Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Course Correction?

There appears to be a growing consensus that online dating tools are coming up short in the the one area that matters most: true love.  While certainly many people are currently enjoying wonderful relationships consummated initially via the Internet, the mystique of love remains. Isn't true love supposed to transcend personality differences making the impossible impossible? After completing a lengthy questionnaire gauging your tolerance for disco music and dirty laundry, the web services set you up with any number of people who you could get along with just fine. And, as it turns out, they're all looking for a significant relationship! It's just too easy.
World Magazine recently featured the issue of Christian vocation and calling. "Serving a Higher Purpose" reviewed some common ground in reformed Presbyterian circles while offering fresh commentary on one of the more angst ridden issues in my life and many others. (See http://www.worldmag.com/archives/2010-12-04)
The classic reformation inspired understanding of calling is that God is glorified through our vocations, not in spite of them. We are called to use our gifts in the world to their greatest potential. The baker, plumber, and street sweeper can all be honoring to God by performing the duties of their vocation to the fullest.
In the reformed Christian family, children are thus taught to explore their gifts and then make a judgment on vocation based on these gifts and their passions and interests. Unfortunately, ones God-given gifts are not always obvious. Once discovered, it isn't always apparent how they match up with current employment options and jobs. Of course, a thoroughly rounded education and incredible exposure to the world via good books, travel, media, and the Internet have expanded interests exponentially. In the midst of what becomes a quagmire of self-searching various career guides and life path programs have popped up touting clear headed answers on what you would be best at.   
I'd like to propose that our current concept of vocation has been corrupted by individualism. Vocation is used as an excuse to pursue personal interests rather than the needs of the family, church, or society. With such a wide menu of vocational offerings, there is a respectable job for every Christian vice.  
What if Christians are supposed to be pursuing "high impact" vocations? We should stop fooling ourselves that being a great IT Helpdesk agent is the same as being a great medical researcher.
What if vocation is not about me, but about what the world needs and what God wants for the world? Yes, we do all need good plumbers in our lives. But they don't need to be Christians.
What if vocation is not what comes most easily, but what may be actually quite hard? We should stop trolling the waters for a job that is "the right fit" and admit to ourselves what every Olympic athlete knows: you become great by working hard, by practicing. 
Our "personality profiles" and "career maps" have become sacrosanct. But I suspect that there are many of you that deep inside know that "serving a higher purpose" is much more meaningful than a 40 question questionnaire and a job that is nominally challenging, a little bit interesting, and pays the bills.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the facinating and thought-provoking post--looks like the introduction to a book. (Think about it!) I particular appreciate the challenge to think about vocation as a God-centered rather than self-centered inquiry. I find two things about your thesis discomforting, however. First, I wonder how the thought that Christians might dispense with intense self-examination and a determination and application of their peculiar gifts in seeking the right vocation fits with the Biblical texts often cited on these issues (e.g., 1 Cor. 12, Romans 12). These texts emphasize--as you do--the need to consider vocation and gifts in the context of service and the Church, but also emphasize that each of us has unique abilities to contribute. In fact, I would argue that the individualism you malign has its roots in these texts and a post-Reformation understanding of the individual and his or her place in the eyes of God. Second, I am unsure of your related suggestion that not all honest vocations are the same--that Christians should be pursuing "high impact" careers, contrasting the medical researcher vs. the IT helpdesk guy. I worry that there is a dangerous potential for elitism here. How do you define "high impact"? I can obviously agree with the claim that Christians should seek to work in a "high impact" way at whatever they do, but can think of too many Godly saints who have quite "lowly" jobs, but who carry themslves in a way that has incredible "impact" for Christ. Contrarily, I can think of Christians who have chosen what you would seem to consider ostensibly "high impact" professions, but who seem to have a wretchedly timid witness.