The title of today’s post is taken from the title of John Neafsey’s new book, Act Justly, Love Tenderly: Lifelong Lessons in Conscience and Calling. (Orbis, 2016) Neafsey focuses on “how we respond to God’s calling to become just and loving persons, at home and at work, for the sake of our communities, in an ever-expanding network of connection and solidarity with people both far and near.” (Preface) The book presents a lifespan perspective on vocation (calling) as it is experienced in different ways over the course of our lives.
Neafsey’s previous book, A Sacred Voice Is Calling (Orbis 2006), was paticularly geared toward questions and issues relevant to vocational discernment for young adults. His current book is not a sequel, although he develops many of the themes first presented in A Sacred Voice.
John Neafsey is a clinical psychologist who writes about personal conscience and social justice. He writes clearly and without jargon – whether theology or psychology. He cites many of the people that I have been reading (Gustavo Gutierrez, Albert Nolan, Daniel Berrigan, Kathleen A. Cahalan, Edward Hahnenberg, Sharon Daloz Parks, Gregory Boyle, Elizabeth Johnson, and others) without presuming that the reader knows who they are. It’s always great fun for me when I recognize authors in a Suggested Reading List!
You may recognize the title, Act Justly, Love Tenderly, from the Book of Micah:
This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, Jerusalem Bible translation) The four chapters of the book are organized around Micah’s words.
Neafsey fills his book with stories of people who have responded to the prophet’s call to bear witness to a life of justice, love, and humility. In addition to his own personal story, he recounts stories of Bryan Stevenson, founder of The Equal Justice Initiative, based in Alabama; James Foley, the journalist beheaded by ISIS in 2014; Kathy Kelly, a peace activist from Chicago; Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz in 1943, among others.
Throughout the book, Neafsey emphasizes that our calling is not only about what we do; it is about who we are and how we are. Vocation has to do with the kind of person we are called to become. “Regardless of circumstances, everyone has a capacity to sense a calling. Callings come to people as they are, wherever they are, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.” (p. 30)
You may already be in the second half of life, or like me in the final third, but it is not too late to sense a calling to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly. According to Neafsey, “most of us are not called upon to engage in prophetic public heroism or to endure the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom for a just cause. But all of us are called to ordinary courage and personal generosity, which require the day-to-day inner sacrifice of egocentric concerns – a kind of daily dying to self in the interest of steadfast love for others over the long haul.” (Epilogue)
I highly recommend this book.