Category: Vocation

In an enthusiastic reaction to his first job offer, Ben Sunderman, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome, has spread lots of smiles across the internet. In doing so, he reminds us of the power of work to bring joy to human lives, and of the gift-giving capacity God has given to each of us, including those we often dismiss as “disabled.”

Caught on video by his mother, Sunderman literally jumps for joy after reading about his acceptance to an internship at Embassy Suites. “I did it!” he yells. “I got a job!”

Watch the full video:

For the broader story, see the following interview with his family: (more…)

kuyper-portrait-paintingIn the latest issue of Themelios, Robert Covolo reviews  Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship alongside Richard Mouw’s Called to the Life of the Mind, examining the common traits that emerge from two perspectives on scholarship from the “Kuyperian strain.”

Outside of the differences in tone and audience that one might expect from authors separated by a century (and an ocean, for that matter), Covolo notices each author’s emphasis on scholarship as a distinct “sphere,” thus involving a distinct calling. “It is hard not to recognize a strong family resemblance” between the two authors, he writes.

First, a taste of Kuyper:

Kuyper contends that Christians entering academic work must do so recognizing “a distinctive calling in life and a special God-given task” (p. 5). In stark contrast to those who jump through academic hoops merely to secure a good job, Kuyper calls budding Christian scholars to appreciate the privilege afforded them, considering theirs a holy calling as priests of learning. For, according to Kuyper, to be a true Christian scholar requires more (though not less) than sustained and careful thinking, reflecting, analyzing, methodical research, attention to form and an understanding of academic etiquette. It also calls one to a life of humility, prayer, service, pure living and sincere piety. Indeed, Kuyper claims no area of one’s life—from financial planning to taking care of one’s body—is unaffected by this call.

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In the latest video blog from For the Life of the World, Evan Koons recites Rainer Maria Rilke’s powerful poem, “Go to the Limits of your Longing” from Book of Hours.

“In this poem is the whole of what it means to live for the life of the world,” Koons explains. “God speaks to each of us as he makes us.”

The poem offers a compelling complement to the conclusion of the series, in which Stephen Grabill reminds us that the “church maintains the hope of the not yet by living the kingdom now.” We are the “lived memory of God’s purposes in the world,” he says. “The church is called to be the very embodiment of the kingdom to come.” (more…)

Dorothy Sayers“If we put our neighbor first, we are putting man above God, and that is what we have been doing ever since we began to worship humanity and make man the measure of all things. Whenever man is made the center of things, he becomes the storm center of trouble – and that is precisely the catch about serving the community.” –Dorothy Sayers

In orienting our perspective on work and stewardship, one of the best starting points is Lester DeKoster’s view about work being service to neighbor and thus to God. And yet, even here, we ought to be attentive about the order of things, keeping in mind Samuel’s reminder that “to obey is better than sacrifice.”

It may seem overly picky, but it may be more accurate to say that our work is service to God, and thus to neighbor. For without obedience to God, service to neighbor will be severely limited at best, and wholly destructive at worst.

I was reminded of this when reading Dorothy Sayers’ popular essay, “Why Work?”, which she concludes by offering a strong warning against various calls to “serve the community” — a challenge she describes as “the most revolutionary of them all.”

“The only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work,” she writes, meaning that only when we work for the glory of God can we hope for the flourishing of our neighbors (and selves). “The danger of ‘serving the community’ is that one is part of the community, and that in serving it one may only be serving a kind of communal egotism,” she continues. (more…)

When struggling with “work that wounds”— work that’s “cross-bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing,” as Lester DeKoster describes it — we can content ourselves by remembering that God is with us in the workplace and our work has meaning.

But although these truths are powerful, God has not left us with only head knowledge and philosophical upgrades. When we give our lives to Christ and choose a path of transformation and obedience, the fruits of the Spirit will manifest in real and tangible ways, despite our circumstances. We will find meaning, but we will also experience peace, patience, and joy, even when it doesn’t make sense.

In Music Box, a classic Christian film from the early 1980s, we see an apt demonstration of this. The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, not just as some abstract idea, but in real and noticeable ways through the application of mind to hands and hands to creative service. The Gospel breathes new life, even into the most dark and plodding situations.

Watch it here:

In the film, we see a tired and moping man, who lives a life of drudgery at a factory, followed by misery and disconnect at home. The solution? On his way home from work, he finds a magical music box that triggers a chorus of angels. God reminds him of the gift of Jesus — a lesson that sets the man about gift-giving of his own joy and purpose to other people, a newfound capacity that God continues to stretch throughout the film. In short, he’s awakened to the reality that all is gift. (more…)

economic decisionIf there’s one area of the faith-work conversation that’s lacking in exploration and introspection, it’s the role of spiritual discernment in the day-to-day decisions of economic life.

