Other words for vocation

Language is inherently metaphorical, and those underlying metaphors shape the nuances of meaning and thus how we think. Tickletext’s discussion of “Vocation” vs. “Career”–do we think of our work as something God has called us to, or as a road we happen to be on?–made me think of other words that we use.

OCCUPATION. What we do to pass the time? Actually, the word has the sense of “place.” Our work as the place we occupy.

JOB. That originally referred to the unit that was made by the craftsman. It came from a word for “lump”!

PROFESSION. That means “a public declaration,” probably referring to the oaths necessary to enter certain guilds. (Cf. “profession of faith.”) That’s the converse of vocation: what the person says, whereas vocation–calling–refers to what God says.

Vocation-related words that convey the classic theological meaning include “CALLING” (of course, which is all “vocation” means, connoting a voice that summons and names); “OFFICE” (a position of authority), “STATION” (where someone is assigned to stand), “POST” (where a soldier is stationed).

(Etymologies from Merriam-Webster.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fws

    Excellent post. This topic truly is multi-faceted, in exactly the way facet evokes a meaning.

    I have also though about this as ontological (who one IS) as opposed to what someone does.

    And then how we err in separating by distinguishing, and also err by thinking the label defines the thing. (like some here in error say that the think the vocation of marriage, the think itself that is indicated by that word, can actually "re-defined" if the government decides that a word has a new or different meaning. This idea is quite silly isn´t it?)

    Your post is great, because you point out that words used to describe one facet of what we might include in the word "vocation" evolved over time to mean something that the original use of those words could hardly have predicted.

    I am living in Brasil. struggling to learn portuguese, and realizing how language interplays with and governs our thinking in a way that challenges our self-image of objectivity. Language as vocation and playground. serious stuff!

  • fws

    Excellent post. This topic truly is multi-faceted, in exactly the way facet evokes a meaning.

    I have also though about this as ontological (who one IS) as opposed to what someone does.

    And then how we err in separating by distinguishing, and also err by thinking the label defines the thing. (like some here in error say that the think the vocation of marriage, the think itself that is indicated by that word, can actually "re-defined" if the government decides that a word has a new or different meaning. This idea is quite silly isn´t it?)

    Your post is great, because you point out that words used to describe one facet of what we might include in the word "vocation" evolved over time to mean something that the original use of those words could hardly have predicted.

    I am living in Brasil. struggling to learn portuguese, and realizing how language interplays with and governs our thinking in a way that challenges our self-image of objectivity. Language as vocation and playground. serious stuff!

  • fws

    err by thinking the label defines or is the thing… expanded thought:

    i point to a picture of a lamp. you say "that is a lamp." obviously not. but label a person. a child on a playground called a name for instance, and that person is hurt because he "becomes" that label.

    Labels applied to humans are always wrong when applied intransitively. someone who identifies with his vocation thusly will suffer. the one exception the label we receive in Holy Baptism.

  • fws

    err by thinking the label defines or is the thing… expanded thought:

    i point to a picture of a lamp. you say "that is a lamp." obviously not. but label a person. a child on a playground called a name for instance, and that person is hurt because he "becomes" that label.

    Labels applied to humans are always wrong when applied intransitively. someone who identifies with his vocation thusly will suffer. the one exception the label we receive in Holy Baptism.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    "Vocation" seems to be a low-specificity word with a wide domain of meaning and nuance, as opposed to the other more specific words you lists. That's why I love this word. My "vocation" is not simply my job, my career, my marital status, my station in life, the offices I hold, etc but it embraces everything I do. I think Robert Fulghum ("Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten") comes closest to the essence of this word when he says that his business card simply reads "Fulghum." He has had many jobs, titles, and positions, but this is what he does.

    I like to think of "vocation" in terms of "priesthood," offering up living sacrifices of gratitude to God in the form of work, worship, and play.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    "Vocation" seems to be a low-specificity word with a wide domain of meaning and nuance, as opposed to the other more specific words you lists. That's why I love this word. My "vocation" is not simply my job, my career, my marital status, my station in life, the offices I hold, etc but it embraces everything I do. I think Robert Fulghum ("Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten") comes closest to the essence of this word when he says that his business card simply reads "Fulghum." He has had many jobs, titles, and positions, but this is what he does.

    I like to think of "vocation" in terms of "priesthood," offering up living sacrifices of gratitude to God in the form of work, worship, and play.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Another word it might be worth throwing into the mix is "servant". "Service" (and all the related words) has one basic meaning, but many different uses and applications in Scripture — from describing Christ's role and work to describing all believers' roles and work. And that one basic meaning reminds us, again, that "It's not all about me."

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Another word it might be worth throwing into the mix is "servant". "Service" (and all the related words) has one basic meaning, but many different uses and applications in Scripture — from describing Christ's role and work to describing all believers' roles and work. And that one basic meaning reminds us, again, that "It's not all about me."

  • Arfies

    I know that "career" has been mentioned previously, but I'm not sure that there has been any recognition of the earlier, more basic meaning of that term. Webster's New Collegiatie Dictionary, 11th edition, has these entries:
    "1a: speed in a course (ran at full career)
    2: ENCOUNTER, CHARGE"
    i have long thought that there is an element here of a semi-controlled bouncing from one thing to another, even of bouncing off one thing and into another. I might be wrong, of course, but I still think that would be an accurate description of the way many people live their lives.

  • Arfies

    I know that "career" has been mentioned previously, but I'm not sure that there has been any recognition of the earlier, more basic meaning of that term. Webster's New Collegiatie Dictionary, 11th edition, has these entries:
    "1a: speed in a course (ran at full career)
    2: ENCOUNTER, CHARGE"
    i have long thought that there is an element here of a semi-controlled bouncing from one thing to another, even of bouncing off one thing and into another. I might be wrong, of course, but I still think that would be an accurate description of the way many people live their lives.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    It is the way I live mine. Or at least try to.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    It is the way I live mine. Or at least try to.

  • Cincinnatus

    I'm fairly certain that that's not an entirely good thing.

  • Cincinnatus

    I'm fairly certain that that's not an entirely good thing.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Benjammin Benjammin

    We might contrast those who are "steady as the sun" with those who job hop. And, yet even the sun has a course of which it could be said to be speedily tracking it's "career".

    It seems to me that, depending on how the onlooker's perspective is oriented (by the a part of the course, by the course itself, or if he hasn't caught any vision of the course at all), the person watched might seem disloyal, slow, or bouncy…. when in truth they are right on.

    Even Christians don't see all the dimensions of our Call to His face, so we keep what appears (even to us!) a crooked trajectory.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Benjammin Benjammin

    We might contrast those who are "steady as the sun" with those who job hop. And, yet even the sun has a course of which it could be said to be speedily tracking it's "career".

    It seems to me that, depending on how the onlooker's perspective is oriented (by the a part of the course, by the course itself, or if he hasn't caught any vision of the course at all), the person watched might seem disloyal, slow, or bouncy…. when in truth they are right on.

    Even Christians don't see all the dimensions of our Call to His face, so we keep what appears (even to us!) a crooked trajectory.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X