Tuesday, September 11, 2007

the vocative

O Readers,

How many of you do a job you know is worthwhile? Is fulfilling? Is just? How many of you would call what you do a "vocation" or say you feel called to it? How did you come to that calling? How many of you would quit a job if you realized it was contributing to injustice in the world? How many of you have chosen to earn less money in order to do a job that was more worthwhile than the bigger paycheck? How many of you would happily quit your job today if you didn't need to earn that money? What would you do instead?

14 comments:

krister said...

I appreciate this post. I often wonder the same thing. I wonder if vocation is as central a thematic question for others as it is for myself. My wife insists that most people don't look to their job for fulfillment, but I simply cannot do something I'm not passionate about.

For what it's worth, I feel like my current job is fulfilling. As a chaplain I get to spend time with people in their most vulnerable states and wonder with them about where God might be in the midst of their situation. I would say that this is a vocation of sorts; I'm not convinced that this is what I was born to do, but I think that if I had to do this the rest of my life I could do so and not regret it greatly.

I'm not sure that I feel called to pastoral ministry long term, but for now it seems to fit with my theology and where I'm at with our denomination. I don't see myself doing well trying to fight the good fight within the church, so chaplaincy gives me the freedom to be myself theologically and pastorally while keeping me connected to people in need of care. As a resident chaplain I certainly don't make much; my wife is the breadwinner in our family for sure. I think that I would make a little more down the road if I were to become a board certified chaplain, but it's likely no more than a teacher's salary.

At the end of the day, though, I can say that I've contributed something intangible, and I return home feeling good about what I do knowing that I'm not trying to con people into buying a product I don't believe in, I'm not working for a big firm that's out to overcharge clients for the work, and I'm not kicking myself for taking a job where all I do is punch numbers all day never knowing if what I do has any correlate in the real world.

I struggle with whether or not to pursue academia primarily because I don't want to lose that connection to people, but at the same time, in this job I don't get a chance to explore, learn, create or teach. Ultimately, teaching in a seminary seems to be where I'd like to end up because there's nothing like watching people's internal lights go on when they hear a theological concept for the first time that completely reorients how they view God, scripture, etc. I wouldn't be who I am without the support and encouragement I received from my major theology professor. It would be gratifying to return the favor.

hermit greg said...

Five!

Greg Kendall-Ball said...

I see someone is preparing for their "lecture" next week!

A great series of questions, though, and mildly related to the discussion at Joe's blog last week.

I feel my current job has some worth, but yes, if money was no object, I would quit in a minute to pursue my career as a photographer. I think that lines up more closely with an idea of vocation: using your abilities or God-given talents to make the world a better place.

I would write more, but I need to go process some images...

JTB said...

Hey GKB, just so you know, I am planning on making the claim that photography can indeed be followed as a Christian vocation...only not by a paparazzi. :)

JTB said...

Krister, your first comment makes me wonder if whether we ought also to advocate the option of finding vocation outside one's job rather than insisting on everyone finding the perfect economic niche for themselves. This might be a liberating message to give to people in situations where earning a paycheck is an immediate and non-negotiable bottom line.

I also like the sense that one can go about vocation in any number of possible settings--even some that are consciously transient.

krister said...

After re-reading my original comment I think that I may have been a little harsh knocking other occupations. I know of an accountant who probably does as much counseling as he does bookkeeping and preachers who spend more time in meetings and in sermon prep than they do with their congregants, so it really does depend on how the person understands their role/vocation within any occupation. There are some jobs, though, that I wonder how people come to grips with it ethically.

Your comment reminded me of a class I took on Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Care when we talked about the difficulty some stay at home parents have when it comes to spiritual disciplines since they're always up and about with their kiddos, and we talked about finding a spiritual rhtythm even within the day to day grind. I think the same can be said for vocation.

This is just a personal hangup of mine because I've tried teaching in the elementary setting and not enjoyed much of it and have worked for a large airline and found little fulfillment there. I just can't imagine spending 8+hours a day doing something I don't love. I realize it's a luxury that many don't have.

JTB said...

