Friday, September 3, 2010

Voca-what?: Talking about Vocation

I'm in the city of Washington, DC for many reasons. I want to see the "halls of power" that are written and rewritten in everything from popular crime novels to studies about Christianity in the political sphere, to newspapers and CNN special reports. I want to hear the stories of the poor and the rich. I want to know what it's like to write research proposals and send them out into the world, knowing that the small stapled packet will likely end up on an intern's desk and be reviewed in a building that you could walk to from your small apartment.

I want to know why this city attracts the 20-somethings of our generation: is it because we are more decisive than other emerging adults, or less? Is working here about putting on mantles of responsibility, or leaving them in the closet while we add internships and entry-level work to our résumés?

My mind was bursting with these questions when I arrived. What I was not expecting when I came to Washington, DC was to be asking myself whether or not I am called to be here. At first even the question sounds silly: no one picked up a heavenly telephone and tapped into my cell phone, saying, "Hello Hilary, this is an angel of the Lord speaking. Please report to Gate C at Logan Airport to fulfill your call to be at the American Studies Program, Fall 2010. Thank you for listening. This is a recording. In a few moments this message will repeat. To disconnect now, press Star."

Yet everyone seems to "get" this concept of vocation.When I look around me during lectures or guest speakers, I see people nodding and taking copious notes. Sometimes I see people shake their heads, clearly uncertain about how this person's view of "vocation" fits with what they've been taught. But I'm sitting there in my Massachusetts, liberal-artsy, Anglican pants, hearing different theological takes on vocation, different vocabularies about vocation, and after a while the word "vocation" sounds more and more like, "vacation" which has more than once led my mind to thinking about sunny beaches and bodysurfing in the Caribbean (okay, maybe the bodysurfing is a bit out there, since I'm by no means an outdoorsy girl).

Where did this word even come from? I have heard of it in classes at Gordon, in discussions with participants of the Elijah Project (which focuses intentionally and intensely on vocation), but I don't know if I've ever really asked what it means. And now, as I'm sitting in Washington DC on pins and needles about starting my internship, I am confused about why I'm asking questions about being "called" to be in politics or being "gifted and called" with a mind for policy or law. Have I, in my academic towers of ethics or philosophy or the humanities, missed the boat on being called to jobs, apartments, cities, spouses? When I was asking whether or not intrinsic good lurked in humanities and literature, in science and math, should I have instead been asking where I was "called by God to go"?

I wasn't sure I was meant to be here when I arrived. I didn't have that feeling of certainty when I got off the airplane. I don't, even now, feel necessarily "called" to this semester. And since arriving and starting this unit on "Leadership and Vocation," I am less and less convinced that I am even asking the right question. If I spend all this time and energy examining whether or not I am "called" (literally or metaphorically), then what am I doing about just being here, being faithful to what I see in front of me? What if, as students of Christian colleges, we are asking the wrong question?

I have no doubt that vocation is a word that has serious meaning, for Christians and non-Christians alike. I have no doubt that it deserves time and attention, and I'm thankful that I get the opportunity to enter the conversation about vocation in a place where I never expected to see it. So my first question to the other participants of this conversation is, What questions are we supposed to ask about vocation? What questions get at the meaning of vocation? Where do I begin to look?

I'm excited to hear what you think!


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