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Visions Of Vocation Resources

How We Do What We Do: A Vocation of Righteousness to God

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What if not only what you do, but how you do what you do actually mattered to God?

The year, it could be said, was not particularly my best. In the course of my 12 months since graduating I had switched jobs 4 times (filing my taxes the following April was a mess). I found myself where almost every millennial in their twenties eventually does; as a barista in the local Starbucks. Working long summer shifts of Frappuccino rushes, I was utterly miserable. This is perhaps for each of us where the rubber of our worth meets the road of our toil, those crooked paths and darkened rooms that cause us to stumble aimlessly through the vocations we find ourselves in. We wonder how we got here and hope that if we squeeze our eyes and pray hard enough, we might find ourselves somewhere else, anywhere else doing something that actually nourished our soul.

As I’ve been reflecting on that season, that dark (or one could say bold? Coffee pun…) night of the soul, I’ve realized that something was missing from my understanding of vocation. You see, though I was at that time beginning to trust that what I did mattered to God, I couldn’t quite seem to figure out if how I did it made any difference at all. Each shift was a struggle, every hour felt long. My work became a grind (again, coffee pun) and with each passing cup, I felt part of my heart disengage. It seemed that my four jobs and my long shifts were beginning to get the better of my soul, and where I was only twelve months before a buoyant and bright-eyed college graduate, I now was a shell of myself, head down, heart at the door, pouring cup after cup, just waiting for my shift to end.

What saddens me most as I think about that time is really how common this experience of vocation becomes for most of us. We were told at some point that our lives would be filled with excitement, meaning, fulfillment, and instead we’ve found ourselves at home with the kids, stuck in a cubicle, working on the factory, fast food, or barista line. What do we do with such dissatisfaction? What do we do when life hasn’t panned out? Or perhaps worst, what do we do if life has panned out and it isn’t what we wanted?

My friend, wherever you are; in the mountaintops of fulfilling work or the valleys of vocational despair, I come to you with good news. Your work, your contribution, your vocation matters to God. But here perhaps is what’s most important. Not only what you do, but how you do what you do matters to God. You see there is this word. A rich word. A redemption word. A complex word. It is the word righteousness. Now for most of us, righteousness has become a salvation word, a Paul word, to talk about what Jesus’ forgiveness offers. And well it should. Righteousness is who we are in Christ, when our relationships broken by sin are set right with God. But you see, righteousness was not only a New Testament word but an Old Testament word as well, one that would have carried great weight and meaning in Paul’s day.

Righteousness was how Israel talked about God saving people from slavery to Egypt.

Righteousness was about God restoring peace and justice in the land.

Righteousness was about people participating rightly in their families, in their communities, in their jobs, in their vocations.

Righteousness in short was right living; right business, right character, right relationships, right service, right deeds. For Paul and the early believers, righteousness was not simply something abstract, that happened in the ethereal spirituality of our individual souls. Instead, righteousness was a tangible word, a demonstrable word about God setting all things right, not only inside us but through us as well. Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy Continued, offers us a really helpful definition that begins to hint at the implications of righteousness for our daily lives: the ability to know and do the good in all aspects of life.

For just a moment, imagine with me the implications. What if your righteousness was not only something inside you, but something you extended and enacted in the world? What if righteousness was not just about right relationship with God but right relationships with others; knowing and doing the good with your spouse, with your friends, with your kids, with your co-workers, with your boss? What is righteousness was right character? Not only what you did at work but how you did it, with integrity, uprightness, and wisdom? What if righteousness was our right service, our right actions, or right deeds in every task we’re assigned, every responsibility we’re entrusted, every hour with which we labor? What if as you began to live this righteousness out in your vocation, you began setting things right that had previously been wrong?

It’s possible that this kind of righteousness would mean goods would be made ethically. Money would be stewarded wisely and intentionally. Profit would not be the motivation but the outcome of work done well, for the good will of all. A mother’s righteousness would spill over into her children, a janitor’s righteousness would leave their bathrooms sparkling for others, a lawyer’s righteousness would bring forth justice, and a businesswoman’s righteousness would cause her work to shine. We talked last Sunday night about redemptive work being that which makes crooked paths straight, and shines light into darkness. Righteousness work is exactly that- a setting right to paths that were once wrong, a shining light into darkened crannies previously ignored.

Let’s get very real for a moment. Righteousness is incredibly difficult to bring into our vocations, because righteous work often involves a cost. You may not make as much money, or you may not be able to relax for as much of your time. Hard truthful words might need to be said, or diligent focused service might need to be offered. Righteousness requires knowing and doing the good even in environments that are crooked and wrong. For this reason, most of us give up on righteousness after a few attempts; it’s simply too hard.

