The sacramental character of our callings

“…God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation that is. He who engages in the lowliness of his work performs God’s work, be he lad or king…” At least that is the way Martin Luther understood the vision of vocation.

Day after day we work away at this, sometimes traveling far and wide, making the case for the sacramental character of our callings, whatever they may be. Yesterday that took me to Pittsburgh, and I even spent part of the day with someone who milks cows. Sort of.

His name is Walt Turner, and his family has milked cows and sold their milk for four generations, serving the wider Pittsburgh region with all kinds of dairy products. Yesterday I learned that in the most recent Los Angeles International Dairy Competition, the skim milk from the Turner Dairy was awarded the top prize. Pretty good when you understand that California has more dairy cows than any other state in the United States. And that first place award is the seventh year in a row that the Turner Dairy has won the top prize for milk of various kinds. Walt himself likes their 2%; I really like their chocolate milk.

Walt joined in a lunch for a group of business folk, pastors, and seminary professors from the Pittsburgh area. We met at a wonderful restaurant on the North Side, a few blocks from the Pirates Stadium. Named Bistro To Go, the hope and plan of Nikki Heckman was to create a great place to eat, offering a creative menu of well-crafted entrees and desserts. They have, and seem to be busy serving the neighborhood and city, earning praise like “the best caterer” in town. For more about Nikki and her work, read here.

This morning we had a board meeting for the Washington Institute, and one board member, Evan Loomis, came in from Austin, TX. An entrepreneur with a capital E, he loves to imagine the way a business can be, and then has the chutzpa to work at bringing the idea into being. I am always amazed at what he is up to, and where he is working, plus he is one of the best people that I know. See the story of TreeHouse, “a Whole Foods version of Home Depot.”

And then I had lunch today with Jay Jakub from the Mars Corporation, a remarkable company committed not only to making M&Ms, but to an “economics of mutuality,” a serious corporate effort to rethink the purpose of business. For some years he and I have been talking about this, him working as a senior executive on the team responsible for the principle becoming corporate practice. Believing that sustained profitability requires a different set of questions than those that are asked by companies that only believe in short-term maximization of profit, Mars is thinking through a deeply-wrought vision of the way business ought to be.

In each of these conversations the word “vocation” has been threaded through, offering a vision for what we do and why we do it– from milking cows to making M&Ms. We call it common grace for the common good.

From The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Originally published in September 2013.

About Dr. Steven Garber

Steven Garber has a classroom among many people in many places. As the Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute, the heart of his own calling is that people understand the integral character of faith, vocation, and culture. Author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (2007), and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (2014), he writes frequently for Comment and Critique, and in addition was a contributor to the volumes Faith Goes to Work: Reflections From the Marketplace, and Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue, as well as to the Mars Hill Audio journal, “Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing: The Life and Work of Michael Polanyi.” For many years he taught on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program, and then became the Scholar-in-Residence for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for Ransom Fellowship, the Blood:Water Mission, A Rocha, and the Telos Project, and as a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. A native of the great valleys of Colorado and California, he is married to Meg and is the father of five children whose own callings have them scattered around the world.


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