My name is John R. Gork (“J.R.” is my nickname) and I have a soul-centric vision of service. I graduated from East Grand Rapids high school in Michigan and Wittenberg University with a degree in Art and Business. After some reflection, I decided against pursuing a career in Art and instead pursued a more practical career. I have worked in the financial services industry for 34 years. I am married to Martha and we have two children; each from our respective previous marriage. Our meeting is a great story for another day.
Early Life: God was in the shadows
I was born in 1961 and I am the 3rd child out of 6. I was raised in a Christian home; I am a cradle Episcopalian. We attended church weekly. However, the relatively affluent community where I was raised inadvertently marginalized the idea of having faith in God and letting Him direct your journey. Instead, it was more of an egocentric environment, where self-reliance was how you made it in life; pursuit of wealth is what would assure your future financial security, peace, and happiness. In my heart of hearts, this didn’t work for me. While I enjoyed the nice things and privileges, I sensed the emptiness of it. I craved a more soul-centric vision and environment. However, I found a peaceful place at my grandmother’s house. Her faith was strong and that made her a joy to be around. She taught me to play cribbage and this became a weekly routine. Our meaningful and faith-rooted conversations were very impactful and instructional to me. A seed had been planted.
A second place where I found a real sense of peace was walking the dogs with my dad. I can’t say when this started, I can only say that it evolved into a nightly ritual that we both came to view as sacred. It was a time when any subject was fair game. For my Dad, it was often a reflection on some economic analysis or insightful reflection on a topic of the day. For me, I was seeking some relief from the struggles of growing up with four demanding sisters and an aloof younger brother; generally just surviving the struggles of adolescence. But it was also a time of philosophical reflection and a safe place to dream. My dad was relatively patient in these conversations, even though many of my topics were reoccurring themes. Nonetheless, I came to know well how my dad thought and how he approached problems. Little did I know that our nightly walks, full of spirited conversations, would prove to be invaluable; not only to me but to my siblings as well. My relationship with my dad was unique and very special.
I learned differently than most. As such, I struggled in school. Growing up in an environment where academic excellence was idolized, this was a source of anxiety. Thus, I would need to discover another way. Art was one area where I could feel successful. My drawing ability was discovered during elementary school. But, unfortunately, while art was an area that I excelled, felt successful, and at peace, it really didn’t generate a lasting impact. How do you make a living as an artist?
Younglife was introduced to me my Sophomore year of high school. It was a very impactful experience. I remember the counselor at Saranac Lake, a Younglife Camp in upstate New York, sharing the importance of reading the Bible and developing a regular prayer time. I heard that it is important to grow in my relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This idea resonated. The Trinity was the source of my strength and holding me together; I just didn’t realize it at the time.
Wittenberg University was a fresh start for me. I knew I had to succeed academically and would need to find a group to connect with. I was on a quest for a place of excellence, Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fit the mold. College was an important part of my life. Many lessons were learned. There were many great friends and times of fellowship. Mostly good, but many humbling experiences too. But, unfortunately, it was not an environment that cultivated much growth in my faith in God and a soul-centric vision. That was yet to come.
In 1982, looking for something interesting to draw, I focused my attention on Fiji house. The drawing that I completed caught the attention of the chapter president and the drawing became the center of the 100th anniversary of Sigma Chapter in 1984. This resulted in prints being made of the fraternity, mugs, t-shirts…the drawing really struck a chord. Upon graduation, I gave the remaining prints to the fraternity with the idea that they would give them to the graduates upon graduation. 34 years later and three re-printings, that is still happening to this day. This experience is more evidence that my artistic talent should be further developed and be a more central part of my life. A soul-centric vision of how God works for me, in me, and through me.
Graduation from college was a time of obvious celebration, but it was also a time of inner anxiety. The education was complete, but now what? Should I go into art or business? So, I decided that I would plan a trip to see my uncle Bill Logan who was an artist and who had an art studio in New York City. I figured that Uncle Bill could offer some insight. It was a wonderful trip. A very memorable experience visiting their home in Wilton, Connecticut. Then we commuted to New York City the next day and had an adventurous midnight walk through Time Square as well. When it finally came time to review my artwork, Uncle Bill admitted that I was good enough to pursue a career in art. But, he would not suggest that I do that. Instead, he believed that I would be better served using my business degree to find a career that offered a wage that I could use to raise a family. He said that at some point in the future, when the kids are grown, then turn back to the art and pursue it with passion. So, this is the idea that I have pursued for 34 years. Now the creative desire continues to grow. How do I make the transition from the business world into the creative world? Uncle Bill, unfortunately, died several years ago. My sense is that this is more of a spiritual question than a career transition question. An answer found in prayer, Bible study, fellowship and simple faith in God.
Circuitous Journey to Faith
In the late 1980’s, I started attending Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Cincinnati. I was intrigued by the sermons of the Rector and scheduled a meeting with him. I had been struggling with the desire to truly serve people and not just sell products to those who could most afford them. We engaged in a very introspective conversation that resulted in him sharing with me that he believed that I had a genuine call to ministry. I was flattered by this and yet very fearful. What would this mean for my future financial security? As much as I struggled with the egocentric environment that I was stuck in, transitioning to a soul-centric vision for life was very much unchartered territory for me. I simply didn’t have the courage to make such a significant change. But, fundamental questions continued to loom; what is my real purpose in this life? How do I incorporate my creativity into the center of my life?
September 1st, 1989, the date of my dad’s sudden death at age 62, is the defining moment in my life. This was the day that I knew that I needed God at the center of my life. In a mere moment, I was transported from a budding young person, soul-searching in a very secular business culture of trailblazing and surviving. The mission now was much less self-centered; the focus was now helping my mother and siblings navigate through an emotionally turbulent and disruptive time.
The void left following my dad’s death was huge. It was going to take years for us to work through the grief; not having the opportunity to thank dad for all the blessings and continue to get much-needed advice was tough. But, the reality was that my dad was dead, and I was on my own. A week after his death, I needed to get back to work. I reached out to the pastor at the church for help. He understood what I was going through. He said a prayer and then shared a story:
“Imagine a rose bush and a gardener who is charged with caring for it. This plant has a beautiful rose in full bloom and many buds and various stages of blooming. As you know, a rose plant puts all its energy into the fully bloomed rose. Thus, the prudent gardener must carefully clip this beautiful rose and with pride display it in a special vase for all to admire its beauty. Now, the plant is shocked by this, but over time it adapts and redirects its energy on helping the emerging buds. That rose was your dad; God is the gardener; the buds are you and the rest of your family. I know that the gardener could use some help caring for this rose bush. Do you think that you could help?”
That story resonated; my conversations with my grandmother were resonating. I accepted the challenge that day to serve God by serving my family. Over the years, this call has extended to my work and community. The call to help people blossom continues to guide me to this day.
Soul-centric Vision for the Future
My vision is to combine my creative/ artistic side with my business/ practical side to help people live more purposefully, leading less egocentric and more soul-centric lives. To help, I have created a Blog: www.soul-centric.com where I intend to share weekly reflections on this journey. I also have begun taking classes here at Christian Leaders Institute. God continues to open doors and lead me every day.
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