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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thinking about vocation

Apologies to those of you who have been checking back for more input on this discussion of what the church is and what it should be doing (both of you!). The last few weeks life has gotten busy. I've been occupied with both doing life (work, hunting, community) and doing church (life, community, work) and haven't had a lot of time for reflecting.

One of the things I've been thinking about around the edges of all that frenzied onset-of-fall activity is the idea of "vocation." Historical note: In the middle ages, the idea of "vocation" which we often equate to "job" (more on this in a second) morphed from the Latin word "vocare" which means "to call" into the idea that some people have special "callings" from God into specific roles. Mostly this was applied to monks, priests, and nuns -- what still gets called in Roman Catholic circles "the religious." So if you're a good Catholic kid and an older relative says you might have a vocation, they're saying you might be called to be one of those special religious people, called into a life of serving God in these specifically religious ways.

In 1519, Martin Luther published a book that turned the whole idea of "vocation" on its head. Luther claimed that God calls all people, not just religious people. So farmers, teachers, plumbers, house husbands and house wives, nurses, pastors and electricians and accountants and engineers ... all these people can legitimately view themselves as "called" by God -- as having a "vocation."

This is why it's legit to consider your job a "vocation" -- a calling. But Luther went further than that. He said we receive the call of God in various areas of our lives: In our work, yes, but also in our citizenship, in our community life (including the community of the church, which was a lot more overlapped with general society in Luther's day than it is in ours) and in those core relationships of marriage and family. In all of these areas, we are called by God to live and work for the good of his creation.

So think about this for a minute. If part of the calling of God on the church is to work for the stewardship of creation as we said last time around, one of the ways God engineers this world specifically for the good of that creation is to put people in specific roles. So if you are a botanist, a biographer, or a baker (or whatever) -- you are called into that role to exercise God's command in Genesis 1-2, to till the earth and keep it. To tend it. To care for creation. To make the world a better place.

If this is in fact the case -- and reading through the Bible with this in mind, you see it literally EVERYWHERE -- why has the church done such a poor job of helping people understand their daily work, their citizenship, their core relationships, their community life, as callings from God?

I had a most interesting conversation this summer with a farmer who is a firm believer, but who gets really frustrated with the church. He recognizes that seven days a week he is engaged in the work to which God has called him, caring for his animals and land, caring for his neighbors, tending the earth and keeping it and making it better. But when he goes to church, he said, the only things they really tell him are a) he should come more often, b) he should get involved in one of their activities, c) he should go on one of their mission trips to make the world a better place, and d) he should give more money to the church. He rarely, if every, hears anything that equips him for his calling, his God-given mission in life.

Talking to this farmer, it was hard not to see how wide the church has missed the mark on this.

Joseph Campbell used to say that the task of an artist is to "mythologize life" -- to write, paint, dance, sing, whatever, in such a way that the rest of us understand the deep meanings behind our lives a little better. I believe this is one of the main tasks of the church -- to help people understand the deep meaning behind their lives, to understand the story of which we are a part.

So your life in all those areas listed above, is a vocation. A calling from God. How are you, day by day, working to make the physical, relational, financial, spiritual world around you a better place? And how is your church equipping you to understand and live out those callings?

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