Cenacle Retreat Center in Lincoln Park, Chicago!

During May 18-21, 2013, I was nominated to attend a conference in Chicago called “VEV: Volunteers Exploring Vocation” which is sponsored by the Fund for Theological  Education (FTE). There were about 50 young adults from across the country gathered to reflect, dialogue and discern about vocation, life and everything in between. The folks from Denver arrived early so we had some time to explore the city! The last time I was in Chicago, there was about 2 feet of snow, so to be walking around in shorts on a blue sky, sunny day… I was quite convinced the plane had landed us somewhere other than Chicago. Some great friends of mine were also in town so I decided to check and see how far away they were (since I knew Chicago was a pretty large city.) Turns out they were literally 4 blocks away and within minutes I was reconnecting with some of the most amazing people on planet earth…and their new son, Max! Afterwards, Antonio and I took a stroll along the lake and watched people play beach volleyball and roller blade…where are we again? Then I went for another walk (we had a good bit of time) with Ruben (aka James Potts) through the Lincoln Park Zoo which was also just a block or so away from where we were staying. And no, I didn’t share my peanuts with the bear… we just happened to be having the same lunch that day… Then we returned to the retreat center to have the actual conference begin!

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That afternoon, we were gathered to hear Jim Ellison, Director of the VEV Program, share a few words about vocation and welcome us to a series of speakers, dialogues and reflections that would soon significantly impact our “plans” and perspectives. It was amazing. I don’t have too many pictures of these sessions since I was frantically jotting notes and ideas but here are some other shots taken from the weekend. I particularly enjoyed the moments of worship, prayer and reflection. It was energizing being surrounded by so many like-minded and like-hearted individuals passionate about service and ministry and life!

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Another incredible aspect about this conference was the quality in speakers. They were local advocates IN Chicago walking the walk and talking the talk. Sure we had differences of opinion but I really enjoyed hearing their enthusiasm and their openness for discussion and answering questions. We also went and attended worship services at various sites across the city. I attended Nueva Vida or New Life which was doing AMAZING work with establishing relationships of peace and  compassion in the gang communities. Their church is actually located just off of one of the gang borders and  changed their philosophy from trying to “save” their neighbors to loving and living alongside them and showing them the true beauty of Christ’s message of peace. I was blown away. Wow. The takeaway message that I seemed to get from every speaker and dialogue was the significance to remain genuine and authentic and intentional in everything you do!

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Now between (and sometimes during) the serious conversations, there were moments of bonding and fun as well! Of course we had to get out and try some of that Chicago style pizza. And what better way to wrap up a conference than a game night! We even had an opportunity to do midnight yoga in the rain and return to some more games until the early hours of our final day!

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Then we said our farewells and departed to our respective cities. I always love the instant bonding that happens at these types of conferences and retreats when you gather with people who are passionate about the world and standing in solidarity with people who suffer its injustices. The funniest thing about the conference is that, aside from Jim’s opening speech, we talked very little about “vocation” and yet that was all we talked about. There were no sessions about practical, specific plans for what to do after the conference much less after our year of service. But the weekend reminded me that vocation isn’t necessarily just your job. It’s your hobbies. It’s your passions. It’s your life.

So in that, we talked about vocation all day long. And we gathered socially at night or ate Chicago pizza or worshiped in various community churches across the city, we were living out our “vocation.” My community here in Denver is currently reading an excellent book called “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor (go buy it right now…) and Chapter 7 talks some about “purpose” and, respectively, vocation. I love how she refers to vocation not in “what” we do but “how” we do the work we have. She even points out that Martin Luther said that, “our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor.” That sounds like something that should be done in our life even outside of the 9-5 world. It’s even possible that our vocation isn’t our job and actually what we do outside of work for free! Crazy!  “The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high.” -BBT

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So get out there in the world, live your life, love God and your neighbor and…

“Be not simply good; be good for something.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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Thanks to FTE for yet again another incredible conference immensely formative for my life and faith…

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