Discernment and Vocation: Part 1

I have enrolled in a Vocation and Discernment course offered through McCormick Seminary. Our weekly discussion responses occasionally seem like good blog posts, so I’m going to start sharing mine here. I will also include the subject material of the discussion as is possible.

READ:

DISCUSSION BOARD:

Have you ever encountered the word “vocation” before? What was your understanding of it before beginning this course? Write about how you understand “vocation” – where did your understanding come from? Identify the major forces in your life that shaped how you understand what vocation means (e.g. society, pop culture, family, church, friends, etc.)

The call narratives in Matthew 4 (verses 18 -22) are stunningly brief, and are set within a broader narrative of public ministry. Do you find the call narratives compelling? Why do you think they are so simple, so direct, so lacking in instruction or endorsement? How does this spare narrative compare with a longer call narrative such as Moses in Exod 3:1-4:17?

Explore again what “vocation” and “discernment” mean to you. How do the readings, videos, and other resources for this week challenge or support you in that exploration?

My Response:

Career Minded? Is it Vocational Discernment?

I am thankful that at my previous university the career development center never mentioned the word “vocation”. I have been very career oriented my entire life. Since I was around the age of 7, I was thinking of what I wanted to do with my life. Inspired by the rocks being sold at a flea market, I decided to become a Geologist. Consumed by the fantastical narration of the History Channel’s WWII in HD, I became deadest on joining the Airforce and becoming a pilot. When the politics of my immediate and church family began to flood my feed on Facebook, I felt destined to be the next prestigious government leader that would pass the ideal liberal policies and outwit conservatives. Then when I finally got to college and was surrounded by wealthy Alumni and the influence of the Williams School of Economics, Politics, and Commerce, I thought I might as well hop on the train to a six figure salary, because that’s what seemingly everyone before me had done. By the time I first encountered the word vocation I was in a much humbler position, living at home and working at the local feedstore with my father. 

I first learned of the word vocation in the interview process of becoming a Young Adult Volunteer. I knew it was a core tenant of the program, but I certainly had no real idea what it meant other than the program would likely encourage us to go to seminary, as my sister had done after her two YAV years. Having now been a YAV for six months, I have a different idea of vocation. In listening to the wisdom of Jimmy Hawkins, working in an organization fighting for housing justice, and thinking quite a lot about my return to undergraduate studies, I have become much less fixated on earning an impressive salary which would allow me to enter a echelon of American Society that was before school completely unknown to me. As I understand vocation now, I’m still don’t feel sure of what exactly it is to me or to society as a whole. I vaguely understand the idea of a calling, that there are inherent talents that people have and particular situations which dictate how people will go about their lives. As a member of the dominant culture I feel as though I have the least restriction on what my “calling” is compared to those who face systemic roadblocks. I often feel troubled by the privilege that allows me to be a YAV for a year, knowing that for many the option of taking a year to go on this journey simply isn’t feasible. I feel uncomfortable knowing that it seems that white men have historically been “more called” to hold positions of political, corporate, academic, and theological power than other sections of society. It is in this way I am struggling the most with the concept of vocation. 

I know what brings me joy and what talents I possess. I know reasonably well how I would like most to implement those in my career. What I feel like I don’t know is how to do so with intentionality around how it may be influenced by systems of white supremacy, sexism, etc. In some ways I see that struggle as my vocation right now and going forward. I feel as though being less focused on the job and career aspect of vocation and being more focused on intentionality is the closest thing I have to a calling at the moment. In that way, I feel invited by a number of different factors to embrace that at this very moment. It’s standing right here in front of me, similar to how Jesus simply stood and called out to the first disciples in Matthew and they followed. Perhaps the simplicity of the call is what makes it so powerful. It’s obvious and right there in front of them. 

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