Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On a Personal Note

I began this blog with an acknowledgement that it is an exercise is self-aggrandizement. Today, I take that to a new height (well, at least I think it is).

I have resigned my current job in order to take a new one. The new job is in most respects just like the one I'm leaving, but there is the promise of more responsibility and management possibilities. And it is free of the personal-political circus where I currently work. So I'm making the jump. And ordinarily, that's not a big thing.

But I'm sort of surprised by what a big deal it is turning out to be.

Oh, some of it isn't surprising: I have worked with some of the people here for about 15 years, and since the company is very small, we're more like a squabbling family than a law firm-title insurance company. And I've had good times with all of the people -- although, in all honesty, the past few months have been very tense, for a variety of reasons that I don't intend to publicize except to one or two very intimate friends and only after an evening of very good wine or Scotch!

And on another level, it really means changing my (implicity) self-identity: I went to law school to prepare to be a particular kind of "helper." (Don't all? No!) And I work with the few lawyers here in a culture that is very pro-help: advocacy for the poor and especially for the proper care of children, lots of pro bono work, compassion for divorces. My office (which is huge and beautiful) is loaded with volume after volume of both theoretical stuff and of how-to-do-it-in-law stuff relating to children, families, small entrepreneurs -- the kind of clients that I had when I really practiced law. And now, even though I have not really practiced law for 5 or 6 years, I feel that I am giving that up. (I work in title insurance, and that occasionally calls for a legal opinion, but it's small potatoes law work.) Oh, I'll probably be helping the new company set up some enterprises that call on my legal training (and membership in the Bar Association). But as I try to pack my office for moving, I'm ditching shelves of stuff that, by surrounding me, contributed to my sense that I am a real, thinking lawyer. I am pretty much saying that I'm not a lawyer anymore. (So now maybe I can watch law shows on television without going psycho over some of the shenanigans.)

But with all of that, all of which I anticipated, I wasn't prepared to lose sleep, to feel in a funk -- that whole sort-of-depressed schtick.

And that leads to this one insight: The Church simply needs to develop a sense and a means of how to counsel people in discerning their vocations. We do a lousy job of defining "vocation" unless it has something to do with someone's becoming a pastor -- supposedly the only person in the room "called" to their job. We should be teaching children to value professions and jobs in terms of Christian vocation -- the vocation of the laity is a vitally relevant topic.

I am aware that the average person now changes "careers" about -- what? -- three or four times in a lifetime. (I on my own have kicked that average up. ) What are the implications of that for a theology of lay vocation -- and vice versa.

Is there much attention paid to lay work as "vocation"? I know that it ties in with at least Benedictine monastic thought, but I don't know much more than that. I'm aware of a couple of people who have theologized about the laity, but I don't think I've ever read anything.

And, then, of course, this implicates the Lutheran doctrine of "two kingdoms" or "two realms." And that's sort of a sticky wicket with me. But if we speak about the Christian life, we necessarily implicate discipleship, it seems to me. And from consideration of discipleship, it's a short step to not only the day-to-day ethical stuff, but also the broader issue of what I do with my life.

It'd be kind of fun to get into that, I think. (A friend asks seriously whether a Christian can possibly be called to be a stockbroker or a prostitute or a soldier/sailor: The last two were banned to Christians in the very early centuries, apparently, but the first one is an innovation on his part!)


Brian said...

I think you are right. We do a lousy job of talking about vocation. The discussion either denigrates into talk only of being a pastor (or maybe a rostered leader, or whatever), or the talk becomes so general that we might think absolutely everything can be considered a vocation. Stockbroker might be difficult to consider but possible. Now move away from prostitute to consider stripper... I think that there are some greatly misguided souls who would argue on the basis of liberation and other modern arguments that would allow for this to be seen as a vocation.

To discuss vocation, we need to start with the task to which are called in baptism: to glorify God, to preach the gospel, etc. How do we do that in our lives, no matter where we work?

One wonderful resource that I came across was William E. Diehl's Christianity and Real Life. Diehl was an executive at Bethlehem Steel and in this book, he calls for a more comprehensive discussion of vocation.


LoieJ said...

I don't remember learning about vocation in church settings, except for last summer at Holden Village, where the theme was "Summon Out What We Shall Be." Currently, there is a multi year push, provided for by, I believe, a Lilly grant, for the Lutheran Colleges to teach about vocation. Good idea, but this still focuses only on the Lutherans with high grades and/or lots of money.

I remember reading in the Living Bible in the Psalms, years ago, "Don't be lazy in your work." Somehow I have developed a sense that people of all walks of life have callings, vocations. We all need to do a good job where ever we find outselves (or shere God has put us). For example, the "best" hospital would be severely downgraded if the cleaning staff was lazy. I also believe that our calling can change at various times in our life.
So, blessings on your new position. Remember: Transitions take energy. Rejoice is what is new and good. Grieve what you are leaving, hopefully for good reason.

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