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This post marks the one year anniversary of my blog, Amazing Grace: My Life as a Pastor, which I started on November 6, 2022.  And I have decided to take a pause to ponder what comes next, to meditate and to reflect on what I am being called and led to do next.  I realize that in the last two posts, I have been speaking to myself.  Like Elijah, I find myself inside a cave; and I am waiting for direction and instructions from God.  I will not be surprised that God will speak to me not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but rather in the sound of silence—in a still small voice.

As I stated from the beginning, my BLOG is not about me.  Rather, my hope is that my life experiences can serve as lessons and wisdom for generations to come.  In my writing, I tried to address the life and world we live in today, currently, even as I drew from my personal legacy.  And I have been deeply grateful to my son, Jason, for his invaluable help in designing and creating my webpage.  Our collaborative effort this past year has been an incredible gift.  And I hope that our effort has made a difference in the lives of our readers—family, friends, colleagues—who will continue to be my most important teachers and mentors.  And I want to thank those of you who took time to respond to my postings throughout the past year.

These Frederick Buechner quotes have served and will continue to inspire and guide me in my call to write:

  • “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
  • “Will our stories help others look at their lives more truthfully?  Live in the world more faithfully?”  
  • “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.”
  • “My story is important, not because it is mine…but if I tell it right…you will recognize it is also yours.”   

In my 58 years of ordination to the ministry, I have experienced significant periods of transition, which I came to discover were times of redirection.  I recall sitting down with my good friend and colleague, the late Bert Tom, who was the Associate Executive for the Presbytery of San Francisco.  I asked him, “Bert, at my age, what are the chances of my finding at least one more call before I retire”?  I was 59 when I posed the question to him.  Bert’s response at once shocked and disturbed me greatly.  He said, “You’re too old to be considered seriously for any other position in the church.  Stay in Chinatown until you are ready to retire.”  So when I reached the age of 65, following almost 17 years at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, I had completed the 40th year of my ordination.  I was eligible, also, to begin collecting my social security and pension.  It turns out that these practical considerations were easy compared to the question of my identity once stripped of what I did for a living.  At retirement, does the retiree lose his or her value and worth?  I remember clearly the transformative moment in the one and only sabbatical I enjoyed in all my years of ministry.  After the first month of my four month sabbatical, I fell into a deep depression.  It was when I finally put my finger on the source of the depression that I awoke to a renewed sense of self and identity.  Stripped of my many tasks and functions in ministry—preaching and teaching, pastoral care and administration, strategic planning and conflict management—who am I?  Even as I was enjoying a well earned sabbatical leave—to travel and to rest—I fell into depression because I was not needed; everything I did in ministry which gave me purpose and meaning and worth was replaced by a sense of “emptiness” and what felt like “nothingness”.   It was getting in touch with those feelings and coming to terms with why I felt this way that in my depression I reached out to God to discover the simple and profound truth that I am a child of God and that alone gives me everything I could want and need.  I belong to God and I am loved totally and unconditionally simply because I am who I am.  And in that assurance, I can do all things because of God.

I am now once again at another moment of redirection.  During this pause in my writing, what do I need to learn?  What is God calling me into next?  Which brings me yet to another memory of a critical moment in my life, another crossroad.   In the 4th year of my ministry on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, I arrived at a critical moment of discernment about my call.  My daughter Robin was in the second grade and my 2 sons, Stephen and Jason, in kindergarten and head start.  Concerned for my children’s education, I decided that I needed to find a new position where my children would have access to better schooling.

I applied for many positions, some of which were beyond my reach, others I felt I should have gotten.  I received more rejection notices than I could count after the first year.  I was starting to feel desperate.  I wondered whether I would ever be able to leave the reservation.  In 1977, the Presbytery of the Cascades of which I was a member offered a weeklong “Life Planning Seminar”, held in a downtown hotel in Portland.  I jumped at the chance, feeling like I needed help and direction with planning my life.  I was seriously entertaining the idea of leaving the ministry just to get off the reservation.  I took a whole battery of tests hoping to zero in on my skills, interests, passions.  I needed help knowing what I should do with my life at this particular juncture.   I found the presentations by the co-leaders very helpful.  They affirmed and encourage all of us who had signed up for the seminar.  The weeklong seminar ended with the final exercise on the last morning.  Fresh from a night’s sleep, we were instructed to lie down on the carpeted floor, getting ourselves as comfortable as possible, closing our eyes for a fantasy excursion.  With soothing music in the background, the leader’s gentle yet firm voice instructed us to accompany him on a journey.  We emerge from the forest and pause at the open meadow before us.  Across the meadow, on the other side, is a large house.  We take our time to make our way across the meadow.  As we approach the house, the leader describes the front steps and porch and front door in great detail.  We slowly make our way up the stairs to the porch and then through the front door into the house.  We are instructed to go to our right, into the living room.  Once in the living room, we are asked, “what members of your family do you meet in this room; and how are you feeling?”  We spend a few quiet moments thinking, reflecting, and getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings.  We leave the living room and walk into the dining room, the kitchen, a bedroom.  In each room, we are asked similar questions but in a different category.  Finally, in the last room, we are asked to describe what we see—it is our place of employment.  And then we are asked to describe what we are doing there.  I saw myself in an office in Montgomery Hall on the campus of San Francisco Theological Seminary.  And I see myself teaching Hebrew.  This is 1977.  

