All posts tagged “vocation

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Book Review: Visions of Vocation

Two years ago (almost to the day, as it happens), I shared some thoughts about The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber. Though the book was written primarily for college students, my post-college, post-grad-school self found it quite beneficial anyway.


In my review I reminisced aloud about my college years, when I picked the major I did because—no joke—it was the one with the fewest math requirements. I went on to say:

Somehow it hasn’t all turned out terribly, which I attribute solely to God’s grace, but I do wonder how my college years would have been different had I made life-altering decisions based on even better questions than how to avoid math requirements—for instance, questions about the nature of the world, and God’s relationship to it and to me and to everyone else, and how a college education may actually be a gift to be stewarded for God’s glory and to be used for loving our neighbors.

Garber’s new book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, is a natural follow-up to his earlier one. Writing with the same graceful, wise voice that so many of us found so winsome in The Fabric of Faithfulness, Garber expands his explorations of vocation beyond the university classroom to the classroom and laboratory that is the world itself. Quoting poets and singers and theologians, telling stories about his friends and acquaintances, Garber invites us to ask deep questions about the world around us, and to find our vocation more or less, it seems to me, where the novelist Frederick Buechner famously did—that place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

18499998Garber wants us to see the world with new eyes. Indeed, he wants us to behold it gratefully, truthfully, and hopefully. He wants us to recognize and appreciate its created splendor. He wants us to be honest about its brokenness and limitations. And he wants us to orient our lives around the hope—in answer to the question Sam Gamgee asked Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, which each of us in one way or another continues to ask—that yes, one day every sad thing will come untrue.

In broad strokes, I think that’s the story the scriptures are telling as well, the story in which we are invited to find ourselves—or, better, the story in which we are invited to lose ourselves.

But knowing is not the same thing as living, and weaving belief and behavior together, as Garber has previously written, doesn’t happen automatically (more on that, by the way, from N.T. Wright in After You Believe). In fact, it’s possible that the more we know—about God, about ourselves, about our neighbors and our world—the more paralyzed we can become. At root may be self-righteousness or fear, narcissism or prejudice, or even mere fatigue, but the resulting paralysis looks very much the same.

Garber acknowledges these dangers, but he urges us to press further on, further in:

Can we know the world and still love the world? Can we know the messes of the world and still work on them because we want to, because we see ourselves as responsible, for love’s sake? Sometimes some people make that choice… and always it is a vocation of imitation of a vocation. At our best and truest, we stand in the long line of those who remember the profound insight of Thomas à Kempis in calling us to “the imitation of Christ.” To choose to know, and still to love, is costly; it was for God, and it is for us. In fact it is the most difficult task imaginable.

Just as he finds clues in the fifteenth century writing of Thomas à Kempis, he finds encouragement in J.I. Packer’s modern classic Knowing God, in which the Anglican author and theologian urges us not to be content with merely knowing about God, but actually knowing him and being known intimately—as we are invited to do. Packer writes:

God knew the worst about us before he chose to love us, and therefore no discovery now can disillusion him about us in the way that we are so often disillusioned about ourselves, and quench his determination to bless us. He took knowledge of us in love.

Garber and his colleagues at The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture like to say that vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei. Flipped on its head, we might say that the work God has given us to do—whether we’re paid to do it or not—is corrupted when it stops with us.

As Garber puts it:

To see ourselves as responsible, for love’s sake, is both hard work and good work—and it cannot be done alone.

[Header Image: Sunset, Wheat Fields near Arles (detail) by Vincent Van Gogh]

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The future of evangelical cultural engagement

Undoubtedly, one of the best, most important books I’ve read all year is The World Is Not Ours To Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (@tylerws). For those of us who consider cultural engagement and social/political activism important parts of the Christian life, this book should be required reading. When I reviewed it back in April, I wrote this:

For a guy whose life mission is abolishing nuclear weapons, the book sure doesn’t read like a PR piece for a particular cause. Rather, it seems Wigg-Stevenson – who does have a Master of Divinity degree – is sincerely intent on offering a bit of pastoral care for a younger generation still hyped up on its inflated chances of saving the world. That hype will inevitably waver and the vision will surely fade. And when it does, young activists will find in this book a treasure trove of good news. Will they listen before their lives depend on it? I hope so.

I still really, really hope so. And I was reminded of that when I came across this half-hour conversation between Wigg-Stevenson and Abraham Cho (@abrahamcho), a pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. They perceptively touch on a whole range of topics like public theology, the limits of activism, class and race issues, and the widespread tendency among Christians to view nonprofits as inherently better – regardless of particularities – than for-profit companies. This is some great conversation-fodder.

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Privilege and the meaning of work

We are immensely privileged even to inquire about the meaning of our work. Many of our ancestors pined for good work as they would for a lover, and remained unrequited and stricken by want. Many of our ancestors died while working in dangerous or desperate conditions. Some left good work and found none to replace it. A few, a very few, left little, crossed oceans, and found abundance beyond hope. Others worked hard or traveled to new shores and dutifully sacrificed for their sons and daughters, while their hearts and minds were elsewhere, their own dreams unfulfilled, their innermost selves left high and dry, disappointed by time’s fleeting tide. Whatever our inheritance of work in this life, we are only the apex of innumerable lives of endeavor and sacrifice. Where we have come from, the struggles of our parents, our ancestral countries, their voyages, and hardships are immensely important.”

