the initial days of isolation, while the fatigue lingers on and the cough won’t quit.

I cannot tell you precisely what that meant to me. What that means to me.

The truth is that I’m on day ten now, the last day that the CDC offers much guidance for what to do if you’re sick, the last day that you have much to grab onto in terms of: what do I do? What happens next?

And I still feel crummy. Not awful. But tired and congested and not my normal self.

This next phase, days 11 and onward, feels uncertain. How long until I get back to normal? When do I safely take a mask off with close friends? When am I no longer a risk to people I might visit?

These questions are swirling, and they can threaten to overwhelm me. But I keep coming back to you all, and your love, and care, and how God has shown up for me even in the midst of this.

And it’s enough, more than enough, to keep me going.

With a heart full of thanks,

Pastor Jen

The Good Thing in My Head

My dad, who was part of two hymnal commissions, was prone to say and repeat often that the hymnal is the best book of prayer, theology, and devotion the church has, and should sit alongside your bible on your night-stand. Nowadays both would be found by many of us on a phone app of some sort.

Whatever the case, the good thing going on in my head today is the little song we sometimes sing in repeated fashion, like a breath prayer: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” (Marty Haugen, GIA Publications, 1986). Here’s a link to listen to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0kxWXHETlU. Of course its a paraphrased summary of Psalm 23, the most famous of all the psalms, which was ancient Israel’s hymnal.

It’s haunting melody stops me in my tracks, and reaches to my heart. And guess what, it’s short enough to stick in my aging memory, and return again and again! There are verses too, that offer language for life’s experiences of God’s presence in weariness, leading through life’s journey, shepherding love in seasons of dark valleys, and never-ending promises of life. Wonderful realities, but it’s that repeated refrain that holds me these days.

Separate from any plans or ideas or plans of mine, the song has been showing up as I pass in and out of the doorways of each days journey, like it is alive and inviting me to reach out to God in all my comings and goings. I can only attribute it to be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s bidding.

It’s gotten almost obsessive/compulsive, and just wonderful. Yesterday I must have found myself humming and muttering the words at least fifty different times. Just now, today, (2 p.m. Wednesday) it accompanied me to the doctor and back to my office. No radio blasting necessary! (Quite something for a rock and roll rebel!).

The more I sing it, the more it becomes the prayer of my soul. I feel as deeply as ever my need and longing for God’s presence, activity, and leading…if I will only “let go, and let God” as the schmaltzy saying goes.

Most of our neighbors on our street are Jewish and have mezuzahs, which are small pieces of Shema scripture wound up in a cylinder nailed to their doorposts. “Mezuzah” means doorpost in Hebrew. The shema begins “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6). It fulfills the command of God to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” More than anything, it’s a reminder that the God who saves, the God of Exodus, is with us as we go out and come in. We start continuously over with this simple truth.

For me, this haunting little song has become like that. We’ll sing it together in our worship soon, and the choir will help lead us. But until then, make it your mezuzah!

“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”

Love from here


The word of God and the Word of God

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40, NRSV)

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” (John 5:39-40, The Message)

Here’s the scene. Jesus is back in Jerusalem, and (not surprisingly) hanging down at the Bethesda pool, where all the sick people — blind, crippled, and paralyzed hung together. There’s one unnamed Joe who’s been laying there unable to move for 38 years! Jesus engages him with a question: “Do you want to be well?” And Joe says, “Well, sure! But I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool, and I can’t get up and do it myself” to which Jesus responds, “Well, then get up and start walking!” and he does, he does!

And that’;s where the trouble starts. It’s the Sabbath, you see! And Jesus is working on the Sabbath, and Joe now is too, because carrying your bedroll according to the scripture, according to the law is not allowed on the sabbath. So the religious leaders, the folks who know the scriptures inside and out confront the Joe (who surely they’ve seen laying there all these decades): “Who told you to start walking and carry your bedroll?” Joe shrugs his shoulders; doesn’t know. Jesus has slipped away. Later Joe, for likely the first time in his life, is able to go to the Temple (imagine his joy!), Jesus sees him and says, “You look wonderful. You’re healed!” and Joe now knows its Jesus, and fills in the powers-that-be, who are now out to get Jesus for disobeying the scripture and the law of Moses within. I love how the Message has his response: “My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I.

And it’s these things — his breaking of the Sabbath, and his calling God his own Father — that cause the Religious leaders of Jesus’ own Jewish faith to form a plan to kill him. Kill him for these wonderful things. Why, O Why?

This is the context in which Jesus says to them what you read above. The reality of this healing miracle turns into a struggle over biblical authority. And Jesus, who John says is “The Word (capital W) become flesh, living among us”, weighs in. His words are powerful, and put the word in context to the Word. The scriptures are authoritative in that they bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Word. But the scripture — or in this context the Law — does not replace the Living Word, the Word come to life in Jesus.

His words speak for themselves, and are so important for us these days in all kinds of conversations regarding biblical interpretation, theology, and the ministry of the church, and this is especially true for those, like us, who come from church traditions known for having a high view of biblical authority. We are prone to say to each other in our own minds and arguments, “Where is it written?” or “What does the Bible say?” and these are really important questions! But if these become THE questions that stand alone without questions like “Who is Jesus?”, and “what does Jesus say and do?” and “How does our New Life in Christ speak to this?”, we are constantly on the edge of making the Bible an idol — an idol being “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.”

The Bible can become an idol too, if it ceases to be seen as leading us to Jesus, the Word. The words of David Nyvall: “To believe in the Bible is not the same as to believe in God. It is possible to believe in the Bible instead of believing in God. The worst way to lose the Bible is to make it into an idol. the Bible is God’s book, but it must in a special sense be the Christ book.

We, too, like they did back on that blessed day in Jerusalem, we can miss the forest for the trees. They were unable to celebrate what God was doing right in their midst because the sabbath regulations were first, front, and center. Jesus is calling them not to just throw out the law or the commandments, but to know Him first and most, to learn and follow Him, and then have the ability to read and understand scripture with new eyes to see, and new hearts to love — which would have meant on that day that Joe’s healing was to be celebrated sabbath or not! And this Jesus embraced rather than seen as a threat!

May we locate our scriptural authority in direct connection to the way it leads us into life with Jesus, as was true of our spiritual ancestors who were called “Lasare”, or “Readers” because of their love of the Bible as my grandfather Eric wrote: “The ‘readers’ did not come to the Bible because they had been been convinced by theological and dogmatic dimensions of inerrancy or infallibility. The came, and continued to come, because they had found life and inspiration for themselves. They knew that speaking about food could not satisfy hunger and that speaking about thirst could not quench thirst. They trusted the Bible to be its own defense as well as their own, not by speaking about it, but by proclaiming its message in testimony and sermon, song and living.” (Images in Covenant Beginnings)

Love from here!

Peter Hawkinson