Tag Archives: vocation

Christian vocation in a “secular” world – part 2 – Gregory the Great


[This is the second in a series; the first part is here.]

Here’s the first question that may be nagging us as we seek a sense of vocation in our work:

  1. Does time dedicated to working in the secular world endanger our souls? Is there an inherent tension or contradiction between the “worldliness” of work and the “spirituality” of faith?

A century or two before the opening of the Middle Ages, the theologian whose influence would become definitive for the next thousand years, Augustine of Hippo, distinguished two spheres of human endeavor: the “active life”—our work in the world—and the “contemplative life”—our private worship and prayer. The active life could be good, but the contemplative life, such as that enjoyed by monks and nuns, was much better—and indeed safer for our souls.

Augustine’s view has persisted in some circles right up to this day – but it was quickly challenged by the man some consider the spiritual father of the medieval church, as Augustine was its theological father.

Born into a wealthy family and educated in grammar, rhetoric, law, and letters, young Gregory—who would become Pope Gregory the Great (540-604)—rose by age 33 to the exalted position of Roman prefect, in charge of the city’s police force, food supply, and finances.

Gregory found in Augustine’s distinction between the active and contemplative life a frightening challenge to his spiritual life. He worried that all the ordinary, daily, and challenging work of the prefecture might be endangering his very soul. Where in all the busyness could he find God?

Agonized, Gregory left his wealth and power, taking on the monastic vows of obedience, poverty, and celibacy, and the monastic life of daily disciplines, prayer, and Bible reading. He expected to live out his years safely ensconced in the contemplative routines of the cloister.

But his holy seclusion was not to last. Just three years later, in 578, Pope Benedict I called Gregory out of his monastery to become one of the seven deacons of Rome, an office carrying heavy administrative duties. And when Pope Pelagius II died of plague twelve years later, Gregory was unanimously chosen succeed him as pope. Continue reading

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Can we find Christian vocation in the “secular” world of work?


industryfactory

After a hiatus, I’m back. Sorry friends – it’s been a crazy life this past year or more. If anyone ever asks you to start an entrepreneurial initiative at a conservative religious college, maybe think a couple times before saying “yes” . . .

So, on the question above: “Can we find Christian vocation in the “secular” world of work?”

First I should say (but you know this already): It ain’t easy. It ain’t obvious. And for a lot of us, we’re just not sure it can ever really happen.

The other day I was at Upper House – a Christian study center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison – and I talked about this with a group of marketplace folks & pastors. Thought you might be interested to see the four stories I told to answer the question. [If these help you, or confuse you, or you think they’re bunk – unleash a comment or two. I’m always happy to engage.]

For those in a hurry, here’s the nutshell:

(1) This question is important to me personally

(2) There are (it seems to me) at least four questions lurking behind this question for many Christian folks

(3) Being a historian, I rooted around in the cellar of history and found four folks who I think can help us out with those questions

(4) Spoiler alert: Their names are Gregory, John, Charles, and . . . well . . . Clive.

OK, here goes, in five linked posts (my intro + the four guys & their answers):

Continue reading

C S Lewis and chronological snobbery: “Why–damn it–it’s medieval!”


Old-books-on-shelves-001Lewis was born to save the modern world from trashing its traditions – both Christian and classical. Once he had converted from his own “chronological snobbery,” he quickly found a vocation in recovering tradition for others. This is the second post from the “Tradition chapter” of Medieval Wisdom: An exploration with C S Lewis. The first is here.

For an idea of how Lewis viewed the power of tradition, we turn to his answer to the Christian Century magazine when they asked him, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” The wording of that question is crucial. They asked not “what books did most to influence your style?” or “fire your imagination?” or “give you templates for your own writing?” etc., but rather “what books shaped your vocational attitude and philosophy of life.” As we see in the preface to Sister Penelope’s translation of Athanasius’s De Incarnatione, retitled “On reading old books” in later anthologies, and even more in his De Descriptione Temporum address at Cambridge in the Fall of 1954, nothing more triggered for Lewis “the place where his deep gladness met the world’s deep need”[1] than the modern abandonment of tradition. I mean his sense that in abandoning tradition, the modern world had dealt itself a grievous wound, which only his Christian faith kept him from seeing as inevitably fatal.

Lewis was perhaps the best prepared person of his generation for the task of appreciating and passing on the wisdom of past generations to those yet to come. Continue reading

Check out this cool conference on faith and work


faith-work-cultureJust wanted to show y’all this conference we’ve been working on here at Bethel Seminary, for Thur-Fri Oct 10-11, 2013. Come one, come all!

Think a personality test like the Myers-Briggs can guide you to your perfect career? Think again, says Fortune


phreneologyhead-graphicsfairy010bFortune magazine has recently reaffirmed what a lot of people have been saying for a long time about personality tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). When I hear someone talking about “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality,” it warms my heart. Yes, I am a PTC (personality test curmudgeon). Says Fortune:

One other thing, and this matters especially for anybody who thinks personality tests can guide them to a perfect career. According to official Myers-Briggs documents published by its exclusive European distributor, the test can “give you an insight into what kinds of work you might enjoy and be successful doing.” So if you are, like me, classified as INTJ (your dominant traits are being introverted, intuitive, and having a preference for thinking and judging), the best-fit occupations include management consultant, IT professional, and engineer.

