Discerning Vocation Together

Mark Labberton took the helm at Fuller Theological Seminary a year and a half ago, following the retirement of Rich Mouw, of whom I am an unabashed fan (evidenced here, here, and here — and, if you need photographic proof, here). Needless to say that, in my estimation, Labberton has big shoes to fill.

In an interview with Christianity Today at the time of his election, he gave some clues as to where he plans to take Fuller in the years and decades to come. Observing from a distance, I detect a shift in the direction of preparing students for callings not simply within the walls of the church, but beyond. That turn is partly pragmatic, to be sure, but having recently read Labberton’s new book, Called, it’s clear he genuinely cares deeply about callings and vocations of all shapes and sizes.

A section of the book that I found particularly helpful is the chapter “The Way of the Beloved,” in which he writes, “We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish.”

Our primary calling, Labberton writes, is to be the beloved. “We are to live as the beloved together — with other human beings but with those in Christ’s family especially. We are the conglomeration of the unexpected. We are the recipients of the down payment of the kingdom of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. All this becomes the makings of ‘one new humanity,’ the beloved community.”

When someone mentions the idea of “beloved community” we shouldn’t overlook its origins — with MLK and the civil rights movement — a movement that was grounded, remember, in a Christian vision for peace, justice, and reconciliation. There’s an awful lot we have yet to learn about this vision, and we’d do well to pay attention to the wisdom of “beloved community.”

It’s precisely here that Labberton situates his reflections on the importance of discerning vocation together. “My vocation can be discovered only in the context of our vocation,” he writes.“It only makes sense that it would be so, since belovedness is never isolated or singular. We discover and live our belovedness in Christ with and for one another. This is what church means.”

Being part of the church, Labberton continues, “means practicing the identity of belovedness together.” And this practice becomes most tangible — most believable, too, you might say — in the sacraments, and particularly in the Eucharist:

We come to the table together and leave together, remembering that our vocation starts and ends as the beloved community. Of course, that is easier said than done, and that’s why our doing it over and over is so important. We come in frailty and in joy. We come at times when being loved and loving are anything but clear or natural. We come in hope and also in brokenness. We come full-hearted and we come empty-handed. We come loving one another, but we also come in our division, in our resentment or of boredom with one another…

Life in the beloved community is often more broken than healed, more confusing than clear, more divided than one — but it is of the very essence of our identity and vocation. We live as the beloved, and we rehearse what that means in the communion of others who share it. It’s a space where we can get some things marvelously, wonderfully right. We can also do injury. No one said it would be perfect. But Jesus said it would be an easy yoke and a light burden. It’s the right work, even if it’s tough.

Therein lies our primary calling as brothers and sisters, and from it flows all our particular and varied callings, something I’ll have more to say about next time around.

Header image via internetmonk.com


Late Have I Loved You

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my blindness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

– St. Augustine, Confessions

Header Image: “The conversion of St. Augustine” by Fra Angelico

Signs of Believability

“Words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb. It is stupid to set them against each other. It is, for example, stupid to say, ‘The one thing that matters is to go everywhere and preach the gospel; all other activities such as schools and hospitals and programs for social action are at best merely auxiliary and at worst irrelevant.’ Why should people believe our preaching that the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus if they see no sign that anything is happening as a result, if they can see no evidence that disease and ignorance and cruelty and injustice are being challenged and overcome? Why should they believe our words if there is nothing happening to authenticate them?”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid The Rubble (via Chris Schutte)


The Mystical Task of Art

“If you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster.”

– Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism

Header Image: “The Garden of Eden” by Thomas Cole (c.1828)