You Need a Job, a Calling and a Passion.

Jobs Help Wanted
I don’t understand why it happens, but it does.

People ask me for career advice. All the time. Even people who make a lot more money than I do. Especially, it seems, people who make a lot more money than I do.

Which, I think, is why they are drawn to me. I am obviously not making a lot of money, yet seem to like my job and career, despite it being very hard. So several times a month, I am sitting across the table at a coffee shop, talking to someone about vocation. Their future. What they want to be when they grow up.

They tell me about their dreams of changing the world. How they don’t feel they are being useful in their current situation. How they just go through the motions, and feel like they are committing suicide on the installment plan.

Or they are still in college or grad school, and the job offers they are getting don’t look like what they envisioned when they picked this major, and they don’t want to give up their dreams.

So they read something I wrote, or I speak at their church or college or a friend recommends they call me, and we end up in that coffee shop. It turns out,  I know a little bit about deciding to change.

I listen to them. I’m good at listening. I hear their stories, their desires, their aches. I hear their frustrations and fears. I hear them give voice to the desire to change the world, while also having to pay bills and feed their families. I listen to all of that.

And then I tell them: You need to find a job, a calling and a passion. 

First, some definitions:

A job is something you do for which you get money in return. The sole purpose of a job is to pay your bills. You may derive other benefits from a job, but that just means you are lucky.

A calling is what you feel moved to do in the world. Your concern for homelessness, or inner-city children, or the urban family, or native plants or ecological restoration. A calling is, to paraphrase Buechner, the intersection of your yearning and the world’s need.

A passion, for our purposes, is something not related to the first two things that fills you, that moves you, that you can work on to replenish your emptiness and that you look forward to. Maybe it’s painting, or kayaking, or running, or stamp collecting. Whatever. It should be something you can lose yourself in that brings you happiness.

Sitting in that coffee shop, I tell them about getting a job, a calling and a passion. I tell them that their unhappiness comes from wanting to get all three of those things from the same place. That rarely happens. In fact, I argue, it probably shouldn’t happen.

I am one of the fortunate folks that, at this exact point in time, I have a job that intersects my calling. But that is very rare – both in the world and in my life. For most of the last nine years I have been doing this work, I have had at least one other job to help pay the bills.

I worked as a freelance writer. I sat at the desk overnight at a 24 hour gym. I sold hot dogs outside a gay bar and across the street from a hardcore porn video shop. I built websites. I speak to groups. All of those were jobs. The only thing I asked from them was that they provide income.

Meanwhile, I have worked tirelessly to build communities where people who were experiencing homelessness could be welcomed, loved and engaged. Places where the stranger could enter and become a friend, where people could just be, where people who were very different from each other could sit across from each other and see those differences become less important.  That is my calling. It is what I feel like I was born to do, and I am really good at it, and it is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

It also pays for crap.

When I am not doing either of those two things, I am either reading or working in my garden. Both of those things are things that replenish me, that I derive great joy from, that I look forward to. They are more than hobbies, they are passions. 

Or, to use another example, I have a friend who is an associate pastor for a huge church in the deep south, where one of her duties is to be in charge of the high school ministry. That is her job – it pays her bills. She has devoted her life to helping teenagers connect with each other, God and their communities. That is her calling – what she feels she was meant to do in the world. And she runs marathons. That is her passion – it keeps her motivated and feeling alive.

Breaking it down to those three categories has several immediate benefits.

  • It takes a lot of pressure off of you to find that perfect job. Just go make some money, yo.
  • It gives you time to flesh out your calling and to find your passion. I was 35 before I figured out what my calling even was.
  • It increases the odds you can do your calling for a lifetime. People in full-time callings burn out at super-high rates. If you burn out, the world isn’t going to get better. It needs to get better.
  • You may, like my friend above, find a job that allows you to focus on your calling. But if you don’t, it isn’t the end of the world.
  • Jobs change. Your identity probably shouldn’t be tied up in your job. Better it be tied up in your calling.
  • By accepting that your passion is a support system for your life, it makes you feel less guilty about losing yourself in it.