Would a change to one of these careers make me more fulfilled? Unlikely, according to psychologist David Pittenger, because there is “no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation … nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types.” Pittenger advises “extreme caution in [the MBTI test’s] application as a counselling tool.” Then why is the MBTI so popular? Its success, he argues, is primarily due to “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality and steady marketing.”

When I cite the avalanche of critical studies to career counsellors, coaches, and trainers who administer Myers-Briggs tests, they often point out that the test is not designed to match people to ideal careers. Yet many of them ignore the evidence and keep on handing them out, typically because they are still believers in it as a guide to personality types, but sometimes — I suspect — because it gives their advice a veneer of legitimacy.

I am especially concerned that people take these tests and then make major life decisions based on the simplistic self-portraits that result from them. Why? Because they are not only “beguiling” but, demonstrably, unreliable:

The interesting — and somewhat alarming — fact about the MBTI is that, despite its popularity, it has been subject to sustained criticism by professional psychologists for over three decades. One problem is that it displays what statisticians call low “test-retest reliability.” So if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test.

That’s not the kind of track record I’m interested in building my life on. I prefer the older, slower method of listening carefully to the people who know me well. It’s not sexy, you can’t buy it, and its answers aren’t always clear, but its relational nature matches it more closely to what we’re trying to figure out: the incredibly complex, layered mass of predilections, gifts, and experiences that make up our shifting-but-centered personalities.

You can read the whole Fortune article here.

Is it hard to be a Christian actor? This Two and a Half Men star thinks it may often be.


Modesty!, etching, published by G. Humphrey , ...

Modesty!, etching, published by G. Humphrey , London, 7th June 1821, (Caroline of Brunswick, wife of King George IV, at a theatre in Genoa, with her secretary and constant companion Bartolomeo Pergami) Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Museum number: S.51-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What I would say to a person who is firm in their faith and wants to go into an acting career: It is such a difficult thing to do without compromising your beliefs. Even though you are just pretending, if you sign the contract and agree to do what they are doing, even if your character is not evil or doesn’t compromise your belief, you are in a world similar to that of Alexander the Great. Everything the Greeks did was to promote their own worldview, their schools, their theater, their religion, and their sports. You are either in the world or with God. Committing yourself to some kind of job that isn’t committed to God is going to bring so much trouble into your life. It’s not good and not something I would suggest that someone seek.”

So says Angus T. Jones, the 19-yr-old star of Two and a Half Men. Now, I would have to agree with Jones that this particular show, which has for years made Jones himself one of the wealthiest child star on television, has few if any redeeming qualities. “Filth” may not be too strong a word. But he is raising a larger question here: Is it possible to be an actor and a Christian?

The 3rd-century Roman Christian Tertullian thought not. And he had some good reasons: “The Shows” of his time included nudity, sexual acts, and violence–including gladiatorial contests and the public execution-by-wild-animals of many Christians. They also took place in settings explicitly dedicated to idols. Here is Tertullian, in his de spectaculis (“The Shows”): Continue reading

AUDIO LECTURES: Which 10 books most influenced C S Lewis?


cs-lewis-pensiveI just read that I’m now a “distinguished guest speaker.” Checked quickly in the mirror: doesn’t look like I have any more grey hairs . . .

Anyhow, the Madison C S Lewis Society has just posted the audio of a tremendous series of nine top scholars, plus me, speaking at their Oct 2012 conference on the ten books that most influenced C S Lewis. I’ve got to say this was the most stimulating conference I’ve attended in a long, long time.

These were the books Lewis listed toward the end of his life in answer to a question from the American magazine The Christian Century about which books had most influenced his “sense of vocation and philosophy of life.” My assignment: to discuss how Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, of which the medievalist Lewis said, “To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalized in the Middle Ages,” influenced the Oxford don.

Appropriate to my activities these days in Bethel Seminary’s Work with Purpose initiative, in this talk I pay particular attention to the question of how Lewis saw his own vocation as a public intellectual attempting to preserve and recommend the Old Western Christian tradition.

The link is here. (In my bit, the talk is around 40 minutes; the lively Q&A at the end is perhaps the most interesting part: you may just want to skip ahead!) And here is the full list of books and speakers:

The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto presented by Dr. Adam Barkman from Redeemer University College. 
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell presented by Dr. Paul Tankard from the University of Otago, NZ. 
Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour presented by Dr. Charles Taliferro from St. Olaf College. 
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius presented by Dr. Chris Armstrong from Bethel University. 
Phantastes by George MacDonald presented by Dr. David Neuhouser from Taylor University 
The Temple by George Herbert presented by Dr. Don King from Montreat College. 
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton presented by Dr. Donald T. Williams from Toccoa Falls College. 
Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams presented by Dr. Holly Ordway, Houston Baptist University. 
The Aeneid by Virgil presented by Dr. Louis Markos from Houston Baptist University. 
The Prelude by William Wordsworth presented by Dr. Mary Ritter from New York University.