Archives for posts with tag: vocation

We just celebrated our college graduation on Saturday. I teach a course on spiritual formation and vocational discernment. I believe that vocational discernment [finding your calling] is at the heart of young adult spiritual formation, perhaps all spiritual formation. The Reformation was a time when there was not only reformation of church and doctrine but a reformation of the concept of vocation. Here’s a brief history of vocation:

It began with Eusebius [263-339 CE], Bishop of Caesarea, who said that Christ gave two ways of life: Via Contemplativa, or the contemplative life, primarily lived by priests, nuns, and monks. In Protestant terms this would be ministers and missionaries who have a “call” from God. This was a sacred calling, those who have a calling, a vocation. Those who did not have a call from God engaged in the Via Activa, the life of work: soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families. It was praised as noble and necessary, but secondary.

This created an obvious double standard. It is somewhat ironic in that the monastic movement had a reforming mission to call a secularized church back to radical discipleship, but instead it had a relaxing effect in that it called a few to radical discipleship and let everyone else off the hook.

Martin Luther corrected the Catholic distortion by saying, “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.” When he talked about vocation he liked to use the most mundane examples: “the father washing smelly diapers, the maid sweeping the floor, the brewer making good beer.” All work is God’s work.

Unfortunately, Protestantism brought its own distortion. Whereas the Catholic distortion is a spiritual dualism, the Protestant distortion is a kind of secular dualism. It reduces vocation to an alternative word for work. John Calvin sarcastically said in response to Libertines, “Let a brothel keeper ply his trade… let a thief steal boldly, for each is pursuing his vocation.” Protestant reformers agreed that judges had to sentence, soldiers had to kill, and slaves have to serve in order to fulfill their God-given, predestined calling in life. I think you can see the problems with this.

The Anabaptists questioned this because the uncritical acceptance of some occupations did not allow for any challenge of the existing social order. They believed that the existing social order was not according to God’s reign; and, that they were called to set up an alternative social order as a prophetic witness. This created tension for them in certain roles because those roles were part of an evil system, e.g. the magistrate [kill people], a merchant [horde goods from poor].

But this initially prophetic question helped to produce the “Anabaptist distortion” of withdrawal from society in later generations. They did good things, and did them ethically [some of the time], but only for their own benefit and not for the common good.

So with all these distortions in history, how can we develop a good theology of vocation today that is consistent with God’s purposes?

 

 

 

 

#5 post based on footnotes in my new book, Spirituality With Clothes On. This one expands the note on p.66 from James Fowler in his book, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian.

Today I delivered a workshop on “Spiritual Formation and Vocational Discernment.” For those who were at the workshop and actually go to my website, here’s something I did not mention—some interesting tidbits on the history of vocational distortions. It also adds to the above quote for book readers, and hopefully stands on its own for other readers who may happen upon my site.

It began with Eusebius [263-339 CE], Bishop of Caesarea, who said that Christ gave two ways of life: Via Contemplativa, or the contemplative life, primarily lived by priests, nuns, and monks. In Protestant terms this would be ministers and missionaries who have a “call” from God. This was a sacred calling, those who have a calling, a vocation. Those who did not have a call from God engaged in the Via Activa, the life of work: soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families. It was considered secular and secondary. It was praised as noble and necessary, but secondary.

This created an obvious double standard. It is somewhat ironic in that the monastic movement had a reforming mission to call a secularized church back to radical discipleship, but instead it had a relaxing effect in that it called a few to radical discipleship and let everyone else off the hook.

Martin Luther [1483-1446] corrected the Catholic distortion by saying, “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”

When he talked about vocation he liked to use the most mundane examples: “the father washing smelly diapers, the maid sweeping the floor, the brewer making good beer.” All work is God’s work.

Unfortunately, Protestantism brought its own distortion. Whereas the Catholic distortion is a spiritual dualism, the Protestant distortion is a kind of secular dualism. It reduces vocation to an alternative word for work.

John Calvin sarcastically said in response to Libertines, “Let a brothel keeper ply his trade… let a thief steal boldly, for each is pursuing his vocation.” Protestant reformers agreed that judges had to sentence, soldiers had to kill, and slaves have to serve in order to fulfill their God-given, predestined calling in life. I think you can see the problems with this.

The Anabaptists questioned this because the uncritical acceptance of some occupations did not allow for any challenge of the existing social order. They believed that the existing social order was not according to God’s reign; and, that they were called to set up an alternative social order as a prophetic witness. This created tension for them in certain roles because those roles were part of an evil system, e.g. the magistrate [kill people], a merchant [horde goods from poor].

But this initially prophetic question helped to produce the “Anabaptist distortion” of withdrawal from society in later generations. They did good things, and did them ethically [some of the time], but only for their own benefit.

So with all these distortions in history, how can we develop a good theology of vocation that is consistent with God’s purposes?