– David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

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Repaso: June 7, 2013

1. The geography of Bob Dylan
Slate put together a great map representing all the actual places that have made their way into Dylan’s songs:

Bob Dylan’s music, it’s often said, happens in a world of its own—where the highway is for gamblers and you’re always 1,000 miles from home. It’s a surreal, ethereal realm, lawless but for chance, allusion, and rhyme. And yet it is our world, because there’s another, parallel tendency in Dylan’s songs: the direct place-name reference. Once the amateur Dylanologist tries to think of some, they flood the brain… And so, to mark Dylan’s 72nd birthday and the 50th anniversary of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, his breakthrough album, we present Bob Dylan’s World, an interactive map with entries for every place-name in a song written by Dylan and released on some kind of album.


2. Vocation and (com)passion
David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks) on the dangers of utilitarian vocations that paradoxically serve to keep passions at a safe distance:

If you choose a profession that doesn’t arouse your everyday passion for the sake of serving instead some abstract faraway good, you might end up as a person who values the far over the near. You might become one of those people who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately around. You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far — rationality — and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with those closest around — affection, the capacity for vulnerability and dependence. Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a detached god.

3. Socio-economic reconciliation
The good folks at the Chalmers Center (@chalmerscenter) urge us to consider “the great divide” and where we fit in:

Take a moment to explore your city. What is the average income for your neighborhood compared to the rest of the state? Does the socio-economic makeup of your church reflect that of the community around it? If your church is in a wealthy community, are there strategically placed, effective ministries in low-income areas with which you might partner? If you want to go even deeper, examine rental expenses and income levels throughout your city. Does the relationship between rental prices and income remain roughly consistent between neighborhoods? Or do residents in particular low-income neighborhoods face equal or higher housing costs compared to residents in higher-income areas?

4. Why Kuyper matters
There has been a spate of new books published about Abraham Kuyper lately, and the American religious historian Mark Noll wrote the forward to one of the massive ones. Eerdmans published the forward on its blog, and here’s an excerpt:

The vigor of Kuyper’s convictions, along with his strenuous efforts at putting them into practice for religious, educational, and political purposes in the Netherlands — and with the significant numbers around the world who have found his ideas inspiring — makes him a figure of world historical significance. It also means that a biography like this one must be done with care, so that readers come to understand Kuyper in his own life context as well as the influence his ideas have had.

5. Churches and cities as partners
Here’s an interview with Kevin Palau (@kevinpalau), an evangelist, and Sam Adams (@PDXSamAdams), the former mayor of Portland (a city not necessarily known for its Christians) on what it looks like for churches and cities to act as partners for the common good.


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Repaso: April 26, 2013


1. The poor are not the raw material of your salvation
In a “letter to a young social entrepreneur” Liam Black (@LiamABlack) issues this important word of caution to do-gooders about their motivations (if you read the full thing, pardon his French):

If you’d asked me in my twenties and thirties what my driving motivations were I would have said a strange hybrid of leftie politics and option-for-the-poor Catholicism filtered through the liberation theologians of Latin America and the inner cities… But looking back I can see clearly that a core part of what drove me was the seeking of approval of an absent father (long story) and a huge enjoyment at the attention which came with being in the vanguard of the UK social enterprise movement. It feels very good to be talked and written about and even better if there are awards and baubles. And yes, of course, I am having my cake and tweeting it by writing this blog.

2. Sex, drugs, and Calvin College
During his talk at the recent Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College, bestselling author Chuck Klosterman – a self-described religious “nothing” –  urged those in the audience to become lifelong questioners, rather than either becoming galvanized in their faith tradition or leaving it completely. In response, Tom Becker (@desertbrother) writes:

Can I claim two categories, please, please, Chuck? I am more devoted than ever to the story of Jesus in the Scriptures. I’m neither ashamed nor flamboyant in my testimony: I love Jesus. And yet I still ponder, learn and question the dominant paradigms foisted on me by my culture and especially the evangelical culture in America… I’ve always assumed we humans were capable of good deeds and bad crap. I just needed the Scriptures and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to codify what I saw all around me. And I needed a savior to pluck me from the fire and get me moving toward the good, something I couldn’t arrive on my own.

3. Crouch interviews Keller
Andy Crouch (@ahc) spoke with Tim Keller (@timkellernyc) about being a pastor in a city where people live in order to work, and what we can learn from different Christian traditions about faith and work.

4. Integral mission and excellence
The Accord Network has released a document outlining eight core principles of excellence in integral mission, which one of my Eastern professors, Beth Birmingham (@BethBirmingham), helped to create. Anyone working at or supporting a Christian NGO, or involved in a church’s mission programs, will find these principles really helpful.

5. G-Dog
If you’ve read Tattoos on the Heart (I blogged about it here), the book by Father Gregory Boyle about his work among gang members in LA, you’ll want to see this new documentary film.