Can sports be a vocation?

David Brooks argues that the nature of competitive sports is in conflict with Christianity and, indeed, all religions.  Not just that sports can be rough–not all of them are–but that sports require pride, whereas faith requires humility.  Here is part of what he says:

We’ve become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow. But we shouldn’t forget how problematic this is. The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions. His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat.

The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious. (Let’s say he’s a man, though these traits apply to female athletes as well). He is theatrical. He puts himself on display.

He is assertive, proud and intimidating. He makes himself the center of attention when the game is on the line. His identity is built around his prowess. His achievement is measured by how much he can elicit the admiration of other people — the roar of the crowd and the respect of ESPN.

His primary virtue is courage — the ability to withstand pain, remain calm under pressure and rise from nowhere to topple the greats.

This is what we go to sporting events to see. This sporting ethos pervades modern life and shapes how we think about business, academic and political competition.

But there’s no use denying — though many do deny it — that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God.

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause.

The most perceptive athletes have always tried to wrestle with this conflict. Sports history is littered with odd quotations from people who try to reconcile their love of sport with their religious creed — and fail.

via The Jeremy Lin Problem – NYTimes.com.

In terms of this blog, Brooks is arguing that playing sports, professionally, say, is not a legitimate vocation for a Christian.   Do you agree?

I don’t, and this column has precipitated a request from another blog to write about whether or not some vocations are forbidden to Christians.   I’ll link to what I wrote when it comes up on the blog that invited me to contribute.  In the meantime, how would you answer Brooks?

An interview about “Family Vocation”

Christianity Today interviewed Mary and me about our new book:

For Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation undergirds a truly Christian theology of the family. Vocation, as he describes it, is “the way God works through human beings.” In his latest book, Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (Crossway), Veith looks to Luther’s ideals of loving and serving our neighbor, and to his view of the family as a “holy order” unto itself. Coauthored with daughter Mary J. Moerbe, a deaconess in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the book applies Luther’s understanding to the various family vocations (marriage, parenthood, and childhood) and the “offices” within those vocations (husband, wife, father, mother, and child). Author and Her.meneutics blog contributor Caryn Rivadeneira spoke with father and daughter about Luther’s vision of family life.

Did writing this book together help you learn anything about your own family?

Veith: As I look back, I can see how God has been working through our family; how he brought Mary into her callings as wife and mother and everything else she does. Of course, that’s the part of vocation that is often forgotten: that God works through our vocations. God is present and active, and he works through fallen, weak, mistake-prone human beings to accomplish his purposes. It’s illuminating to see how even ordinary family life is really God’s working through us.

In terms of everyday life within the individual family offices, is there freedom to re-interpret or step outside of one’s roles?

Veith: We do say that there are roles within family. There is authority in family. But at the same time, Christian books tend to reduce things to, “Who has to obey whom?” It reduces roles to power relations, whereas the Scriptures and the doctrine of vocation teach that the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve your neighbor.

When we forget the mystery of how God works in vocation—that it’s about loving and serving—we end up with a legalistic set of rules. That’s what happens when the gospel is drained out of our view of vocation.

Moerbe: There’s also a tendency to oversimplify our understanding of vocation by prioritizing vocations. Yes, motherhood is great, and frankly, motherhood takes so much time that it’s often difficult to be active in a lot of other vocations. However, when I think about God being the source of vocations, he is Father, he is Son, and he is King. Do we say that God the Father is more important than God the King? No, he relates to us in different ways.

Veith: These differences make each vocation personal and unique. No two people have the same callings because no two people have the same neighbors, the same gifts, or the same tasks and opportunities.

You suggest that the proper and unique work of marriage is sexual intercourse. Can you explain?

Veith: Every vocation has its unique work, its defining work. Sex inside of marriage is sex according to God’s design, and thus sex becomes a good work within marriage.

Many of us are Victorian and prudish. It’s very uncomfortable to write about sex, but it’s so important. What the Bible says about sex inside of marriage is quite remarkable. It says we’re one flesh. There’s a mutuality: The husband doesn’t have control over his own body, but his wife does. And the wife doesn’t have control over her own body, but her husband does. Just the fact that the wife has control over the husband’s body was very radical in the ancient world. There is mutuality.