Personally, though I am in little doubt of my vocation, I get a very strong sense of academia as a pointless exercise that has little impact on the world. When you're an abstract idea person--as I keep on turning out to be--though, where else could you be useful? And other days I feel very strongly that ideas do impact the world, albeit invisibly a lot of the time, and that trading in ideas is a worthy and relevant thing to be doing. And all of this is just to say that even though I would consider medical work or humanitarian mission a more worthy calling than my own, I must still recognize those things as someone else's vocation. Not that I mean I therefore have nothing to do with all that stuff--what I do should support it somehow, but just to recognize what Paul was getting it with all the gift talk in Corinthians. So...maybe I have vocation envy, but at least I don't have vocation confusion...

and Krister, speaking of finding a spiritual rhythm within the daily grind (of a stay-at-home mommy academic), I am forever indebted to your link to pray-as-you-go from awhile back. In fact I am planning to mention it at Lectureship--shall I drop your name as my source? :)

krister said...

I've wondered the same things about academia, and on one hand I think, "What difference will my thoughts on communitarian soteriology make in the real world?" but then I remember as a seminarian what those sort of abstract lessons meant to me, how they fueled my passion to find a way to be a different kind of disciple and minister than what I've grown up with. Plus, in a way seminary professors have the opportunity to be the ministers of the ministers. I think the most fortunate people in the world are those people who can say that they feel a sense of what I've heard described as a hidden wholeness, whether it's in a job, family, or other mode of belonging. But I'm with you on the whole gift thing in Paul's writings.

Feel free to drop my name; I'm sure people will run back to their hotel rooms to try to figure out who the clever chap was who found such an interesting resource! Seriously, though, I'm glad you enjoy it. It's been a helpful thing for someone who often struggles reading scripture.

For what it's worth, I was recommended a couple books while talking about vocation with the counselor at PTS a few years back. One of them was called Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy. The other was called What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson. Very different books, but both were helpful in their own ways.

TKP said...

So, I'm not going to be able to see you in Abilene-work stuff came up. So sad. Hope you knock them out anyways.

Scott said...

I'm pretty sure that my job is worthwhile. Not very fulfilling at the moment but what do you do?

Casey. said...

I know most days that my job is worthwhile, but I often struggle to feel fulfilled in it. Sometimes I feel like my efforts to help better these peoples lives are futile. Not that they don't want something better, or that they are actively trying to make something better for themselves, but simply the number of things they are up against make this task so daunting.

Because so much of my work is based on principle, I've stopped working places because I felt that their practices were harming patients (and did not listen to my cries). I have taken a signficant pay-cut to work somewhere I thought was moving in the right direction, and was going to be very active in helping its clients. It seems to be the key to doing the kind of work that I do. Move around until you find a place where the work is as active as you like, treats people with the degree of dignity you expect, and is empowering in their practices to the degree that you find necessary.

JTB said...

Casey, this is part of why you are one of my real-life heroes.

Anonymous said...

Your questions are many of the questions I have been asking and answering about my job in the past few months. I would say my job is definitely worthwhile, but not always fulfulling. I work near my vocation, but not fully in it (which can be a frustration--to see others being paid to do what I feel called to do and not be able to participate in that myself). I am the grantwriter for a large theater company, but I think my "vocation" is as a theater director and eventually, perhaps, a teacher. So my job as a grantwriter supports important theater productions and educational programs, but I am not as personally or creatively involved as I would like to be in order to feel "fulfilled."

I definitely don't earn much money compared to many people, and that's a career choice I've made, even though I'm the primary breadwinner in our marriage right now while my husband is in school. I'd much rather work within my field and earn less money than do something I really hate and have more income. One of these days, my husband will not be a student and can (hopefully!) find gainful employment that will allow me some more freedom to pursue my vocation. Until then, I do my best to find ways to be fulfilled within this context and I seek out opportunities (both theater-related and not) outside of work to find fulfillment. And, to be fair, my job is a heck of a lot more fun than most people's in the world.

-JW

Hilary said...

When I was on tour with a Broadway show our assistant choreographer told us on opening night: "Your job, for 2.5 hours a day, is to make people happy. It's a pretty amazing thing to say that's your job, and I hope you never take it for granted". I never did.

I can't save someone's life like doctor's Trisha and Ehi, or turn their lives around like social worker Casey, nor do I have the patience to educate the next generation like teachers Gilda and Bryan. But I get to be a part of beauty, joy, laughter, goosebumps, and creating worlds we can only dream about through film, books, and stage. I get to create art, Without art our world would be much more bland. With it, we are able to see (whether we realize it or not) the beauty of the Ultimate Artist and the joy He gets at filling our lives with beautiful things.

Most of the time right now I have a day job. Not a career, but a "side job", a part time job. But in between performing I am actively pursuing my vocation through training and auditioning ... and hopelessly poor because of it, but unable to imagine doing anything else regardless of how much it paid.