If you ask me to coffee because you have vocation concerns, that is what I am going to tell you. Get a job, a calling and a passion.

But you can still ask me out for coffee. Especially if you are paying for it.

Sitting for Ideas

Today I am going to share a secret with you – my superpower, if you will.  I sit for ideas.

A mentor once told me, “Hugh, lots of people in this world are going to tell you that you should work on your weaknesses. But if you do that, you just get a lot of strong weaknesses – things other people would be better at doing anyway. I think you should outsource your weaknesses, and focus on what only you can do.”

I have thought a lot about this advice over the years. And while I see the limits of it (and also remember that said mentor died of alcoholism and estranged from his family and thus, perhaps was not equally brilliant in all areas of his life) it really has served me well.

And sometimes, I have learned, you can modify a weakness so it becomes a strength. An example is meditation.

I like the idea of meditation. I like the outcomes. I even like the practice of meditation – for about 2 minutes. Then my mind goes all ballistic – the Zen practitioners call this “monkey mind” – and ideas rush in at ballistic speed.

Now, I’m not alone in this. Many people report this experience, and as I said above, there is even a term for it. But I also noticed something: Some of my best ideas happened during this time. Game changing ideas. Career changing ideas. Ideas that rocked my socks. Ideas that apparently had been floating around in my head and co-mingling with ideas like, “We should eat dessert first” and “I need some new socks”and ‘It’s time to weed the flower bed.” Until one day, I sat still, closed my eyes and created space, and the idea finally saw a wedge of space and showed up.


So I asked myself, “What would happen if I was actually intentional about sitting still, closing my eyes and waiting – would the ideas still show up?”.

Yes. Yes, they did. Later I would read that Thomas Edison did something very similar. He would spend an hour a day, alone, in solitude, without distraction or noise, waiting for ideas to come. He said, “Ideas come from space. This may seem astonishing and impossible to believe, but it’s true. Ideas come from out of space.”

Here is how I do it.

  • Set aside 10 minutes or so. Longer is better, but even 10 minutes has value.
  • Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Sometimes, I put in my earbuds and use a white noise app, because the inner-city can be noisy.
  • Assume a position of comfort, but not total relaxation. I usually sit upright in a kitchen chair, feet flat on the floor.
  • Have a paper notebook and pencil beside you (in order to capture the ideas).
  • Pretend to meditate.  – I’m sorta kidding here. But seriously though. Close your eyes. Notice your breath. Relax. Your mind will begin to drift. But instead of calling it back, like you would with meditative practices, you let it roam.
  • Enjoy the ride.

Your brain will go everywhere. Things will pop in your head you haven’t thought about for years. People you haven’t seen. For me, anyway, it feels like body surfing in a sea of thought, flitting from idea to idea, never fully landing, just surfing.

Until it hits you. The connection you make you wouldn’t have made before. The solution to that problem you had last week at work. The idea that could revolutionize your industry. It will hit you like a ton of bricks. And when it does, pay attention. Look at it from all angles. Notice the colors, how it feels – and then, quietly, calmly, open your eyes and write it down. And keep writing until you have the idea down. And now, it’s yours.

Now you just have to do something with it. But that is another blog post, for another day.


Spiritual Molestation In Chick-fil-A

A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the Love Wins blog.  – HH

Maybe you have seen the story. It goes like this:

Photo: JoeynKaren Mustain/Facebook

Photo: JoeynKaren Mustain/Facebook

Joey and his daughter were in Chick-fil-A in Murfreesboro, TN. A man who appeared to be homeless came in the restaurant and asked if he could have any extra food. The store manager said he would give the man a full meal if he would allow the manger to pray over him. Joey said he was so glad his daughter witnessed this, as “I love teaching my daughter life lessons, and I also love being there to watch other Christians teach her life lessons.”

The original Facebook post is here, and a news summary (with pictures) is here.

Let’s break the story down into its component parts.