It’s one thing to orient one’s heart and mind around the big picture of vocation and stewardship — no small feat, to be sure — but if economics is about the intersection of knowledge and human action, what does it mean to serve a God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts? Before and beyond our questions about ethics and meaning and vocation (“is my work moral?”; “does it have meaning?”; “what am I called to do?”) remains the basic question of obedience.

How does the Gospel transform our hearts and minds and how does that process transform our economic action? How do we make sure we’re putting obedience before sacrifice in all that we do? How do we hear the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day-by-day, and how does that impact the ideas we have, the products we conceive, the prices we set, the relationships we build, and the trades and investments we make?

I was reminded of this recently upon reading an essay on discernment by Peter Kreeft. Although he doesn’t speak directly to economic matters, Kreeft does a nice job of connecting the earthly with the transcendent, cautioning us against “emphasizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity or his humanity at the expense of his divinity,” or likewise, “his divine sovereignty at the expense of free will or free will at the expense of divine sovereignty.” Spiritual discernment ought not descend into some kind of peculiar escapism, but rather, it must engage with the natural world, leverage the gifts and the resources God has given us, and ultimately bear fruit for the good of the city and for the life of the world. (more…)

When we hear about church “outreach ministries,” we often think of food pantries, homeless shelters, and community events. But while these can be powerful channels for service, many churches are beginning to look for new ways to empower individuals more holistically.

For some, this means abandoning traditional charity altogether, focusing their ministry more directly around recognizing the gifts and strengths of others. For others, like Evangel Ministries in Detroit, it involves a mix of many things, but with a particular emphasis on the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities.

Hear their story here, in a video produced by Made to Flourish:

For Evangel, it’s not just about meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but about teaching work skills and financial literacy, teaching congregants on the details of permitting, and even in some cases providing investment capital for particular businesses. (more…)

katy-big-snow-virginia-burton“No work? Then nothing else either. Culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and to keep happening — by God the Holy Spirit, through our work.” –Lester DeKoster

As we begin to discover God’s design and purpose for our work, there there’s a temptation to elevate certain jobs or careers above others, and attempt to inject our work with meaning from the outside. Yet as long as we are serving our neighbors faithfully, productively, ethically, and in obedience to God’s will, the meaning is already there.

We can wrap our imaginations around this reality in a number of ways, but one helpful thought experiment is to imagine what would happen if a particular job or task were to be left undone. With our newfound prosperity and privilege, it is sometimes easy to dismiss certain forms of manual or “unglamorous” labor (the plumber, the builder, the garbage collector) in favor of supposedly “higher pursuits.” Yet if any of the workers in these areas vanished, what would happen to civilized society? Indeed, in a way, the simple, tangible nature of such work often provides the clearest illustration of the service and sacrifice God has called us to, bearing fruit we can quite easily taste and see.

I was reminded of this when reading my kids Katy and the Big Snow, the classic children’s story by Virginia Lee Burton (author of another timeless tale about work). Burton tells the story of Katy, a “beautiful red crawler tractor” who was “very big and very strong” and was able to push either a bulldozer or snowplow, depending on the season. (more…)

A few weeks back, Acton welcomed Gene Edward Veith to the Mark Murray Auditorium as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series. This week, I had the opportunity to talk with Veith for this edition of Radio Free Acton. We discuss the influence of the Protestant Reformation on the development of capitalism, Luther’s beliefs on vocation, and how young people can discern their vocations as they contemplate their futures.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below; after the jump, I’ve included the video of Veith’s ALS lecture for those interested in diving deeper into these ideas.

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Max Weber’s classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism made the case that the Reformation had a major impact on the rise of free market capitalism. But according to Gene Edward Veith, Weber misunderstood what it was about the Reformation that caused that impact. On February 26th, Veith came to Grand Rapids to talk about what Weber missed in his classic analysis – primarily Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation, which taught that God is present and active in ordinary economic activity, which becomes a sphere in which Christians can love and serve their neighbors.

Gene Edward Veith is Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College. He is the author of 18 books on topics involving Christianity and culture, classical education, literature, and the arts. They include Postmodern Times, The State of the Arts, The Spirituality of the Cross, God at Work, Modern Fascism, Classical Education, and Loving God With All Your Mind.

If you prefer, you can stream the audio from the player below, or head over to the Acton Institute digital download store and pick up an mp3 of your very own – you can do that at this link.