Wal-Mart & the Neo-American Dream

Today’s guest post comes from Bill Sieben, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between faith, vocation and work.

Beginning my recent Theology of Vocation class, I struggled to determine the difference between a Theology of Vocation class vs. a Discipleship Class. What I found is that a Theology of Vocation includes an element of vocational or even societal reformation. It includes a level of discipleship that goes beyond personal interactions and begins to engage with systems and conforming them too, to be compatible with the Gospel.

One of the books we read in class was “To Serve God and Wal-Mart”. Now Wal-Mart is low hanging fruit in this conversation because it is the extreme, but the truth is that the Wal-Mart’s of the world are not simply singular entities that are reaping enormous befit off the backs of others. Wal-Mart is as much its patrons’ as it is itself, without customers Wal-Mart doesn’t exist. In my view the Wal-Mart’s of the world represent a society willing to exploit cheap labor in a distant country, cheap labor of their neighbors, and even their faith to save a buck. The problem isn’t just Sam Walton attaching himself to Christian culture like a lamprey and sucking monetary wealth out of it, the problem is the culture that told him they were fine with that.

As Christians, we are living with a desire that should be different than the society around us until we change the society around us to reflect The common desire.  Because the bulk of our life is wrapped up in our vocation our desire in that vocation must be Gospel centered, eschatological and focused on the glorification of God. What that glorification looks like can be debated, but at a minimum it includes loving the Lord God with all our heart heart and with all of our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind; and then loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27 & Mark 12: 30-31). It must also include acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

A theology of vocation requires a reconsideration of the Neo-American Dream. Where once we wanted freedom and the pursuit of happiness, we now want stuff and endless amounts of it, and we don’t care whose freedom or happiness we have to steal to get it. We indoctrinate our youth into this telling them that the purpose of education is about earning money, not earning knowledge. The purpose of money is about buying things, not helping orphan, widow or sojourner.

Sin doesn’t keep us from loving; sin is what keeps us from loving things more than we love God. So as we enter the conversation of vocation we need have our neighbors in mind, and from the parable of the Good Samaritan we can understand our neighbor as any being which reflects the image of God. Desire will always override intellect, the only thing that changes desire is a greater desire, and this is the chink in the armor of the societal greed, this is what will move us towards God devoted vocations and empower us as we exploit sin’s weakness.

Plato taught that all people understand their place & each person should pursue “the good life” from their place in society.  Aristotle included the notion that everyone has a potentiality. For Aristotle, society exists to make it possible for individuals to reach their potentiality. I think both these philosophers bring something to the conversation. Because when I say “God devoted vocations” I’m not speaking of running a church. I’m speaking of being a church, from your place in society.

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