  • A man asks for food because he is hungry.
  • The manager of the store has the power to give him food, but says he will only do it if the man lets him pray for him.
  • In the middle of the store, the manager puts his arm around the hungry man and prays for him.
  • Joey takes a picture of this and puts it on Facebook
  • Joey is so happy his daughter watched this, so she can learn what Christianity looks like.

As of this writing, the story has been shared more than 121,000 times. It was picked up by several newspapers. The hundreds of comments on the original post say how powerful and beautiful this story is.

It is none of that. It is abusive. It is wrong. It is spiritual molestation. And speaking as a Christian minister, it undermines and contradicts the entirety of the message and teachings of Jesus. This is not what Christianity looks like.

This is a story of power and control.

One man needed food. He needed it badly enough to risk censure, to risk embarrassment, to risk being thrown out of the restaurant. He knew he was dirty, knew he didn’t fit in, but risked ridicule anyway because he was hungry.

The store’s manager hears the man’s request and offers the man food on the condition that the man let the manager pray over him.

That sounds not so bad, really, until you realize what the manager is really saying: I will help you, hungry person, if you will do what I want you to do. I will help you if you will put yourself in my power.

Imagine if my employee came to me and said, “My kid got sick, and I need to buy her some medicine. Can you advance me $250 against my next check?” and I said, “Sure thing, as long as you will go out with me.” We call that sexual harassment. If I demanded she sleep with me in order to get the money, we would call that rape.

It’s exactly the same scenario. She asks for help, and it is in my power to help her, but I will only do it if she does what I want her to do. It is not “giving.”

It is blackmail and coercion.

That the hungry man benefited from it is not the point, nor does it matter if he was grateful for the food. My employee would likely be thankful for the ability to pay for her daughter’s medication, regardless of what she had to endure to get the money.

In this story, the manager has all of the power. The hungry man has no power. The manager is “giving” nothing away here – he is trading it.

Imagine your wife breaks down in a parking lot and has no options for getting home. I offer to give her a ride, but only if she will accompany me to a bar for a drink first. Then my buddy takes a picture of us and posts it to Facebook, telling everyone to check out the hot chick I am at the bar with.

That is exactly the same scenario.

The hungry man is only a prop in this story.

The man in the story is identified only by his circumstances. It is assumed he is homeless, but as the story is told, we don’t hear that from him. He is only identified by his lack. And it really doesn’t matter who he is, the way the story is told. We only know this man by his poverty and his filth. Any poor, dirty man would work just as well in this story.

In other words, he is replaceable. He is not seen as a human, made in the image of God, but as a prop. He is an extra in a story about the manager and Chic-fil-A and exists to provide a lesson for the daughter of a housed man.

This is spiritual abuse.

The Gospel of John tells us that before Jesus came, God loved the world. God loves the world – in its mess, in its rebellion, and in its chaos. In other words, God loves the world exactly as it is. This is a given to the writer of John’s Gospel.

There are no preconditions to the Love of God. No prayer is needed, no act of supplication, no demands for public piety. As it is right now, in all its mess, God loves the world.

To demand that someone do something that makes you happy before you will give them food is not to show the love of God, nor is it loving like God does. It abuses people in the name of God and bears witness to the idea that God is abusive and power-hungry to someone who has good reason to doubt God’s love in the first place. It is, instead, to work against the love of God and the message of Jesus. It is anti-gospel and, in fact, anti-Christ.

I don’t know any of these people. I don’t know their hearts, and I doubt the manager was a bad man, bent on bending this hungry man to his will. In fact, the manager was probably just repeating what he had seen someone else do, and when he saw it, he was told it was a good thing.

Which is why when we see spiritual abuse, we have to call it out.

Joey shared this story because he wanted his daughter to know what Christianity looks like. I want that for Joey’s daughter, too.

But this ain’t it.

