Monday, December 18, 2006


Regular readers of this blog (and maybe even some of you who are irregular) may recall that I have an ongoing struggle with the idea of vocation. I can't help feeling that the traditional Lutheran teaching on vocation is too easily co-opted to support the status quo. As frequently expressed, it seems to come down to "whatever job you happen to be doing, that's your vocation." Yes, a baker helps answer our prayer for daily bread, but what about someone in a marketing position whose job is simply to convince people to buy company A's product instead of that of company B? How does that figure in the Kingdom of God?

Last night I got some help in this area from Brian Taylor's book Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict. Taylor uses the example of an artist who works as a waiter to pay the bills.
When asked what they do, one may find the reply: "I wait on tables for a living, but my 'work' [vocation] is painting." Vocation is a matter of our identity in God. It is who we are called to be in Christ. It is the activity through which God is made manifest. We are all created in the image of God, and each of us presents one facet of God's infinity. ... If one has a sense of personal vocation, then why not join the painter as a waiter in order to make ends meet?
The reason that I always struggle with vocation is that I can never see how my job contributes anything to either the Kingdom of God or to human society, and I don't feel "called" to it in any way. On the other hand, there are things to which I have a very strong sense of calling. So why not join the painter as a waiter (or software engineer, as the case may be)?


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

One of the other Lutheran blogs discussed vocation lately too, but I have too many blogs on my list to remember which one.

I like that quote because I think it is true for many people. But there is also vocation in taking care of family, even cleaning toilets, for example.

I think that vocation can change as the seasons of our lives change. And I think it is good to reasses our vocation from time to time. If there is an un-ease about our job or our supposed vocation, than be moved by the un-ease to reasses.

Chris Sagsveen said...

If you’re like me, you probably ended up in a career before feeling “called” to do anything for the Kingdom of God. In my college days, career came first, then family, then God. Now it’s God, family and career. When God takes front and center, and career feels distant from anything of His Kingdom, it can be hard.

I heard once that we should think of our job as an assignment from God. I often think of that now and it helps. I know He wants his presence known in all corners of this earth. If that means that I have to show his light that way (through my vocation), I’ll do it. But if I ever get to the point where I can’t see it that way, or feel that He’s calling me to do something else, or be somewhere else, I’ll listen.

Also, the job pays the bills. And I believe that working hard for Him glorifies Him (whether feeling called to it or not). But working for Him after hours (away from the office) - on those things you feel He’s called you to do - are most rewarding.


Tom in Ontario said...

Good thought. Before I was called to ordained pastoral ministry I used to get pissed off when our church would give money to students who attended some Bible College but didn't give any to someone studying architecture at a community college or university. Looking back now, I don't think they understood anything about a Lutheran understanding of vocation.

I think you're onto something though. Vocation doesn't have to be equated with "job" or "career." Besides pastor, I'm also called to be a husband and father. Both of those are certainly vocations but there's no financial remuneration involved.

The Lutheran "cop out" or support of the status quo that you mention comes only from a too narrow view or understanding of exactly what vocation means. Thanks for broadening that for me.

Chris Sagsveen said...

I re-read your post again today, and after reading the other comments made, see it in a new light. See how I was instantly focused on "job" as "vocation"?
Good post.

Andy said...


I saw a post on vocation at Brian's Pastor in the Parish blog. Maybe that's the one you're thinking of?

Andy said...

In a way the traditional Lutheran position is good for me to hear, because I do have a tendency to devalue the "secular" relative to the divine.

You're right, Chris, that I did end up in a career before feeling called, and that has me second guessing my career choice frequently. In the end, it comes down to I don't believe that just because secular careers can be a divine calling that they necessarily are. Yes, work has a special dignity whether it is secular or otherwise, and, yes, I see the point that eccelsial callings are not inherently better than secular ones (as Tom emphasized), but I'm not willing to put a divine stamp of approval on any old job.