Category: Vocation

AlfredPalmerwelder1Over at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, Larry Saunders shares about his journey from pastor to grocery-store clerk to blue-collar factory worker to current MBA student in search of a white-collar job, offering deep and personal reflections on faith, work, and meaning along the way.

When he became a United Methodist pastor, Saunders enjoyed certain aspects of what he calls the “white collar work of ministry,” finding “a strong correlation between my personal sense of vocation and my gifts.” “I believed was contributing value to the world,” he writes.

Eventually, however, due to the conflict and stress involved and various other factors, he left the ministry in search for something different. After struggling to find work elsewhere, he settled into a factory job, working second shift for about 30% less than he made previously.

The job had its advantages, but after two years in the position, Saunders was struggling to find meaning in his work, and he wasn’t the only one:

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, I think most [of my co-workers] do not find their jobs meaningful, but they never expected to in the first place.  For them, work is only a means to meet their basic needs and desires for leisure. Their major sense of meaning is derived totally outside the workplace.

If I had been a pastor to my blue collar co-workers, I would have advised them generally not to get too tied up in an identity derived from their day jobs anyway, but rather to focus on doing a high quality of work and not to equate their jobs with their callings. In the midst of my own foray into working the factory floor, I am now not so sure I would have found that very helpful to hear from my pastor. It is surely easier said than done. (more…)

titiaan_abraham_izaak_grtIn our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.

When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’tknow or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.

To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”

When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.

This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.

When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:

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thenativity-WebIn the first episode of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons discovers a new approach to Christian cultural engagement. Revolving around “God’s economy of all things,” he proceeds to explore six key areas of human engagement, one in each episode, including the economies of love, creative service, order, wisdom, and wonder, and, finally, through the church herself — an organism and institution that runs before and beyond all else.

But it’s no wonder that the first of Evan’s subsequent explorations begins with the family — the economy love — for it is here, in the transcendent exchange of love and nurture and sacrifice, that deep and long-term transformation begins.

The family sets the stage for our service and the scope for our gift-giving. It is in the family where we first learn to love and relate, to order our obligations, and to orient our activities toward other-centered ends. It is in the basic, mundane exchanges between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child that we learn what it means to flourish.

As Koons explains in FLOW: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.” Or, as he says elsewhere in the episode, the family is the “school of love.” (more…)

Randy Lewis

Randy Lewis and his son Austin

Those with disabilities face unique challenges in the workplace and with regards to vocation. As I recently wrote regarding the story of Jamie Bérubé, a young man with Down syndrome, we ought to be more attuned to these challenges and respond accordingly, rejecting limited notions of “value” and instead viewing all human persons as creators and contributors.

I was therefore heartened to read the story of Randy Lewis, a senior vice president at Walgreens, whose son, Austin, faced similar obstacles as someone with autism, but who responded by creating new opportunities for Austin and others like him.

Lewis outlines the full story in his book, No Greatness without Goodness, but offers a good summary in a recent article for Christianity Today, beginning with the change that took place in his own perspective:

As a parent and an employer, I saw the obstacles that people with disabilities face in securing employment. They may not be able to get through the on-line application process, may not interview well, may not be able to learn the way we are used to training, may have inconsistency in their employment history. They face death by a thousand cuts. And the unkindest cut? The belief by 99.999% of us that people with disabilities really cannot do any job as well as a typically-abled person.

Watching my son progress taught me that we underestimate the abilities and contribution of people on the margins. Seeing the way Austin is dismissed or ignored by others gave me the courage to stand up for those who are unjustly overlooked and ignored. Loving my son helped me understand the pain of parents everywhere who lie in bed at night worrying about what will happen to their children after they are gone. A job could change the arc of a life. A job could provide independence. It could mean friends and a social life. A job could be a source of satisfaction and purpose. (emphasis added)

Lewis became so moved by the untapped potential of his son that he decided to take action, pursuing a real, tangible way for those with disabilities to add value in the marketplace. (more…)

dusk“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.” -Hans Urs von Balthasar

Last night, I took a brief bike ride through a nearby woods, an activity that’s become somewhat of a routine after the kids are in bed and my wife is at ease. After a long day at work and the rough-and-tumble that occurs upon arriving home, it serves as a brief respite before assuming the remaining tasks of the day.

But though it’s intended as a time of rest and prayer and wonder, I often give way to my more modernistic impulses, listening to a podcast or an audiobook through my iPhone to make every last second of my day “count” toward something “productive.”