We return then to the barista counter where I found myself worn and wearied. As I have been wrestling with this series at the Practice, exhorting everyone into their vocations that matter; I am haunted by the wearied soul that stood head down and eyes glazed at his barista counter, longing for nothing more than to be done with my labor. I confess before you my friends that my righteousness stayed home, while my weary hands toiled, neglecting darkened rooms and crooked paths in the hope someone else would set them right. But friends, imagine how a righteous barista might have shined? Imagine the way I could have loved my fellow co-workers? Could have labored for excellence over the dishes I washed and the floors I swept? Imagine the smile I could have given to each sleep-deprived customer whose coffee I was preparing? Imagine the way my righteousness could have shined, in the early morning labor at your local neighborhood Starbucks? What if I had known and done the good, in all aspects of my life?

My friends, most of us do not explicitly choose which vocation we’re given. Most of us at the end of our lives might not even be able to say, “my work mattered to me.” But it does to God. And perhaps even more, not only what we do, but how we do what we do matters to our God. If a lowly barista making minimum wage, has opportunity to make crooked paths straight, and shine light into darkness, how might your vocation be inviting you to bring your righteousness into all aspects of your life? Imagine a world full of Christian bankers, telemarketers, construction workers, sales associates, receptionists, bar tenders, doctors, fast food workers, retirees and unemployed, all bringing righteousness into the vocations in which they find themselves. I believe that God’s kingdom might begin inching its way towards earth, one vocation act of righteousness at a time. The journey is hard, the laborers few, but my friends the harvest of reaping righteousness in our vocations, may very well become the most important ministry of your life. May you my friends and fellow practioners join me in pondering how we might each begin to set crooked paths straight and shine light into darkness because how we do what we do matters to God.

Grace and peace,

John and the Practice team

A Story of Vocation

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As part of our Visions of Vocation series, we have been gathering stories of vocation from our community to share with one another to help illustrate and give life to how our vocations are integral and not incidental to the Kingdom of God. This story comes to us from Donna Burns, a pastor’s wife who found herself working in community colleges across California as part of God’s Kingdom.

My husband pastored a church in Southern California that grew from a couple dozen to a few thousand over 35 years. As the senior pastor’s wife, I was heavily invested in a variety of ministries and was directly connected to the mental and emotional load carried by my husband. Over the years I was asked occasionally whether I had felt “called” to be a pastor’s wife. My answer was no. I wanted to marry Dave. If he stopped being a pastor, I still wanted to be married to him. We marry people, not professions.

Some people know apparently from birth what God created them to do with their life. I’m not one of those people. I backed into a career out of necessity, kept at it for decades, and somewhere along the line realized that my professional work had mattered to God all along. He was in it, from the menial tasks to the scary challenges. During the last two years of my professional career, I was asked to serve in a role for which I was specifically prepared because of God’s hand on my path.

I spent my first 21 years of employment doing research, public relations, and fund raising for Christian agencies working in the developing world. Besides finally learning world geography and developing my skills, I grew in my appreciation for the complexities of poverty and the dignity of those who suffer. My eyes became a little more focused outside myself. My heart expanded.

In my 40s I went back to school so that I could teach English to Speakers of Other Languages, and I began teaching ESL at a large community college in L.A. My classes typically had adult learners representing a half dozen native languages and a dozen nationalities. The world came to me, and we shared our stories as they gained confidence in English.

Along the way I developed a passion for the public California community college system, which serves more than 2 million students in 113 colleges throughout the state. Most of these students are the first in their family to attend college. Most of them qualify for tuition waivers because of their low income. The majority represent ethnically underserved populations. Community colleges are among the most significant drivers of economic equity in urban communities.

Among the students served by California community colleges are adults who need noncredit opportunities before moving forward into credit (unit) classes leading to a degree. Many need significant help with their basic skills of reading, writing, and math. Many are non-native-English speakers. More than 7 million adults in California have no high school diploma. Adults with disabilities need instruction in life skills or career preparation appropriate to their needs and abilities. Older adults need skills for supplemental work or to maintain cognitive skills. These noncredit students are served through Continuing Education programs of some colleges as well as some adult schools operated by the K-12 system.

During the Great Recession, education budgets were cut along with other programs. Major, disproportionate cuts targeted Continuing Education students, particularly those served by the K-12 system. By then I was the Dean of Continuing Education at my college. We served more than 30,000 noncredit students annually. As the fourth largest in the state, our program was among the leaders, and I was asked to serve on state-level advocacy teams as part of my responsibilities. Most of the colleges were able to survive the recession with their noncredit programs intact, though reduced. But adult schools in the K-12 system were decimated.