Related Content: On Power And Control, Helping Is Not About You


Plod On


A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the Love Wins blog.  – HH

It was January of 2008. I had been doing this work for about five months or so, and I was already burnt out. I had no money. None. I was surrounded and overwhelmed by the immense amount of need I was confronted with daily. There was nothing I could do to fix any of it.

Most days, my response was to weep.

I was sinking, and fast. I had only been in Raleigh a short time and had no real network of friends or relationships. There was no one I could talk to about my work or my despair – at least, no one who had also experienced it.

There were several people whose writing had inspired me to do this work, so I figured that maybe, just maybe, they knew what I was feeling. I wrote a couple of emails, asking for help. Only one of them replied.

But his email saved my life, or at the very least, made the life I have now possible.

From his email:

“I hope you are able to pace yourself and develop enough of an outside life to sustain you over a long ministry in one place. The real fruit of this stuff doesn’t start to appear for years, and too often people burn themselves out early trying to prove how committed they are. Take days off. Keep your own living area sane and comfortable. Establish boundaries. Read good books about stuff other than the inner city. Exercise.  Eat as healthy as you can. Remember, the people you are working with mostly don’t change that much, so ministering to them isn’t about ‘getting things done’ but rather accompanying people on their hard journeys, and that is an endurance sport that favors the plodder.

So plod on.”

The writer was Bart Campolo, a former inner-city youth minister with a famous dad and no illusions about the difficulty of this work. And he is one of the people most responsible for my ability to continue this work.

Because his response meant so much to me, I tear up a bit when I get similar emails now from fellow pot-stirrers and justice workers. They read something I wrote once that makes them think I would understand, so they write me. The emails that say, “I am doing similar work to you, but I am struggling because no one understands the work I am doing, and no one is changing.”

Because Bart’s email meant so much to me, I almost always respond to those emails when I receive them. And like Bart’s email to me, my advice is seldom what they are looking for, but most often what they need.

I ask questions like, “Who is your team? Who are you talking about this stuff with? What do you do to enjoy yourself? Do you want to do this in 10 years? When was the last time you saw the sunset? Who does this with you? What books are you reading that have nothing to do with this work?

They want me to tell them the magic words to fix the relationships they have with people who are desperately poor, or to show them the strategy that will make bitter, jaded people have hope, or the way to get their church to embrace people who live outside. Instead, I want to tell them how to live.

Because if you want to do this work long term, you have to learn how to live. You need to immerse yourself in beautiful things. You need to learn boundaries. You need to have friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with your work, and you need friends who do the work with you.

Most importantly, you have to realize that loving people is a team sport, and that whatever positive outcome you will see as a result of that loving takes years to measure. It is, like Bart said, an endurance sport best suited to the plodder.

So plod on.

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Nine Years of Love Wins. It’s Still Worth It.


A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the Love Wins blog.  – HH

Yesterday, it hit me: here at Love Wins, we are now in our 9th year. I just wrote our 9th end-of- the-year letter. We are approaching our 9th winter.

Nine years is a long time. It is the longest I have done anything, in fact.

And in nine years, a lot of things have changed. And some things haven’t. Several people have said I should write a bit about the early days – back before we had a hospitality house and Love Wins was just Hugh and some volunteers.

What you have to understand is that when I started this work, I had zero qualifications to do any of it. I studied English in college, and my longest held job had been as a salesman of one sort or another. What I did have was a deep seated belief that community and human connection hold the solutions to the world’s deepest problems.

Luckily, that was enough.

I pretty much starved those first few years, so I did creative things to keep food on my table while I waited for the rest of the world to see the value in what I was doing. I did some freelance writing of the cheapest sort (for example, I once wrote fifty pages of PG-13 web content about nude beaches in the US, despite never having been to a nude beach anywhere). I sold hot dogs on the sidewalk in front of a leather bar and across the street from a hardcore porn video shop. I worked the overnight shift at a 24-hour gym, where my job was to hand people towels and say, “Have a good workout!” in a cheerful voice.

In the beginning, I was dating Renee (who I later married) and again, I didn’t have any money. I remember dates where we would go to the grocery store, sitting at the tables on the sidewalk and split a sub sandwich from the grocery deli and a diet coke.