Last night, I did just that. But as I came whizzing down the gravel path through one of the darker, more shaded areas of the woods, I suddenly spotted two deer — a mother and a fawn — standing right in the middle of the path. I slowed down, moving closer and closer before stopping just a yard or two away. I had expected the deer to run away, but to my surprise, neither did. I turned off my headlight and pulled my noisy headphones out of my ears, standing eerily close and looking them straight in the eyes for 30 or so long and stirring seconds. (more…)

Given the dynamics of the information age and ever-accelerating globalization, humanity faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges when it comes to creating, collaborating, and consuming alongside those from vastly different contexts.

Although Pentecost Sunday has already past, Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong wrote some related reflections on this very question, particularly as it relates to Christian vocation. As Yong notes, “location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers — religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential.”

Globalization has been a blessing for many, yet for Christians, it raises the question of what role the Gospel plays as we engage with and bear witness to our brothers and sisters across the world. As Yong asks: “How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?”

The answer, he continues, can be found at Pentecost:

A look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated. (more…)

long-term-unemploymentThe longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being. A recent Gallup survey found that about one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression.

Gallup finds that unemployed Americans are more than twice as likely to say they currently have or are being treated for depression than both those with full-time jobs and those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are currently 3.4 million people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. These individuals accounted for 34.6 percent of all the unemployed.

A 2011 study of the long-term unemployed published by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University also found that half of participants experienced shame and embarrassment that led them to isolate themselves from friends and associates. Among the long-term unemployed, 31.1 percent reported spending two hours or less with family or friends the previous day, versus 21.5 percent among short-term unemployed adults.

Long-term unemployment is not just a mental health crisis; it’s also a spiritual crisis. And the church is the only institution in American that can adequately respond. “Fortunately, the church is in a unique place to explain Christ’s restoration of work,” says Michael Jahr, “the meaning of suffering, and the hope and peace that result from putting our trust in him.”
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Evan Koons just posted the first video blog, or “vlog,” in support of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a new educational video series from the Acton Institute.

The series, which follows Koons on a creative journey to discover “God’s Economy of All Things,” begins by laying the framework that Koons alludes to here.

As he wrote in a recent article for Q Ideas:

We are being called by God to spend the remainder of our days serving our captors, working with them (not fighting them or conforming to them or fleeing from them—but serving them) and compromising nothing. It’s rooted in the belief that all of our vocations (family, work, public service, education, art, and more) matter.

For new vlogs and other resources from Koons & Company, check out the FLOW blog (add it via RSS), subscribe to the YouTube page, and follow FLOW on Facebook and Twitter.

View the trailer and pre-order your own copy here, discounted at 50% off for a limited time, until June 15.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

Jamie Bérubé

Jamie Bérubé

In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:

The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.

At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?

Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”

Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)

studying3In “Scholastica II,” a convocation address delivered to Amsterdam’s Free University in 1900 (now translated under the title, Scholarship), Abraham Kuyper explores the ultimate goal of “genuine study,” asking, “Is it to seek or find?”

Alluding to academics who search for the sake of searching, Kuyper concludes that “seeking should be in the service of finding” and that “the ultimate purpose of seeking is finding.”

“The shepherd who had lost his sheep did not rejoice in searching for it but in finding it,” Kuyper continues. “It was then that he called together his friends and neighbors and exclaimed: ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep.’”

Yet prior to this, he spends a good deal of time focusing on the search itself, arguing that our prospects for discovery are grim if we fail to love the discovery process. Although there are certainly those who prefer to dig for the sake of digging, with little thought about what or whether they’ll discover, there are also plenty who fail to love searching at all, digging only out of necessity or a quest for eventual money and power.

Christians must learn to balance both, Kuyper argues. But it all begins with loving the hunt:

You have heard of the recreational activity of the hunt. What is it that drives all those gentlemen who normally live a life of ease…to spend hours upon hours chasing across the fields and crawling through the woods? Is it to catch a hare for dinner or a partridge for supper? Apparently not, because any poultry shop can supply the most pampered palate with a wide assortment of game; and to have game on the menu for a whole week no doubt costs far less than a whole day of hunting with dogs and loaders. No, what matters for the true lover of the chase is not to taste or eat game, but to hunt. His passion is for the activity of hunting as such. Eating game is a bonus, but the thrill he is looking for is the actual chase. (more…)