Category: Vocation

Untitled4“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.“ -John 1:1-3

In Episode 5 of For the Life of the World, Evan Koons wonders about the purpose of knowledge. “Is it about power?” he asks. “Man’s conquest of nature? …a means for securing a healthy nest egg for retirement?”

As he eventually discovers, knowledge is about far more than what it can do for us. “Knowledge is a gift,” Evan concludes, “and like all gifts in God’s oikonomia, it points us outside of ourselves. Certainly knowledge helps us to do more, but more importantly, it helps us to be more.”

As Stephen Grabill puts it elsewhere in the episode, “knowledge sees beyond scarcity and reveals abundance,” because, at its most basic level, it’s really about uncovering the source of all abundance — better seeing, knowing, and understanding our Creator — and sowing seeds of light and life in the world around us. (Some economists are beginning to notice this at a broader level.) (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 6, 2014
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cutting-roomCan something as simple as a shoe build civilization?

I recently had the pleasure of touring the Red Wing Shoe Museum in Red Wing, Minnesota, home of the Red Wing Shoe Company, and the answer became quite clear.

Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoes has from the very beginning focused on producing boots and shoes for those who “work on their feet.” At a time when blacksmiths, carpenters, lumberjacks, and farmers had few options for footwear, founder Charles Beckman grew frustrated with the status quo, and responded by building “purpose-built” footwear to meet the needs of manual laborers.

Their slogan: “Work is our work.”

The company quickly gained a reputation for high-quality shoes and boots, and still maintains its status as a premier shoemaker for specific trades, supplying footwear for everyone from snake handlers to skyscraper builders to oil rig workers to restaurant chefs. Although most of us wouldn’t think to look at the feet of those who provide such services, the company continues to quietly empower labor of all kinds across the world. (more…)

Kuyper BavinckIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Soul of the System,” I examine a number of images and distinctions related to Hunter Baker’s latest book, The System Has a Soul. In describing Herman Bavinck’s images of the kingdom of God as a pearl and a leaven, and a complementary distinction from Abraham Kuyper of the church as an institute and an organism, a question naturally follows about the relationship between each element of the pairings.
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4669122802_1eb4ba97de_zTeaching our children about the value and virtues of hard work and sound stewardship is an important part of parenting, and in a privileged age where opportunity and prosperity sometimes come rather easily, such lessons can be hard to come by.

In an effort to instill such virtues in my own young children, I’ve taken to a variety of methods, from stories to chores to games, and so on. But one such avenue that’s proven particularly effective has been taking in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, a remarkably artistic set of 75 animated shorts produced from 1929 to 1939.

Spun from a mix of myths, fables, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and original stories, the cartoons evolved from simple, musical cartoons to cohesive tales that offer ethical lessons. Although the whole series is well worth taking in, I’ve provided highlights of 8 particular cartoons that have struck me as quite powerful. Each offers a splendid mix of humor and artistry that you’d be hard pressed to find in today’s cartoons, but they also offer healthy prods to the imagination when it comes to how we approach work, wealth, and stewardship.

1. Beware of Short-Term Solutions — Three Little Pigs (1933)

Perhaps the most famous of the series, “Three Little Pigs” went on to win numerous awards and spur several off-shoot shorts. Unlike the traditional tale, it avoids the deaths of pigs 1 and 2, yet it still offers the same striking parallels to Jesus’ parable of the wise and the foolish builders. (more…)

Niels Hemmingsen 2At the conclusion of the English translation of Niels Hemmingsen’s The Way of Life (1578) (Latin: Via Vitae) is a series of short prayers. The selection includes one “for the aid of God in the needful businesses of our vocation.” The (modernized) text reads:

“Give me understanding, O Lord, and assist my endeavors, that I may faithfully and diligently perform the works of my vocation, to the glory of your name, the edification of your church, and the commodity of my neighbor.”

Hemmingsen was a significant Danish theologian in the sixteenth century, and a selection of his work on natural law is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Fall issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality. Subscribe today to get your copy when it becomes available.

