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The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

This Frederick Buechner quote has charted the course of my ministry from the moment I first read it.  I have served as a youth pastor and Christian Educator, pastor of congregations of color in rural and urban settings.  I have served as a seminary professor and transitional Presbytery Executive and Head of Staff.  It has charted not only my own personal call, but also served to guide my work with seminary students and with parishioners.

Frederick Buechner, who died at the age of 92 this year, was an ordained Presbyterian pastor who never served a church.   His validated ministry was writing; and through his writing, he has ministered to clergy and laity alike, helping to transform lives.  At this stage of my life, having been ordained for 56 years, my new place of “deep gladness” is to write.

After years of pondering whether or not to write for publishing, I have decided that it is not the venue that I want to follow for my writing.  Several years ago, from 2015 to 2017, I wrote a Blog; and I loved doing that.  I have decided that my “audience”, the folks I want to write for—my readers—are my family, friends, and colleagues.  And a Blog, I believe, is the best venue for me to “publish” my writing to that readership.  I hope that my writing will meet the “deep hunger” of my readers.

In a dream, I came up with the following title for my Blog:  “Amazing Grace: My Life as a Pastor.”  Recalling and re-reading some of what I have written in the past, I am discovering how my life and ministry have been shaped and formed in amazing and grace-filled ways.  I want to include in my Blog recollections/stories of my family and my friends, sermons I have preached, and lessons and wisdom I have received from life and ministry.

It has taken me a long time to get to this point.  I am about to turn 82 when you receive my first post.  Throughout my life, I have struggled with a lack of confidence to write.  In my first year at George Washington High School, San Francisco, those of us on the college prep track were required to take English Composition to help get us into the University of California system upon graduation.  And Mr. Knapton not only taught English Composition, he was reputed to be the best!  When he returned my very first composition, it was covered in red ink; and there was one comment that haunted me the rest of my academic career.  “You will never be a writer!”  At that point in my academic life, who was I to question the judgment and assessment of the best teacher in the school?  I share this memory with you not for sympathy, much less to garner praise for anything I write, but to impress upon you that I dare to write to share my story, my life, who I am, with a deep sense of humility.  

My Old Testament professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Dr. James Muilenburg, left me a memorable quote in one of his class lectures:  “when you take seriously your study of a particular people and culture (the people of Israel in the Old Testament), you will discover universal truths.”  And when the great world religion scholar, Houston Smith, was asked what he would do differently if he had a chance to re-live his life as a scholar, his response was: “I would dive more deeply into one particular faith tradition and not attempt to be scholar of all the religions of the world.”  I am inspired to write my particular story, the story of my life as a pastor and to share the wisdom I have received in my many years of ministry, a wisdom which I hope will be helpful to the church and to all who are called to ministry.  Because my ministry is contextualized, rooted in the people and the world around me that has shaped me every step of the way, I hope my writing will speak not just to the church-at-large, but also to my family, friends and colleagues.

Upon Buechner’s death, tributes poured forth far and wide; and I discovered quotes from his writings that served to affirm my new found calling.  Yes, I write about my personal life and experiences.  But Buechner reassured me that my writing, just like my ministry, is not really about me.  This tribute by professor, Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens, at Pittsburg Theological seminary, was particularly helpful:  “Buechner allowed the story of his own discernment, the particulars of his first-person narrative, to open into a more universal insight.  What he was trying to do as a writer and as a preacher was more and more to draw on his own experience not just as a source of plot, character, illustration, but as a source of truth.”

And these Buechner questions challenge me to be mindful of my readers:  “Will our stories help others look at their lives more truthfully? Live in the world more faithfully? Have we drawn on our own experiences as a source of truth?”   Finally, this Buechner quote captures my motivation for this Blog, that I am writing not for myself, but for my readers:  “If we become lost in a story about ourselves, it’s unlikely our hearers will gain much from what we tell. But if we allow ourselves to touch a wider truth in the narrowed lens of our particular lives, our hearers might find a measure of hope, healing and inspiration through what we convey.”

This is a huge challenge; and yet, this is what I hope to accomplish. In my BLOG, I want to delve deeply into my own particular experience of my call to ministry and to be able to lift up experiences which my readers can identify and share with, together discovering wisdom.

“My story is important, not because it is mine…but if I tell it right…you will recognize it is also yours.” (Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

29 thoughts on “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

  1. Hey Cal,

    Great look to your new Blog. Jason did a terrific job.

    Am looking forward to future editions to see how you write for your readers and how everything fits into your title, Amazing Grace. Was it a coincidence that we sang the same song at the Leopards retreat?


    1. Dear Cal, I can understand when you talk about doubting your writing ability. I think that insecurity stops many of us, even those who would benefit from the sheer exercise, practice of doing so. That website in my credentials is still a,I’ve even though I haven’t done anything with it in a while. With your inspiration however, maybe I’ll get at it again.

  2. Thank you Cal for this wonderful gift you are giving to us. I look forward with joy to reading about your life experience and your wisdom in ministry. Congratulations and love,

  3. Cal,
    As I read this first Blog, there were lumps in my throat. “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets” is the greatest wish I have for my son. I feel so blessed to be recipient of this invitation as “Reader”.

    1. Thank you, Gwen. I share your wish for our children; and knowing your son, I truly believe he is fulfilling Buechner’s vision of vocation.

  4. I love that I could hear your voice as I was reading this post, feeling the love, vulnerability, and depth behind the words.

    Thank you for daring to share your experience. Looking forward to the next post!

  5. When I created the story map site about the Chinn family immigration experience , Ann reminded me to make sure it spoke to more universal experiences and issues.
    Similar advice.

  6. Thank you, Cal!

    The universal story at play with our particular stories…this resonates and feels so lively! Looking forward to learning from and with you.

  7. Thanks, Cal.

    The universal story at play with our particular stories…this resonates and feels so lively! Looking forward to learning from and with you.

  8. Last Sunday 11/6 while zooming in a Congregational Church Bible service, the minister posed the question of what is a good facilitator, what is a bad facilitator and brought up the matter of good listening. My mind immediately went to Discipleship classes at PCC on Sundays, how you always cut through the wordiness and “hear” the nuances to bring us all back to the Nugget of the matter. I look forward to experiencing more in the Blog.

    1. Gwen, thank you for your comment. Yes, teaching is all about deep listening. God speaks through all of us and teaching is about making room for all voices to be heard.

  9. Congratulations Pastor Cal. I can’t wait to read your every blog and deep thoughts. I miss hearing the sermon you gave us at PCC for more than 10 years. Like what Michelle said, don’t estimate the power of women with a book! Hurray to you Pastor Cal – a minister with a blog.

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