Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Divining purpose from talent

I started listening to The Purpose Driven Life again. I had started in on Frank McCourt's Teacher Man a while back and got distracted. So much for finding my life's purpose in 40 days.

One of Rick Warren's premises for the book is that a person is specifically shaped by God to serve a specific mission on the planet. Your talents, personality, and circumstances are (literally) designed to make you fit for a specific ministry. So, if you study yourself carefully, you should be able to discern what it is you're supposed to do.

That sounds reasonable, especially since it's approximately what every parent and high school guidance counselor ever said: "Find something you're good at and that you enjoy, and do that." But the fallacy of finding your purpose from your talents is shown somewhat in one of the stories in the Millenium episode I wrote about earlier. One of the devils, Blurk, tells of how he hitchhiked one night with a young man, Perry, who confessed to be interested in true crime and serial killers. The devil, seeing all the signs, pointed out that the young man was probably interested in the subject because he himself shared all the attributes of a serial killer:
Blurk: White male in his 20s; the abused product of a broken home who spent
his youth setting fires and/or torturing animals; an early addiction to drugs
and/or alcohol. Inability to hold a steady job or relationship with women.
Spending all your free time thinking about turning your masochistic/
mutilation/sex fantasies into reality! To say nothing of the fact that you
drive a van, and keep a roll of duct tape in your glove compartment!"

Perry: How the hell did - ? What are you trying to tell me?

Blurk: Play the hand you've been dealt.

And so Perry goes on to become a serial killer . . . just because he would be good at it. That's an extreme example, but it illustrates the point: talent alone is no guide at all to divine purpose. You still have to discern what's the right thing to do. And the right thing might, in fact, be entirely opposed to one's nature.

(As an aside, I saw a story in the News & Observer about former state agriculture commissioner Meg Scott Phipps returning home after serving four years in federal prison for extorting campaign contributions from State Fair vendors. Her local community was supportive of her, but they didn't talk about her actual crimes much because, as on business associate put it, "they accepted the fact that that was the hand she was dealt." I couldn't help but think of Blurk's promptings . . . people really do use that phrase to excuse all kinds of things.)

In fact, I would go so far as to say that divine calling is more visible precisely when it opposes one's own natural inclination. In a documentary on Mother Theresa and the Sisters of Charity, a number of the sisters confessed to feeling completely unmatched to their calling: "Every day I got up with the intention of leaving. But God wouldn't let me go." After her death, some of Mother Theresa's writings indicated that she herself suffered profound and lasting doubts about the nature of her ministry; she had an initial inspiration to work in Calcutta with the poor, but afterwards she went her entire life with no divine affirmation for her work. Far from seeing this as a problem, the Chuch officials overseeing her candidancy for sainthood see her doubts as evidence of a miracle: "How could she do so much, without the benefit of any divine revelation?"

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home