on vocation and discernment

Saturday 26 April 2008

A little while ago I was asked to write a short article for the newsletter of the campus ministry I attended at college. Here is what I wrote:

There are two big words I remember hearing during my time at ULC: vocation and discernment. Pastor Lloyd reminded us all that during our time as students at Northwestern, our vocation was just that – a student at Northwestern. And when it came time for me to leave that place, it was a process of discernment I used to figure out where I would venture next. How could I “decide” where God was calling me? I needn’t worry if I had made the right decision, for I was assured that God would use me wherever I was, whatever I was doing.

I think about both of those words – vocation and discernment – as I approach the fourth anniversary of my graduation from Northwestern. After graduating in 2004, I spent my first two years teaching HS Math in the northern Chicago suburbs. However, I also spent the summer of 2005 and 2006 in Ohio, working as a camp counselor, as I had a few years during college. From there I moved to Milwaukee as a part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps – a year-long program where I lived in intentional community, attempting to live simply and sustainably while exploring spirituality and working toward social justice. My placement was in an “alternative” HS, co-teaching Math to about 100 students who didn’t quite fit into to standard Milwaukee Public Schools. This past August, when my LVC year was over, I moved to Washington, DC to take a position recruiting for LVC, in which I traveled around the Midwest, sharing about LVC at colleges and universities. I was recently hired to remain on staff to continue working with recruitment initiatives until Easter. And after that? – well, who knows!

It’s interesting to think I’ve now spent nearly as much time out of college as I did in college. But am I any closer to finding “my vocation?” A common definition of vocation is that of Frederick Buechner: “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And what happens when you throw the idea of discernment into the mix? Mustn’t we allow ourselves time to figure things out?

What I’ve come to believe is two-fold: First, our entire lives are a process of discernment. From the time we can talk, we’re asked something like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Thus begins one process of discernment. As we age, we are constantly discerning the kinds of relationships we want in our lives and if there might be a significant one among them. As I move around and do different “jobs,” I’m continuing to discern where to go and what to do next. And even if I come to a place I’m happy with, I’ll continue to discern whether to stay in that place and position or to maybe do something else.

Which flows into my second realization: Our vocation isn’t some job that’s perfect for us, but truly is, “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.” In all my different locations and positions, I feel I’ve been filling the hunger of the world around me while finding deep gladness throughout. There might not be one “job” I’m called to for life but instead many positions which fulfill my vocation.

So as I daily discern where God is calling me, I think of my vocation always in light of Micah 6:8b — “Do justice, loves kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

eric (CAS ’04) was a peer minister for three years while at ULC. You can learn more about LVC at www.LutheranVolunteerCorps.org and read eric’s blog @ ericbjorlin.wordpress.com

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breadth of information

Friday 8 February 2008

So this could probably be classified as the “random blog of the month” if there was such a thing, but I figured “why not.” Anyway, I was starting to read this short article when I read the author and it reminded me of the boss I had @ the Transportation Library where I worked while in college. So I went to their website, and sure enough, on the staff page, there was his name, still working in the same place I had left him four years ago, after four years of working in document delivery.

Thinking about my days there got me thinking about these things called Environmental Impact Statements, which really don’t have anything to do with transportation but we had become a repository for some years earlier when someone donated a lot of them to our collection And thinking of those triggered in me the time when EISes had somehow come up in conversation with someone (it took me brushing my teeth to remember exactly who — a librarian friend of mine in Chicago).

And all that, then, got me to thinking how fun it is to have a breadth of knowledge about many and varying things. I like to be in the know about things like waterboarding as well as who’s with or not with who on Grey’s Anatomy (or currently what exactly is up with the writer’s strike) — which is maybe why I don’t feel bad subscribing to Entertainment Weekly! I really enjoy talking to people (once we get started), and being able to discuss topics we both have knowledge and interest in makes for successful conversation. There are, of course, things I really enjoy and love to talk about — like socialism, the movies, and Ohio — but getting around and being able to draw from a large, sometime random, base of knowledge and experience is no only fun, it’s helpful.

So next time someone gets on you for gaining knowledge about something they deem inappropriate or unworthy of your time, just think of it as research for that next unknown conversation where you’ll be able to bring it up. (But watch how much time you spend on any one thing — unless it helps you win a game show or it’s your job, no one needs to be a snobby savant.)