This is the background to James Fowler’s definition of vocation: “Vocation is the response a person makes with her or his total self to the calling of God for partnership in God’s purposes.”

Stand by for my next and last post on the series based on my new book where I will discuss the analogy and why you should keep your clothes on when exploring an authentic spirituality. If you are in Winnipeg, come to my Manitoba book launch at the beautiful new Marpeck Commons at CMU on Friday at 3:00 PM.

What is your vocation? My vocation is to help others discern their vocation and embrace what they do as vocation.

The idea of vocation as calling and not career is not new, but it has often been distorted by those who refer to being a pastor or missionary as a calling but being a builder or computer programmer as a career or job. None of these four are our calling, but they are all ways of living out our calling. I learned about this as a youth pastor from one of my friends who owned and operated a window and door business* and then it was first articulated for me when postmodern writings sought to erase the secular/sacred divide, but there really is a thread that runs all the way back through the Reformation, monasticism, and right back to the incarnation. I won’t trace the thread here,** but I want to share a few comments and quotes from a recent read, Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by David P. Setran and Chris A. Kiesling.

They [and I] lament that

Rather than attaching adult status to a sense of “responsibility for” dependent others, adulthood is now linked more to a “freedom from” constraining others. In some ways, this shift has acted to sever the tight correlation between adulthood and other-directed vocation.

Adulthood is not primarily about freedom from parents and authorities but about becoming a responsible person who contributes to the “common good.”

To be a responsible person is to find one’s role in the building of shalom, the rewebbing of God, humanity, and all creation in justice, harmony, fulfillment, and delight. To be a responsible person is to find one’s own role and then, funded by the grace of God, to fill this role and to delight in it.

This “role” is what vocation is.

Equating vocation with a paid occupation can overvalue this sphere, producing tendencies toward workaholism. In addition, such a perspective has the tendency to divest other activities of their meaning and importance in the life of the kingdom.

Studying nutrition, writing poems, thinking critically, serving coffee, making meals, taking a bus, looking after children, painting a picture, writing theology papers, playing soccer, participating in class discussions, recording  a song, making a video, walking to work, packing fruit… these are all important vocational activities*** that contribute to the flourishing of humanity [or the building of shalom, the common good or the life of God’s kingdom].

*This story is told in chapter 10 of my book, Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality.

**See Living Faith: Embracing God’s Calling by Keith Graber Miller, Kingdom Calling by Amy Sherman, The Call by Os Guinness.

***This list is dedicated to my daughter, daughter-in-law, and three sons.

I am a college professor with three young adult children of my own. It is not an understatement to say that I am immersed in the world of emerging adults! My previous post with a link to my sons’ creative work is perhaps an appropriate prelude to my next few posts regarding books I am reading about emerging adults and faith.

In You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith, author David Kinnaman who is the president of Barna Group, reveals survey results of 18-29 year old young people who grew up in the church, but are leaving in various ways and for various reasons. He sees three categories of “leavers”: nomads who consider themselves Christian but are rethinking  or pausing faith and are attending church sporadically, prodigals who no longer consider themselves Christian, and exiles who are critically engaging their faith and seeing a disconnect between their life in church and culture.

Why are there nomads, prodigals and exiles from faith and church? Kinnaman lists six reasons: 1) Overprotective parents and churches who are suspicious of culture and try to shelter their children from it, 2) Churches that are boring, shallow, and irrelevant, 3) A faith is taught that is anti-science and does not engage new discoveries, 4) Moral teaching that is repressive of blooming sexuality, 5) Churches that are exclusive and non-accepting of difference, 6) No room for doubts and questions about faith.

To conclude he gives some advice to parents, church and institutional leaders and to emerging adults themselves. He urges us to consider an intergenerational model of discipleship saying that the church is one of the few institutions that includes all generations. Secondly, we need to rediscover the idea of Christian calling and vocation. Thirdly, he says that imparting wisdom is more important than imparting information in the process of spiritual formation.

There was nothing particularly new or surprising for me in the results of the survey; what surprised me was that the percentage of emerging adults leaving church and faith was not higher than he reported. I do not think that countering all six of the problems that he notes guarantees anything. This sociological research also needs to be combined with developmental realities. Some emerging adults will be nomads, prodigals and exiles even when the church gives space for risk, is relevant and engaging, more open and inclusive and leaves room for questions. It may be troubling for me that my kids and my students are nomads, prodigals, and exiles but part of what I need to learn is that this stage of searching and wandering can also be part of the formation of a strong adult faith. I felt affirmed with his second piece of advice regarding the importance of Christian vocation. To “be fruitful and multiply” is to be creative and productive in artistic endeavors, science, family, construction, manufacturing, gardening, social services, ministry, and the list goes on. This is a hobby horse so I will leave it for another post.