I couldn’t afford a car, but luckily a local church bought me a red motor scooter. I rode the 2319867625_fec9ca2bdc_oheck out of it until October of 2010, when I had a wreck and broke my collarbone. My little scooter was known everywhere; I still have people who live on the streets who ask me about it.

About that scooter – one morning I parked it on the sidewalk by a small park downtown, where I left it because I had some errands to do. I’d been to court that morning with someone, so I was gone until after lunch. When I got back, there were three folks I knew that lived outside standing around it, and they started giving me a hard time. It turns out I had left my keys in the ignition, so they stood there for more than four hours to guard my scooter so no one would take it.

In the very beginning, I just went to the park and hung out. My goal was one conversation a day. I would eat lunch at the soup kitchen, where I would often see someone I had had one of those conversations with, and we would talk some more.

I briefly (maybe six weeks?) volunteered with an outreach group from a super evangelical church, where we served a meal in the park each Saturday. There was a praise band, a “gospel” message and lots of praying. It was hugely manipulative, and myself and some others quickly left. However, it did shape the direction of Love Wins because for years, if I was unsure of how to do something, I would ask myself what that church would have done, and I did the opposite.

So, we started sharing food on the weekend (sharing, not “feeding”). We refused to have prayers before the meals, refused to preach, refused to allow “gospel tracts” in the hygiene bags we gave away. Jesus didn’t place preconditions around who he ate with, so neither did we. We just wanted to create a space where you could be yourself, where you could be welcomed, and where you could feel loved. We were pretty sure a praise band, prayers before the meal, and street preaching about the dangers of hellfire did none of that.

Eventually, that became the sharing of biscuits on Saturday and Sundays, which directly led to #biscuitgate and the founding of the Oak City Outreach Center. But that would be years in the future.

I eventually got invited to speak to some churches, and some of them liked it, and some of them didn’t. Most of the churches that supported us in the early days were very evangelical. That was mainly because of the decision making structure in those churches – if the pastor liked you, you were in the budget. I was good at making the pastor like me.

It was around 2010 when that dynamic began to crack. We had always been welcoming of everyone. As I said a lot in those days, Jesus didn’t discriminate, and so neither did we. We had learned that if you were LGBT, you had a much higher chance of becoming homeless. We learned that the main reason for that was the religious objections to LGBT people. We learned that some of our friends were homeless because they had been kicked out of their homes by their parents when they came out.

So we became bold and unapologetic about our welcome and affirmation of sexual minorities.  And some of our churches objected. In 2010, we lost about a third of our income when a bunch of churches dropped supporting us over our affirming stance. We lost some of our most hardcore volunteers that year, over the same issue.

It was really hard to lose people – and not just because of the money. I lost friends that year. I was put on what amounted to a heresy trial by a church that supported us – and found guilty. I was dis-invited to local churches.

And that year I held a gay man who cried in my arms and told me that the love he felt from us made him believe God did not hate him, despite what his family had told him. This belief had kept him from killing himself. His name was Allen, and I often thought of Allen when I had to defend myself that year.

In retrospect, 2010 was a turning point for us. It was the year of losing. It was the year we defined ourselves. We declared our identity. We shared what our folks on the street face. We understood that you may decide you do not care, but you cannot say you did not know.

Two things happened in 2011 that changed us forever. The first was a random donation in the mail for $1500. At the time, it was the largest check we had ever received.  I wrote the donor, thanking him profusely. That led to a lunch, where, long story short, he agreed to underwrite my salary for the next ten years. I cried in the restaurant, I cried on the phone with my wife, I cried that night when I wrote the email to my board. I sorta want to cry now, to tell you the truth.

After four years of straight up poverty, I would make a living wage (on the low end of living wage, but still) doing this work, and was guaranteed of that for at least the next ten years. I really can’t explain how much that changed my life.