Indeed, the Bible says that sex is what creates marriage. The reason you’re not supposed to have sex with someone you’re not married to is because you’re not called to. You don’t have an authorization—it’s not part of your vocation—to have sex with someone you’re not married to, so it’s sinful.

Moerbe: Sex also reminds us that marriage is a vocation unlike other vocations. In marriage, you serve one neighbor. In parenthood, you might have more than one kid. If you work outside the home, there will be plenty of customers and plenty of co-workers. But marriage is unique in that it is one-on-one.

What do readers need to grasp about how the doctrine of vocation applies to family?

Moerbe: The message is simple: Love and serve your neighbor. Love and serve your family, not because of who is in your family, but because God is in your family. Christ is hidden behind our neighbors, and Christ is present with us in our neighbors.

UPDATE:  This was an hour-long conversation from which the reporter excerpted a few lines, often leaving out the context.  We do a lot with the concept of “one flesh,” which is intrinsic to marriage and parenthood in the family,and which Scripture discusses in term of sex.  We’re not saying that if someone has a sex with a prostitute then he is married to her, and we go on to say that one flesh unions can be broken.  One of the contributions of our book is to show why sex outside of marriage is wrong, beyond just breaking arbitrary rules.  We do consider the orders of creation, the fall, and the distinction between law and gospel.  And we do indeed say that marriage and family and everything we say about these callings are for non-Christians as well!

via Family as Calling: Finding Vocation In and Near the Home | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

C. S. Lewis on Vocation

Have you read C. S. Lewis’s “Learning in Wartime”?  It’s an address to students at Oxford on the verge of World War II.  They were wondering how they can pursue a liberal arts education–studying poetry, digging into history, thinking through ancient philosophy–when the world is seemingly coming apart and they themselves may soon have to go to war.  Lewis’s perspective on education is priceless, but I had forgotten how he also treats with great insight  the doctrine of vocation.  A sample:

We are now in a position to answer the view that human culture is an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we. I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious — as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti- Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds.The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.

Lewis.Learning in War-Time.pdf (application/pdf Object).

All vocations are equal before God.  Our vocation is a function upbringing, talents, and circumstances.  Where we are now is where we are to serve.  “A mole has to dig, and a cock has to crow.”   That’s vocation!

HT:  Zach Simmons

What they are saying about our book Family Vocation

Please indulge me in another post about our book Family Vocation:  God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.  (And, hey, thanks for bringing us into the top 2,000 on Amazon!)

When a book is on the verge of being released, the publisher sends out copies of the proofs to various dignitaries in an effort to get endorsements and blurbs.  They ask the authors to do the same if they have any appropriate contacts.

I’ve gone through that process quite a few times, but I have never gotten endorsements like these.  Therefore I can only conclude that the difference is due to the contribution of my daughter and co-writer, Mary Moerbe.  So I feel that I can call your attention to these kind words without violating the tenets of humility, displacing the praise to her.   OK, I’m embarrassed with what Chuck Colson says–all that “the greatest” this or that is, of course, ridiculous, but I have been told that he had read something I had written and been helped by it so he’s been a fan.   The power and usefulness of the book is in the doctrine of vocation, which comes ultimately from the Bible and so is not something we can take credit for.

“Gene Veith is one of the most powerful thinkers and apologists in the Christian world today. In Family Vocation, Veith and Moerbe have really hit the mark—we must learn to think of marriage and families as vocations from God. Here is an ancient and sacred vision of marriage and family that we would do well to understand, promote, and most importantly live out.”

—Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview

“A great president once referred to the family as the ‘unseen pillar of civilization.’ He was right, and so is Gene Veith in this luminous book, which underscores the centrality of family, marriage, and parenting. Timely and absorbing, this book arrives on the scene at exactly the right time.”