A year later, in the summer of 1978, I moved my family onto the campus of San Francisco Theological Seminary.  I was assigned an office on the first floor of Montgomery Hall.  And the following year, 1979, teaching Hebrew was added to my responsibilities.  I served on the faculty and occupied that office for 12 years, before leaving for a position at my home church, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown.  That move occurred at yet another crossroad in my life.  In the Fall of 1978, my children enrolled at Wade Thomas Elementary School to start their new academic career in San Anselmo.  And eventually, they graduated from Drake High School and went on to college.  It took Stephen a few years to adjust to the move; but in the end, all of my children loved living in San Anselmo and to this day claim 138 Bolinas Avenue as their home.  To this day it is known still as the Chinn House even though it has been converted to the Shaw House, a Victorian Rental for special occasions like weddings and anniversaries.

After all the rejection notices I had received, in the end I had 3 offers.  I chose the position at SFTS over two other opportunities.  I turned down the Chaplain and Chair of Religious Studies at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska and Pastor of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon positions to go to San Anselmo.  I believe I would’ve been happy with any of the 3 offers.  In the end, it was the Life Planning Seminar that helped me make my final decision.

I have actually begun testing the waters of this next phase of my life and ministry.  I have decided that I no longer want to preach, at least as a guest preacher.  I am also looking for places and people to donate my library.  It has not been easy, as I can feel myself letting go of the life I have lived for most of my 83 years.  One of the most challenging experiences I recall when I served on the SFTS faculty was chapel worship, where students had the opportunity to hone their preaching skills.  As hard as I tried, I could not experience chapel as a place of worship, but a classroom.  Sermons were not listened to, but were critiqued.  In recent years, when Sharon and I have been able to enjoy worshiping at different churches, I am finally able to settle into worshiping, sitting in the pew, and being tended to by the word of God.

Who am I as I enter yet another phase of life, especially as I let go of the very functions and resources (library) of ministry that gave me so much meaning and purpose and fulfillment?  Sitting in the cave, like Elijah, the word that is whispered into my ear is the Chinese word, Fong sownglet go, release, relinquish, detach.  I am slowly releasing and letting go of what has shaped and defined me, namely Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church(USA).  The Burning Man experience, where I found the church in Black Rock City, helped me greatly to Fong sowng of the Church that I had known.  I feel called to leave the cave of the church that I have known and served; and to re-enter the world in all its majesty and tragedy, opportunities and challenges.  I hope to share with you what I discover that God is leading me to be and do when it becomes clear to me.  In the meantime, I thank you for being my companion.

As my companion, I would love to hear from you.  You can respond to me either by adding comments on my blog post(s), or emailing me directly at  I invite you to share your story with me.  I would love to hear about your journey, your experience(s) of Fong sowng, of redirection.  I welcome any sort of response, even if it is only to update your contact information so that I can stay in touch with you.

In John 3:4, we read:  Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born”?  Redirection, I have learned, is facing the challenge and demand to be born anew time and time again.  Relying on the Spirit has meant getting out its way, of detaching and letting go of my personal dreams and expectations and requirements.  I have come to appreciate that there is always something new waiting to be born, a new season of call waiting to be birthed.  That is the wonderful mystery of the Spirit, the wind that blows where it chooses.  We hear the sound of it, but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

3 thoughts on “REDIRECTION”

  1. Cal,
    It was never about the destination, but the journey. You have traveled far and well. Each step led you to the next and next and shaped each. Although you are now re-redirecting, you will be carrying what has shaped you from before even though you think you are letting go of them.

    The stories you have shared during this year have indeed opened new perspectives for me. I know this post today will encourage someone else I know.

    It’s been wonderful getting to know your family, friends and places previously unknown.

  2. Will miss your blog. I looked forward to starting the new week with your writing. You know my story. You have always been a role model for me. Except for releasing and detaching from my work career. I welcomed Fong sowing. Will anticipate your next redirection. Enjoy your search for a new calling.

  3. Happy Birthday DAD! I have loved our collaboration over the years and you are right, let’s redirect it! As far back as I can remember, folks would come over to the house, and you would have an amazing conversation together. Great questions being asked and even more authentic responses followed. Growing up around these conversations has been a gift and an asset to my being. Let’s interview and record conversations with friends and colleagues! Think of this as an informal podcast; “conversations with my friends…”

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