I recently wrote about learning my spiritual and personality types. Along the way, I gained some insight into how I perceive God, and how that begins to establish my identity in the Body of Christ. But, I’m seeking answers to larger questions. I perceive God calling me to commit my life to serving the church and this broken world. But, what does that mean for my engineering career? And “service” can mean so many different things. Just what is God calling me to do?
I just finished reading two great books that introduced me to the understanding of vocation in the Lutheran tradition. They’re small books – an easy read for busy people. But, they helped me to straighten out my head for asking better questions to understand my vocation and how to live in it. The books Reclaiming the “V” Word by Dave Daubert and Tana Kjos, and Listen! God Is Calling! by D. Michael Bennethum, were most effective for me when I read them together. Together, they gave me a healthier understanding of ordained life versus secular, and introduced me to Luther’s teachings that I didn’t know. Both books urge me to view my work as a means to partner with God’s active work in our world. And, they push me to understand my work in the context of my relationships with everyone I meet.
As I began hearing God’s call to me, more forcefully once I started the Diakonia Program, I wondered whether seminary might be in my path. It was thrilling. I recalled being in high school, when a youth pastor shared that he thought I might be called that way. I recalled being an undergraduate, working in the Chapel and the Theology department, and finding myself declaring pre-seminary. But, those times were years ago, and there’s a lot of dead space between then and now. There’s a serious problem with that thinking, though, and these books helped me realize it, and why. The thrill should have been a warning sign.
Whether you realize it or not, our culture places clergy on a huge pedestal. So, stop it! This demeans the value of serving God as a non-ordained person, by thinking of clergy as being the only people who fully serve the church. Also, ordained ministry enforces an entire set of pre-defined responsibilities that don’t exactly match my strengths. This really isn’t necessarily the most effective way for me to serve God. When you buy into this myth, it shades how you support your friends and loved ones who seek to serve God. And if you yourself seek to commit your life to service, you may find yourself taking on responsibilities that won’t be in your or God’s best interest. The books made me aware of this reality – I’ve encountered these attitudes in my own experience.
But, naming the problem is just a first step. I’m aware that I sometimes seek affirmation, and it’s an easy out to latch onto seminary and ordination as the way to be perceived as living in vocation. I can’t think of any advantage that I’d gain by seeking that route. My Myers-Briggs report describes me as vision-oriented, and deviating from pursuing my inner vision can bring out reactions like over-eating, watching too much TV, excessive cynicism, and so on. I read that as hungering for empty calories. Isn’t this what external affirmation often is?
Luckily for me, it happens that I’ve been having regular one-on-one time with a few close friends. Sharing visions, recommending books, and encouraging each other’s seeking. Because I feel like my vision and quest are being taken seriously, I don’t seem to be so bent on the seminary path. Having this support system really frees me to explore my vocation with more options and with less urgency. And in turn I can see my relationships with ordained servants as a constructive partnership, without needing to be ordained as well. But don’t discount it! You never know….
As for what Luther has to say about all this, I’m engrossed. In his sermons and lectures, he emphasizes the reality of a calling in everything. A parent raising a child, a farmer tending crops, a bricklayer building a sturdy wall. I haven’t yet had much exposure to Luther’s writings – just the generic osmosis that can occur in the Lutheran community.
It is a pure invention that pope, bishop, priests, and monks are called the spiritual estate while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the temporal estate. This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocracy. Yet no one is intimidated by it, and for this reason: all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except of office…. We are all consecrated priests through baptism.”
If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools – at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardsticks or measure – and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. Indeed, there is no shortage of preaching. You have as many preachers as you have transactions, goods, tools, and other equipment in your house and home. All this in continually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.”
How meaningful is that! Those are just two of the quotes that Bennethum illustrates. The mundane tools I use each day, crying out for me to use them to serve the world. And “friend”. It’s like God calling me to join with His creating Spirit – so inviting and encouraging. Just pick up what you already have, and come wage creation with Me. Even as I type this, I’m overwhelmed with hope and possibilities. Bennethum covers additional passages, but even just these two are so easily digestible without his help. I’m looking forward to digging more deeply into Luther’s writings in future Diakonia classes because he’s so readable and exuberant.
Now, God is actively at work in our world. Right now. I already had latched onto that notion, and these books just reinforced that idea for me. Robert Wicks drives home this idea by defining compassion as seeing God as active in everybody we encounter. Daubert and Kjos strive to encourage you to look at your existing service in light of God acting through both you and others, and using that as a basis for considering the rmeaningfulness of what you’re doing. It’s not a struggle for me to buy into this vision. It’s such a hope-affirming lens for seeing my vocation.
So, this is not a popularity content. However I define my vocation, I can’t be dissuaded by no one seeming to buy into my vision. If God is active in everyone I encounter, and if I’m fully engaged in that dynamic, then I can know that we’re connected despite evidence to the contrary. Keep going. It can change. Maybe even widen my net.
Where does all this leave me and my quest for vocation? Luther tells me that my tools are begging me to use them as I know how to do. God is active in me and everyone else. I know that I will always have to maintain a few key one-on-one relationships to minimize my need for affirmation, and free myself to see everything more holistically. So rather than obsess over some specific call that I might not be doing right now, see my vocation as a series of experiences in serving the people I meet, with being able to comprehend their reality without projecting. And, take my Myers-Briggs results in stride, by considering the associated vision of an opportunity, and whether I can adopt it. You might think I’ve over-complicating something really simple, but it’s really helpful for who I am. Luther emphasizes that I don’t have to be ordained to do this.
In the end, any congregation can bombard you with requests for help. It’s overwhelming. This whole quest seems to be teaching me to continue serving as I already do, but gives me some better tools for saying yes or no. And already I have been able to use this thinking to figure out that I need to discontinue certain services I do, to trade them for opportunities that i can choose more wisely for myself and God actve in me. It’s really all about vision.