Mako Fujimura

Mako Fujimura

Acton broadcast consultant, Paul Edwards, took over the WOOD Radio microphone this morning to guest-host West Michigan Live here in in Grand Rapids. He covered a range of topics over the course of his broadcast hour, and spoke with artist Makoto Fujimura, whose 2014 ArtPrize entry, Walking on Water, was exhibited at the Acton Building. Their conversation focused on this piece, written by Mako, on his experience at ArtPrize and how the competition does – and does not – help artists.

With thanks to WOOD Radio, we’ve posted the audio below for your enjoyment.

tim-keller-head-shot-2011The Christian life is one filled with risk, driven by active faith in an active God whose ways are higher than our own. In all that we put our hands to, God calls us to turn away from the supposed predictability of our own plans and designs and rely entirely on Him.

Such an orientation transforms each area of our lives, from family and friends to politics to church life and beyond. But for those involved in entrepreneurship and business, the stakes feel particularly high, and amid the rise of modernity and overwhelming economic prosperity, the temptation to rely on our own devices is more alluring than ever before.

Christians are good at talking about “abandoning all” for the sake of the Gospel, to be sure, but what does this look like in day-to-day life? The rich young ruler made a risk calculation when asked to give all of his wealth to the poor, and based on that output, he failed. What similar calculations do we encounter as God prompts our stewardship, whether it means donating to a particular charity or investing in a new idea or enterprise? (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
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TriangleIn a remarkable letter last week, noted by Joseph Sunde, Mike Rowe inveighed against the sloganeering that passes for vocational discernment in today’s popular culture.

Mike singled out Hollywood as a particularly egregious offender:

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

Mike’s a great breaker of idols, whether they’re “Follow your passion,” “Do what you love,” or “Work smarter, not harder.” And while I generally concur with the thrust of Mike’s commentary here, I have noted in the past a Hollywood exception that proves the rule. Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech at last year’s Teen Choice Awards was remarkable in this regard. In Get Your Hands Dirty, I explore the wisdom in Mike’s approach, and I’ve also written about the fundamental coherence of perspective shared by Mike Rowe and Chris Ashton Kutcher (a coherence Mike himself recognized).

Like most slogans, “Follow your passion!” can lead to extremes. As I’ve argued along these lines elsewhere, true vocational discernment requires a bit of triangulation. It’s not just about you and your passion, and it’s not just about others and their wants. It is also about God and his plans for you.

And although I missed the premiere, I’m looking forward to checking out Mike’s latest effort, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

CREAMIn a talk he gave at Kuyper College for the launch of the new business leadership major some years back, Vincent Bacote made an insightful observation about the “people in the room” where things were decided leading up to and during the Global Financial Crisis. What if, he wondered, the Christians who were certainly there had the resources (intellectual, moral, and spiritual) to do something about the direction that things were headed?

I also wrote about how we need to recognize that the church already occupies Wall Street (as well as all streets!) and the task of moral formation that this reality entails.

But this call to “occupy” Wall Street is perhaps as complex and challenging an arena of cultural engagement and cultural development as there is. This incisive piece from Michael Lewis outlines some of the “occupational hazards” of that particular call.
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Blog author: jsunde
Friday, October 10, 2014
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The oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay has severely dwindled, amounting to less than 1% of historic levels, according to the NOAA. In turn, from a consumer’s perspective, Virginia oysters have been increasingly replaced by other varieties from around the globe.

Yet if Rappahannock Oyster Co. has anything to say about it, the Bay oyster will once again reign supreme. Their mission? “To put the Chesapeake Bay oyster back on the map” and give consumers a chance to once again enjoy “what is arguably the greatest tasting oyster in the world.”

Their story is an inspiring one, to be sure. But as filmmaker Nathan Clarke portrays in a marvelous short film on the subject, the routine work of oyster farming has a beauty and grandeur all of its own.

The film moves slowly and steadily, accompanied by no narration other than the raw rumble of boats and machinery and the quiet clatter of oysters jostling in cages and nets. Clarke lets the work sing for itself, and my, how the song sticks. Man cultivates nature, and nature responds by cultivating man.  (more…)