At the same time, the demographics of need were staggering. Of California’s adult population, 9.5 million lived in poverty; 7.3 million had no high school diploma; 3.6 million were unemployed, and 6 million lacked basic literacy. These adults were among California’s poorest, and they had no voice.

With a better economic forecast, legislators in 2013 called for an improved, restructured adult education system that required regional collaboration among all providers. Two systems that had been historic competitors had to come together for the sake of their students. At stake was an “intended” increase of $500 million for adult education. I was asked to serve on a state work group to help coordinate the 2-year planning process for the restructure.

We were a group of 12 from two systems: directors, deans, a provost and a president, all from robust adult education programs. We represented “the field,” and it was quickly evident that a field perspective was vital to the success of planning. We didn’t trust each other at first, but we quickly bonded through our shared passion for students. Also, we realized that legislators and bureaucrats needed people who knew what they were talking about and could advocate in unity. The timeline and workload were truly daunting. We had pushback from every imaginable interest group who accused us of being secretive and subversive. But ultimately, the planning was completed, increased funding was provided, and opportunities for students are growing.

Last March 2015, I joined an adult education (K-12) colleague to testify before the California Joint Budget Committee for Higher Education about how the planning process had played out within local regions and to advocate for adult students. That colleague, Bob, was someone I came to know and love as we served together on the work group. He also happened to be a committed, thoughtful Christian who was passionate about the role of public education in addressing the needs of the poor. During our work sessions in Sacramento, we had enjoyed after-hours discussions about our faith in the context of adult education and social justice. I felt tremendously privileged to serve with him and the rest of the work group on a project that helped address people’s needs on such a large scale.

When I was young, I had ideas about “vocation” that needed to be refined by experience. I believe it is a mistake to confuse “calling” or “vocation” with the skill or talent that comes most easily to us. God-given strengths are relevant, of course. But vocation means work. Jesus asked for laborers, not hobbyists. That isn’t to say there is no joy in vocation; in fact, he gives joy, fulfillment, and even fun along the way. But fundamentally there is work to do, and there are days or weeks or seasons when that work is a grind.

“Vocation” happens wherever God puts us to carry out work that matters to him. It may be within a church or other Christian organization, the home, the marketplace, civil service, politics, or some combination of things. When I was young, I would not have predicted that I would work in the arena of California educational structures, policies, and politics, or that I would feel a passionate alignment of that work with God’s kingdom values. But that’s what happened, and I didn’t really see it all within God’s plan until I looked back.

So if you are like I was, looking into the future without sensing a clear, singularly-focused call, I would say to you: Relax. Love God. Align with his purposes and values in the work you are doing. Work diligently. And trust that he has his hand on you.

Why “Vocation”? Reclaiming a Lost Vision of Faith at Work

By | Visions of Vocation, Visions Of Vocation Resources | One Comment

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As you’ve likely seen from recent emails, the Practice has embarked on a three week journey to explore a “Theology of Vocation”. Let me be the first to say, that it is entirely fair at this point upon hearing the title of this journey, to say to yourself, “Huh?” Vocation, though not a four letter word, might feel like the last thing you’d expect to explore in the contemplative, spiritual, practice oriented gatherings of Sunday night. For many of us, vocation makes us think of “work” and work makes us think of anything but church. Work is the place we get paid. Work is that thing we have to do from nine to five. Work if anything, is simply that means to an end that allows us to live out the lives of our faith outside of the secular vocations in which we are employed. The early church father that said, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” might as well have said for most of us, “What does faith have to do with my job?”

If this disconnect between our work and our faith resonates with you, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Eusebius, the historian of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, taught us this trajectory of thought when he described the work of clergy as “the perfect life” (though you’d probably make any pastor laugh if you were to tell them such a thing). Clergy, according to Eusebius, had vocations that were allowed to be solely focused on “ministry” while the rest of us, the butchers, bakers, the candlestick makers, had what Eusebius called “permitted lives”. Non-clergy vocations were simply, “work that had to be done,” permitted though not necessarily important to what God was doing in the world.

