I have more liberty for reflecting on what I’m doing with my life, in a way, than I’d wish, than most people would probably wish. I stopped letting the reflecting come very much to the surface here some time ago, although it’s always sort of been the basic thing the site’s existence assumes. Lately, I’ve had it in mind to adjust course, pick up the pace here a bit, and give some of these running, backgrounded thoughts more expression.

‘Lately’ is misleading, really. I’ve had an itch to open some questions to light for a long time, without any good idea where to start. That hasn’t changed appreciably, despite changing circumstances.

Decent starting point or none, it feels like time to stop putting this off. One source of this feeling is my return last year to self-employment, after I’d landed with a good company, the very image of a situation where I’ve long thought I ought to find some relief from ‘vocational’ striving. This company — the people there, the work they do, the way they approach it — meant (and means) a good deal to me. Yet when asked, several months into the temporary arrangement with them, if I wanted to talk about a permanent position, I declined. What was I thinking? is a question I have frequently enough to think over my answers to these days.

Another prod to breaking out of my quiet posting pattern here has been fragmentary conversation, in person and online, over the same period of recent months — sometimes following my interest in someone else’s apparent certainty or uncertainty about what (next) she or he ought to be and do, sometimes following someone’s invitation to me to account, if I could, for myself.

The great conversational opportunity, one of these invitations, came in a note from Gideon Strauss, asking if I’d like to contribute to the series of blog posts he ran for some months last year, SIX. In pre-Facebook-&c. incarnation, Strauss’s blog had been a door to online discussion that seemed at once important and accessible, the first forum of its kind I’d been much drawn to engage with. (As I did, often badly.) The blog and the community it seemed to gather are a touchstone for me, still. So I was honored, on one hand, delighted at the thought of his blog’s new activity and the thought of having, possibly, something to bring to it.

On the other hand, ‘calling,’ the subject of SIX, is an obstacle course — and a zone in which I’ve found my thinking heading off at odd angles to Strauss’s since I started reading him. I had to doubt that I would manage to pull my thoughts together in a way that suited the series. I told him I’d think about it and hemmed & hawed inwardly for a while, and the opportunity passed — not without some disturbance in its wake.

Why my internal impedance on this social theme, ‘vocation,’ so familiar, so Christian, so American? Can I really not get near it without resorting to quote-mark irony? It’s not as though I’m not interested in work, in purpose, in responsibility, after all. Not hardly.

Here I recognize obliquely that the strongest motive for starting into any reflections about what I’m doing with my life is also the motive I’m most cautious about: the sense of the necessity of having something to say about my evolving in Christian identity & understanding. That is a necessity here, but I hope to avoid slipping into casual religious abstraction along the way.

6 Replies to “Vocatio”

  1. “Calling.” Long pause.

    Yeah, if one is to take one’s religion seriously it does seem imperative to say something. And yet …

    I’m thinking of a dinner conversation I was subjected to as an adjunct dinner-table guest. The primary guest was a pastor, who asked me what I did. I was “gainfully employed” at the time, so I told him. He then went on to tell me of a book he’d read that endorsed manual labor as among God’s highest callings. I wanted to tell him to fuck off. Then I wished I’d said so at the original question.

    But then that’s the sort of dyspeptic impulse that kills a dialog before it can begin. Perhaps it’s best to simply wish you success in your endeavor.

  2. Dyspepsia, faithful companion!

    With me, the impulse to tell a person of such practiced sincerity to fuck off never comes during the conversation, but follows later, sometimes much later — when it can settle in daydreams a frighteningly long time.

    You go right to something basic about the difficulty of conversation around this in Christian context, methinks, by bringing in the pastoral relation. I want to draw it out further if I can.

    Not really loving the assignment I’ve given myself here, to tell the truth. Off to an ugly start! But it needs doing, somehow.

  3. This guy put me on edge early, so I was sitting on that impulse from the git-go. The interim has also, in my case, been a frighteningly long time.

    It was a curious incident, though. If I were to judge from some of the blogs I’ve read, most pastors are troubled by questions regarding the worth of their own vocation. And of course I’ve got some “inside” perspective on those questions as well. I’m thinking of a link Gideon made to a business man who declared his pastor knew nothing of what he, the pro, had to face in his daily dealings. Well, boo-hoo: I’ll wager the guy in the suit knows SFA about his pastor’s daily grind, and possibly less than that when it comes to the people in his own employ.

    I suspect empathy and balance are the true “heavenly” calling. Theology and variations on game set theory, however, are more pleasurable to contemplate.

  4. Have to say that I’m terribly wary in general of that word balance. Less so here, as you pair it with empathy. Still, partly I think exactly where I’m headed is to insist that — ‘in this life,’ as we say — heavenly calling’s effect, likely as not, is a condition of being perpetually out of one’s ‘proper’ balance, the balance of fit and belonging, even perhaps the balance of judgment.

    I say ‘partly,’ there; unqualified, the thought surely won’t stand much examination.

  5. Might as well ‘fess up to the frustration I’m expressing. It’s not directed at you, but at the great cloud of witnesses. I’m still wrestling with nüescht, apparently.

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