—Tim Goeglein, Vice President, Focus on the Family

“Family Vocation is a thorough and thoughtful look at family as a calling from God. Using Martin Luther’s teaching on family living as a starting point, Gene Veith and his daughter Mary Moerbe have produced a foundational book addressing all the callings of family life. In a marketplace in which so many family books only scratch the surface, Family Vocation digs down deep. The things I look for in a book on family are all here: a focus on nurture, the priority of internal change, and the power of grace and the gospel to enable. A worthy read!”

—Tedd Tripp, pastor, author, international conference speaker

“The phrase ‘gospel-centered’ has become almost a cliché when describing Christian writing. Every Christian author would desire such an epitaph for his or her work. However, in so many books, especially those dealing with family, gospel-centered deteriorates into ‘be like Jesus.’ Family Vocation is the epitome of what gospel-centered truly means. The authors introduce it plainly, ‘The gospel—that is, the message of Christ crucified for sinners—relates to every moment of the believer’s life.’ Every chapter has its foundation, built not upon what we do in our various vocations, but upon what God has done in Christ. This approach to vocation is the means through which Christian families can truly be strengthened and restored, and then bring their influence to bear on our culture.”

—James I. Lamb, Executive Director, Lutherans for Life

“The ageless questions we’ve pondered about marriage, divorce, sexuality, and parenting are asked candidly and answered faithfully by Veith and Moerbe in this timely application of Luther’s doctrine of vocation. The word family has been hijacked by our culture and Christians reel with each new and dysfunctional incarnation of the concept. What is family? What is marriage? What is God’s call to be a husband, wife, parent, or child? The authors offer rich, biblical responses to these questions and bring clarity to our understanding about cross-bearing love and sacrifice. Family Vocation is sure to find a home on the desks of pastors, teachers, and counselors who seek an engaging resource for Bible classes, spiritual care conversations, and godly counsel. This book leads the way to abiding grace and hope in God’s promises—a ‘need-to-read’ for Christian husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons!”

—Beverly K. Yahnke, Department Chair of Social Sciences, Concordia University Wisconsin

“Martin Luther identified marriage and family as one of three fundamental estates of human life instituted by God for the good of his creation. In this book, a father and daughter team up to bring Luther’s rich insights into the twenty-first century in a way that challenges and encourages Christians to see the family as the arena for God’s work. In an age when the fabric of the family is strained by cultural forces of self-interest and hedonism, this book suggests a way forward for Christian families to see life together as husband/wife, parent/child—encompassed in vocation lived out under the cross.”

—John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Concordia Theological Seminary

“In the church today, there is no more significant issue than the family. This divine institution is in the crosshairs of every evil plan and purpose of the Devil himself. Take down the family, and with it go education, order, decency, law, church, and even faith. How my years in a struggling inner-city parish taught me that the gospel does not thrive in a community of chaos, dilapidation, crime, and disorder! The root cause of it, as I came to be convinced, is institutional and spiritual forces attacking the stability of God’s best agent for good in both the kingdom of the civil realm and that of the church—the family. What was once more commonly an urban reality has become a rural and suburban way of life. As we all struggle in the families we have—often rag-tag rings of sinners, sometimes a patchwork quilt of multiple families and forces—we need Christ and the vocation to forgive.”

—Matthew Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

via Amazon.com: Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (9781433524066): Gene Edward Veith Jr., Mary J. Moerbe: Books.

And let me add the two kind reviews on the Amazon site:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Theology of Everyday Things
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to explore what God’s Word says about marriage and family. Dr. Veith has long been able to show what God’s word has to say about things we consider to be ordinary and not religious in any way. In this book as in others, Dr. Veith has shown how the holiness of the Christian live consists in serving the neighbor, and what neighbor is closer than your own family?
This book also benefits greatly from the collaboration between Dr. Veith and his daughter, Mary, a mother of three and wife of a Lutheran pastor. Mary’s theological training shines, and her experience as daughter, wife, and mother adds to Dr. Veith’s own experiences.
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book on such an important topic, February 29, 2012

By Todd A. Peperkorn “Todd Peperkorn” (Rocklin, California) –

Dr. Gene Edward Veith is one of the foremost Christian thinkers today, especially among those of the more confessional end of Christianity. He has written works on vocation (God at Work), the arts, literature, C.S. Lewis, and a host of other topics. So it is with great joy that I saw him turn his agile pen to this topic.