Thankfully, and profoundly important for the journey we’ll be embarking on this month, the Protestant Reformers (such as Martin Luther and John Calvin), through a careful study of Scripture, became convinced that it was not only the clergy who did the work of the priesthood but that all vocations mattered to the mission of God. If we truly are a kingdom of priests, then every job, whether it be that of a janitor, a teacher, a yoga instructor, a barista, a mother, a librarian, a receptionist (the list could and should go on and on), every vocation becomes integral to God’s work of restoring and redeeming all things in Jesus Christ. If this is true, then our vocations actually become the very “ministry” we do of God’s kingdom. It’s not that we go to church, and there serve God, while our work is far from Him. Instead, everywhere we go, we are bringing the very presence of Christ through our priesthood. Abraham Kuyper, a man who lived out this Protestant conviction that vocations matter to God, by working as a journalist, a theologian, and eventually as prime minister of the Netherlands once said, “There is not a single inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” If this is true, then not only our tithing, our serving, our evangelizing, but every endeavor we undertake can be done for the glory of God, be it diaper changing, semi-truck driving, standing in the unemployment line or overseeing budget allocations for the upcoming fiscal year; our vocation is integral, not incidental to the mission of God.

For most of us, this kind of perspective might take some getting used to. To start, I wanted to offer what I’ve found to be an immensely helpful definition of vocation that Steven Garber offers in his book Visions of Vocation:

The word Vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors and citizenship, locally and globally- all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never that same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.

This is why the Practice is taking these first three weeks of the new year to begin a conversation of what vocation each of us might have; to move beyond a sacred/secular divide in which ministry happens “here at church” and vocations take place “out there in the inconsequential mundaneness of our lives.” Sunday simply cannot be the “main event,” neglecting the realities of our Monday’s to Saturdays, instead we gather to practice in order that we might be transformed and live out our faith in all aspects of our life.

Now I realize for many this conversation might be messy. What about the parent who is exhausted, the retiree who is bored, the unemployed who is desperate, or the office worker who is drained? Complex issues, require careful treading, and might take longer than simply three weeks to unpack. That’s alright. If our vocations are integral to what God is doing in the world, than one of the most important journeys we could go on as the body of Christ would be to begin together to discern in both the good and the bad how God is using our vocations to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Whether we be butchers, bakers, candlestick makers or something else entirely, is it possible that the way we contribute meaningfully to the world matters to God’s mission? I am beginning to believe down to my toes that it does, and I can’t wait to hear how these three weeks might help you to explore the way in which God is even now using you, in all aspects of your life. We invite you to join then into this messy glorious adventure, of discovering our vocations as integral, not incidental to the mission of God. We look forward to seeing you!

Grace and Peace,

John and the Practice team

Resources: A Theology of Vocation

By | Books, Resources, Visions of Vocation, Visions Of Vocation Resources | 2 Comments

 

Happy Wednesday Tribe!

As promised here is a list of recommended resources to continue our conversation from last Sunday with Steven Garber about the Theology of Vocation. Here are our top picks for books, blogs and organizations to take you deeper into how our vocations are integral, not incidental to the Kingdom of God.

May you have eyes to see sacramentally this week,

Blessings,

Jenna Perrine & The Practice Team

Here Are My Hands | A New Liturgy by Aaron Niequist

This two-part liturgy is all about recapturing the holy possibility of our commutes. On the way to work, Part ONE helps you to pray “God, here are my hands. What do You want to do through me today in my job? May my hands, voice, and heart help to bring Your Kingdom here on earth.”

And on the way home from work, Part TWO helps us reflect on the day, confess our sins, forgive those who have wronged us, and let it all go.

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Recommended Blogs further reading

Recommended Organizations to connect to

  • The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture.
    Founded by Dr. Steven Garber, the Washington Institute believes that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God in the world.”  Through teaching, writing and speaking, TWI sets for the vision that faith shapes vocation, and that shapes culture. They carry out their vision through partnerships with various foundations, businesses, retreat centers, congregations, seminaries and ministries around the world. Through their work, TWI seeks a “renewed vision of vocation and the common good.”
  • Laity Lodge
    An ecumenical Christian retreat center, Laity Lodge is dedicated to “enabling Christians to know Jesus deeply and to serve him in the everyday places of their lives.” Laity runs numerous retreats every year, some of which focus specifically on vocation, hosting gatherings for church, business and artistic leaders.
  • The High Calling
    This online magazine runs by the motto: “Every day conversations about work, life, and God.”  THC pays special focus to helping readers find God in their work, family, and broader culture.
  • WorkLife
    As their website says, WorkLife has “pioneered simple, yet impactful curriculum and tools to fuel your personal success.” The organization exists to provide individuals, churches and organizations with the tools to “find Life in work.” Visit their site to learn more and to discover the helpful tools they offer.
  • Redeemer’s  Center for Faith and Work 
    A ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, CFW is the “cultural renewal arm” of the Redeemer movement, founded to help individuals apply the gospel to their lives, connect to professionals within their field that can challenge and inspire their work, and mobilize leaders to become agents of change for the common good, through existing institutions and by creating new ones.