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Theresa Latini’s recent blog post on vocation has sparked a lot of energy in me. (I think she has sparked a lot of energy for others, as there is quite a dynamic conversation in the comments section.) I want to interact with some of Latini’s thoughts, add a couple reflections of my own, and pose a question.
By the time I graduated seminary (May 2011) I was sick of hearing the word “call”. Call became a word that was synonymous with the religiously privileged. I don’t think that was the intention of my professors and colleagues but I could feel it implied in conversations. I’m already circumspect of religious language that separates me from my people that are wary of my religious vocation. So the word “call” was something I cautiously tested on different kinds of friends. I would talk to people I knew who were continuing their education in engineering, medicine, and business and I rarely heard them use the word call to describe their work in life. Like Latini suggests in her first point, I heard them use the words meaning and purpose to describe their work.
I also heard the word fulfillment, as in “I find that designing websites is really fulfilling for me” or “It is fulfilling to know that if I continue my work in this firm by the end of my third year I will be making six figures.” I use the latter example as an experience to affirm Latini’s second point that “people find purpose and meaning in their relationships rather than in their work.” For this one friend, work is the avenue in which she can make enough money to provide meaningful memories for her spouse and friends.
Once upon a time, some twenty years ago, I used to play with stuffed animals. Not an uncommon experience for children. What might be a bit uncommon is how I played with my stuffed animals. I would line them up into rows to play church. As their pastor, I would gather grape juice and bread from the kitchen to then serve this “congregation” the Lord’s Supper. I also preached the Word to my play church and frequently received their offering (I remember writing out fake checks for these little stuffed creatures to give to church!). Pastoring is what I am supposed to do in this life. It gives me meaning, it gives the community meaning, and it is what I’m called to do (Oh, there’s that word call again!).
So as I reflect on my work and my friends work and the different vocabulary that swims around our circles I keep wondering if we are missing something in this conversation. Latini suggests that “our theology of vocation needs an overhaul, the kind that digs deeply and widely into the Christian tradition and holds (honors really) the realities of our contemporary context on the other.” So with that in mind I would like us to consider how privilege plays into our understanding of vocation.
I often wonder if the conversation of vocation is a privileged conversation. I have the privilege of getting paid to do the work that I love to do because I have many different resources to tap into. But this is not the case for many people. When I think about this globally, I think of the men and women who are impoverished and are forced into a career of sex work to provide for their families. Those who are forced into sex labor are not allowed to honor their vocation/calling due poverty. Or how about the individuals who are flipping burgers, not because they find fulfillment in grilling processed squares of meat, but because that was the only opportunity for employment. Why don’t those individuals have the same opportunity to live out their vocation?
The reality of privilege needs to be part of this when we talk about vocation. In my next post I will tease out what I mean when I say privilege and suggest that our conversation shouldn’t be focused so much on what we are going to do in this life but instead who we are going to be. I will also suggest those of us who are privileged carry a hefty responsibility when it comes to global vocation. And until then I welcome your thoughts and reflections on privilege and vocation.
How do you see vocation and privilege playing out in your context?