Vocation as sacramental

A paragraph from a piece by Peter Berger, via Anthony Sacramone:

The Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist implies a view of creation itself being a sacrament. All of nature, the world as perceived in ordinary experience and in empirical science, is sacramental—in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, displays “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” In one of my earlier ventures into unauthorized theologizing, I adumbrated this proposition by the phrase “signals of transcendence”: God, as it were, hides in the universe, but here and there we can find signs of his presence. In their understanding of the Eucharist, Lutherans used the phrase finitum capax infiniti—“the finite can contain the infinite.” The finite, perishable elements of bread and wine can, invisibly, contain the infinite, eternal presence of the risen Christ. But so can the finite, perishable reality of the empirical universe. George Forell, one of the best American interpreters of the Reformation, opined that the phrase finitum capax infiniti expressed the very core of Lutheran faith.

via Luther vs. the Proto-Pentecostals « Strange Herring.

I would just observe that the Lutheran doctrine of vocation is also sacramental in this sense.  Not a sacrament, I hasten to add, but an example of how God works through and by means of the physical world.  Vocation, according to Luther, is all about how God works through human beings (giving daily bread by means of farmers and bakers, creating and caring for new life through parents, protecting us through lawful magistrates, granting healing by means of the medical professions, teaching through teachers, expressing beauty by meaning by means of artists, proclaiming His Word and administering His sacraments by means of pastors, etc., etc.).  other gifts

Is the purpose of work leisure?

The New York Times published an online column arguing that the purpose of work is leisure.  (We work for the sake of the weekend; we have a career so we can retire; we try to amass wealth so we can stop working.)  That is also the view of Aristotle (we need to leisure to fully exercise our intellects) and of medieval Catholicism (the contemplative life is more spiritual than the active life).  Luther’s doctrine of vocation, by contrast, challenged this view, teaching that the purpose of work in all vocations is to love and serve one’s neighbor.

The folks at the Gospel Coalition blog asked me to pen an answer to the New York Times piece, which was by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting.  I did.  Go here to read my response, which includes a link to Prof. Gutting’s essay:

The Purpose of Work – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

 

Voting and the neighbor

Todd Wilkens, host of Issues, Etc., has a provocative post on voting like a Christian.  He is applying to this work of the calling of citizenship what Luther taught is the purpose of all vocations:  To love and serve one’s neighbor.

Why does a Christian vote? A Christian doesn’t vote for the same reason the unbeliever votes.

A Christian doesn’t vote because it’s his right. That’s why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, his own rights have nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to get his way. That’s also why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, getting his way has nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to protect his own interests. For the Christian, his own interests have nothing to do with it.

A Christian votes to serve his neighbor —-period.

A Christian votes because he is called to do so by the needs of his neighbor. This means that a Christian will sometimes vote against his own rights, his own way and his own self-interest; but always in favor of his neighbor and his needs. At the ballot box, the neighbor comes first.

On election day, don’t vote like an unbeliever. Make you vote count …for your neighbor.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Why Vote?.

So what difference would this neighbor-centered ethic make?  Which, in your opinion, would be a better neighbor-centered vote, for Obama or for Romney?  Is there only one answer, or might vocation lead different people to different decisions?  If the latter, does that mean that God calls people to contrary actions?  How can that be?

The boundary between work and home

A growing number of companies are telling employees to stop using electronics to work even when you are home.  From Cecilia Kang:

Tonight, employees at the Advisory Board have an unusual task: Stay off ­e-mail.

Stash away those smartphones and laptops, the District firm has instructed. For those who just can’t stay away, read but don’t reply. And while we’re at it, ignore your inbox throughout the weekend, too, the firm added.

The consulting firm’s push for no after-hours e-mail is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn.

In recent years, one in four companies have created similar rules on e-mail, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Firms trying out these policies include Volkswagen, some divisions of PricewaterhouseCoopers and shipping company PBD Worldwide.

For the vast majority of companies and federal offices, the muddying of work and personal time has had financial advantages. Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.

And that presents one of the great conundrums of our recessionary era: E-mail has helped companies eke out more from each worker. But the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.

“There is no question e-mail is an important tool, but it’s just gone overboard and encroached in our lives in a way where employees were feeling like it was harder and harder to achieve a good balance,” said Robert Musslewhite, chief executive of the Advisory Board, a health and education research and software-services firm.

Official numbers show just one in 10 people brings work home, according to a Labor Department report in 2010. But economists say that figure is wildly conservative because it counts only those who are clocking in those hours for extra pay.

More often, employees work evenings and weekends beyond their normal hours and do not record that time with their employers, labor advocacy groups say. And that’s made work bleed into just about every vacant space of time — from checking BlackBerrys and iPhones at school drop-offs, on the way home from happy hour and just after the alarm clock rings, they say.

via After-hours e-mail, companies are telling employees to avoid it – The Washington Post.

Some professions just don’t fit the 9 to 5 hourly breakdown.  If you own or are responsible for a business, you are thinking about it round-the-clock.  Even with me, a professor and college administrator, I find myself thinking about what to present in my classes or what to do about some problem at any time in the day or night, including when I toss and turn in the middle of the night (where I seem to get my best ideas).

It’s worth noting too that when Luther was articulating the doctrine of vocation, there was no boundary between work and home, since most work–farming, crafts, most trades–was done at home (as opposed to what happened after the industrial revolution when most economic labor took place away from the family).  Thus Luther wrote about the vocations of the “household,” which included both the family callings such as marriage and parenthood and what the family did to earn a living.

And yet, arguably, the invasion of the home by the workplace, abetted by technology, may well be eroding the other vocations we have.  Notice how when we hear the word “vocation” we immediately think of our “job.”  In Luther’s day and in the Biblical writings about “calling” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:17), people would first think about things like marriage.  (See our book on the subject, Family Vocations.)

There is little doubt that today people are neglecting their callings as spouse, parent, church member,  citizen, et al., because of their pre-occupation with their work and the enabling device of their smart phones.  Would you agree?  Do we need to “rebuild the boundaries between work and home”?  Or do we need to break down those boundaries, but in a different way than we have been doing?

Vocation Day reading

Happy Vocation Day!  It was formerly known as Labor Day, but this blog has crusaded to take over this national holiday–day off work, last day of summer vacation, cook-out customs and all–and add it to the church year as a commemoration of the doctrine of vocation.

That topic is a major theme of this blog.  Vocation is more than just the notion that you can do your work to the glory of God.  It has to do not only with how we make our living–though it includes that–but also with our life in our families, our churches, and our cultures.  The doctrine of vocation is filled with specific details and practical guidance.  It is, in short, the theology of the Christian life.

A good activity for Labor Day would be to read up on the doctrine of vocation.  You could read from my two books on the subject– God at Work and Family Vocation–or, if you are in a hurry to get the car loaded, I’ll post a brief article with a sidebar that I wrote on the subject for  Modern Reformation.  Click “continue” to read it.

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One giant leap for a man

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died.  Another  Lutheran with an interesting vocation.

UPDATE:  It appears he was NOT Lutheran, identifying himself at one point as a “Deist.”  Thanks to you factcheckers in the comments section.