Dr. Veith, along with his daughter, Mary Moerbe, approach this topic from the perspective of Christian vocation. God has called us to be His instruments in various ways and places in our lives. Husband, wife, son and daughter are some of the most fundamental callings that we as Christians have. But how do I understand this from the perspective of the Gospel, not just the Law and a “to do” list for me to feel guilty about? That is the question they seek to answer.

I look forward to more work from this father/daughter team, and hope that many will find comfort and life in this book’s pages!

We’re not worthy!  We’re not worthy!

Our new book on family vocations is out!

I have a new book that I wrote with my daughter, Deaconness Mary Moerbe, with the support of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, that has just been released from Crossway Books. It’s entitled Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.

Today when we hear “vocation” we mainly think of “job,” but for Luther and the early Reformers “vocation” referred above all to the estate of the family.  (Work as a calling was itself seen as part of the larger estate of the household; that is, the family and what you do to support your family.)  So Mary and I applied the doctrine of vocation to the specific offices of the family:  Husband and wife; father and mother; child.  We also have some things to say about brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and ancestors.

And I have to say that vocation provides a way of thinking about all of our family relationships that makes them more precious than ever.   And it’s all so practical, giving us down-to-earth guidance that can help us through our everyday lives, including the problems that come up in marriage, parenting, and being a child.   Our book turned into a comprehensive study of the what the Bible says about all of these offices.  We show how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are literally present and at work in marriage (which images Christ and the Church), parenthood (the Fatherhood of God), and childhood (the Son of God).  We deal with bearing the Cross in these vocations, frankly discussing the problems that people wrestle with in these different callings and what difference the Cross of Jesus can make with these problems.   I even think our book illuminates things like sex and other topics that have been hard for Christians to talk about.

We do all of this without just laying down laws and rules, like most Christian books on the family.  We don’t get bogged down in “who has to obey whom,” though I think we completely resolve the issues in those debates, which take on a completely different light when seen in terms of vocation.  Throughout our focus is on the Gospel.   It’s the Gospel that looms in God’s design behind marriage and parenting and even being a child.

I am not bragging about our book, since we did not invent the teachings that it puts forward, but I am just saying that I myself was greatly benefited by putting this book together.  Mary, with her Deaconness training, brought to bear a depth of Scriptural application that I never thought of before.  I have been studying vocation for a long time, since my book God at Work to which this is something of a sequel, but I really think we have broken new ground in apprehending God’s callings and how we can live out our faith in ordinary life.

When we made our proposal to Crossway, the editors said that they had thought they had seen every approach to family issues that was possible, and yet they had never seen anything like this.  Which is sad, since the doctrine of vocation is the theology of the Christian life and the Biblical teaching on the family.  If Christians can bring back from long disuse the doctrine of vocation, we can stop the breakdown of the family–at least in our own divorce rates, dysfunctional relationships, and counterproductive parenting–and become culturally influential again, like we used to be.

The Amazon site has a “Look Inside” feature, which will let you get a taste of it.  And, yes, it’s also available on Kindle.  So please forgive me for urging you to buy our book.  And let other people know about it, including those having problems in their marriages, with their children, and with their parents.   It would also be helpful to couples contemplating marriage or having just entered that estate.  And for new parents.  And for those who currently belong to a family, which includes everyone.

I would be embarrassed to be so crassly commercial if I didn’t think that you would be blessed by reading  it, as Mary and I were blessed in writing it.

Do-it-yourself repair shop

In Vancouver, British Columbia, there is a motorcycle repair shop that lets you use their tools and someone shows you how to fix your bike yourself.  Here is a video about the business, which is called Motomethod:

The Motomethod Story from Zenga Bros on Vimeo.

The video shows the two owners enthusiastic about their vocation, including their zeal to love and serve their customers.

Would you say the do-it-yourself impulse is an example of vocation (cultivating your talents)  or the repudiation of vocation (not letting yourself be served by someone else)?

Can you think of other businesses built on this model?

HT:  Rich Shipe


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