When your calling resembles a drunk tattoo more than it does a ‘call’

by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

My uncle is a pastor — a Protestant of sorts, on my dad’s side. I was enamored with him when I was a kid. He’d sometimes stay with us when he was in town. He played a mean guitar and sang with so much soul that I felt those fuzzies down my spine when he hit his choruses.

He wasn’t an in-your-face Christian. He was what he was and he didn’t get off on going around converting everyone in sight. Which I liked, even before I understood why.

I remember asking him how he came around to doing what he did, vocationally. He told me that he had a calling and answered it.

Hmm... Simple enough, I thought…

I didn’t get it, but throughout my young life, I kept hearing it, especially in the clerical context.

As a Catholic (my mom won that argument, it seems), I once to ask my mom why anyone would want to become a priest.

God called them to it, she told me, which elicited visions of a dude hanging out at home minding his own business and God (who I understood at the time to be a grumpy old cigar-munching man in the sky) calling him up and letting him know that he’d been drafted for service. I saw God notifying him that he wouldn’t be making very much money or having any more intercourse for the rest of his life.

Awesome?…

As I grew older, I still saw a lot of rhetoric about ‘calling’ even outside of the clerical vocations. In my professional creative field, I’d read books and blog posts of those who’d merely ‘answered their calling’ to do what they do as a writer, designer, developer, etc. It was a sort of secular call, but a call nonetheless.

I never got a call like this. Not about my j-o-b as a copywriter or about my path to ministry (this latter part of my life is the one I’ll be referring to in this post).

Although I’ve never received a ‘call’, it does seem that something outside of my own individual agency is making an indelible mark on my life.

For me, my ‘calling’ has been more like waking up with an unexpected gigantic tattoo on my back than an informative phone call from above.

No warning. No remembrance or understanding of where it came from. All I know is that it’s there, and I can’t undo it or get away from it. And then I start to think… How long has it been there?

Which takes me back to when I was probably six or seven. My mom took my black turtleneck and stitched a little white square to the front-middle of it to resemble a clerical collar. I’d don a huge crucifix around my neck and would walk around with a medallion that she gave me that was used (at least, she told me) for exorcisms.

Yes, my first-ever career interest was as an exorcist.

I’d exorcise everyone and everything I could. I’d perform exorcisms on the dog, the goat, the chickens, and of course, my family and anyone else who happened over when I was in character.

I loved religion even if I didn’t understand it. I loved my rosary and my cards. I always slept with this necklace that my mom fashioned out of a cloth symbol and yarn that would supposedly protect me against demons. I wasn’t scared or frightened about evil spirits, necessarily. It’s not like my parents threatened me with a narrative of dark forces lurking in the shadows. On a scale of 1 to 10, when it came to their focus on religion in my upbringing, they were at a 3 — maybe 4, at most.

No, it wasn’t them. I got a kick out of this stuff.

My first memory of questioning my Catholic faith was when my American Evangelical uncle came over and was like, why are you wearing that sh*t to bed? You really think it’s going to protect you? No, kid! You gotta get saved!

I was embarrassed. I felt naive. Slowly, the medallions and beads and cards started making their way into my bedroom drawers and my night time prayers were eventually replaced by… silence.

Fast-forward a couple decades — long before I started writing spiritual things on the internets or even considered ministerial school — I was approached by my cousin and her fiancée to officiate their wedding, which I gladly did. As much as my knees were shaking the whole time, I felt strangely in the right place.

And now, as I’m recognizing this vocational (or is it avocational?) tattoo of sorts, I now see that it’s been there for a very long time. I just haven’t seen it until recently.

I mean, not to knock on the tattoo. It’s a nice tattoo. But I often ask — is it really… me?

I’d never consciously get one like it. All it’s doing is costing me money at this point. I have no paid career aspirations in the ministerial field, currently. I’m even getting ready to drop a healthy amount of well-earned funds towards studying mystical Franciscan Catholicism (?!) and I sure as hell am not planning to become a priest. I much like intercourse with my wife and all the trappings of a life that a priest can’t partake in (yet — c’mon Pope Francis!).

People who take their proverbial shirt off and openly flaunt tattoos like mine seem so different than me. I have a hard time believing they doubt as much as I do. They’re not as sarcastic or cynical as I am. They’re not contradictory. They’re much more pleasant to be around. They don’t say the wrong things when people need to hear the ‘right things’…

Right?…

Besides, I swear, I don’t really want to write about religion or spiritual things. At least, the part of me that wants to be liked and accepted by everyone doesn’t want to. Even writing this now is downright terrifying.

There are so many more glamorous and lucrative things that I can be giving my gift of the written word to. I see so many artists who do such amazing things in the secular world that would be waaaaay cooler, less egoicly threatening, and far more socially acceptable (and profitable) than writing about God and Jesus and spirit and grace and whatnot. Why can’t I just stick with what makes commercial sense and be happy with it?

But no matter how much I try to fully secularize my art, I just… can’t. I’m constantly pulled back to this stuff.

No matter how far away from it I try to walk from it — no matter how bad of a fit I think I am for it — that tattoo follows me.

When people ask what I’m up to in life, I’ve tried so hard — after telling them about my day job as a copywriter (which I love, btw) — not to say that I write about spirituality and am going to divinity school. But when I leave it out, I feel… incomplete.

The tattoo is there. My calling, right there on my back. God — or whatever you call my wisecracking roommate — sure did a good number on me, it seems.

And I wasn’t even drunk…
Or was I?

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