The other thing that changed was in the fall, a local church called and asked if we could find a use for a building they owned. They wanted to give it to us, rent free, for three years. I cried again. After the previous year I’d spent feeling I was fighting the church, to have a church open their doors to us felt healing.

That place became our first hospitality house, when we finally opened the doors in 2012. And nothing has been the same since.

Nine years is a long time. We have lost friends, lost churches, lost volunteers and lost community members. I have performed nine funerals, and attended dozens. Seven different times, I have held mothers as the state took their children away from them.

But Lord, what we have gained. A worldwide following, with donors on three continents. A community of folks who have hope, who have a place to be, who have an outlet for the love they have. Taking on the city and making it be more compassionate to its most vulnerable citizens. Shaping the conversation around policies regarding homelessness here in Raleigh from one of antagonism to one of welcome and relationship. Eight weddings. A dozen baptisms. Countless newborn babies held and snuggled with.  Employees who left to go change the world with their own ministries. I get emails from different communities around the country that claim us as a primary influence in founding their own.

Nine years in, it’s still a struggle. It is still tough raising money. It’s still painful watching people you love suffer. It’s still frustrating that I have to make a case for my community to even exist.

It’s still hard. But it’s also still worth it.

This Is Not the Blog Post You Are Looking For


A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the Love Wins blog.  – HH

Writing these weekly blog posts was my idea. Sort of a weekly update from Hugh. I could use this space to let people know about needs; I could tell stories from my community; I could inform and educate with this space. The possibilities felt endless!

The reality is, this has been a hell of a year, and I am exhausted. We moved locations, had a 100 percent turnover in our staff (other than me), brought on interns that didn’t work out, had to train – from scratch – three brand new people in the ways of an organization that had nine years of history. Oh yeah, and I was out of commission for a month because my wife had a heart transplant, and the organization I spent nine years building was run for a month by two people with less than six months experience. They did an amazing job, but turning it over to them was stressful as hell.

I don’t say all that to make you feel sorry for me, but it is a way of claiming space…my way of apologizing for not having a great story for you today. The truth is, I have been fighting a migraine all week (the combination of a year of stress and the low pressure system are doing me in) and really want to be lying in bed, in a dark quiet room, with a blanket over my head.

So instead of my typical story, I want to share some highlights of the last few weeks with you – sort of like my version of the news from Lake Wobegon, where the men are strong, the women good looking, and the children are above average.

  • My parents were in town last week for Thanksgiving. Mom is on the women’s auxiliary for the volunteer fire department back home, so she buys all the hoodies they have for sale at their annual rummage sale and brings them for my community.
  • Mike and Steve, two vets who have been struggling to find housing for over a year, finally figured out the system – the right order for calls, office visits, and forms – and moved into their own place a few weeks ago.
  • Jerry, who is also a vet and on the streets, heard about this, and he and Mike and Steve talked for a couple of hours, with Jerry taking notes furiously. We were told yesterday that Jerry is getting a place the middle of the month.
  • Thanks to a partnership with Walgreens, we were able to offer our folks free flu shots. Some of them were afraid they were going to get sick from the flu shot, so I was the first in line to get mine. The flu ran through our community last year. I don’t want to see that happen again.
  • Charlie got a job – yay! Charlie was sent home his first day because he didn’t have any steel-toed work boots – boo! I asked on Facebook and several friends gave some money for us to buy more boots, and our supporter Katy dropped off a brand new pair, just Charlie’s size. Yay! So much of our life here is like that – a series of yays and boos, never knowing where you will end.
  • One of our folks attempted suicide because of depression around the holidays.
  • Stephanie asked me to perform her wedding. We spent several hours planning it, and it will happen after the new year.
  • Another of our folks found out his daughter, who lives in another state, is dying of cancer.

And that is the news from Love Wins Ministries. We are tired. We are weary. We are optimistic and endlessly hopeful.

Next week, we will resume regular programming, and I will tell you just one story from my community here. But for today, just know that we need your prayers and your thoughts and your help and yes, your money, to keep going.

Thanks for helping us with that.

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