Vocation as sacramental and seamless

Sometimes heaven meets earth in a hamburger.

At least I think that’s possible– and when we try, working hard to figure out why food that is tasty and healthy at the same time matters, it becomes almost sacramental. Over lunch today at Elevation Burger, home to “burgers the way they’re meant to be,” heaven and earth, hamburgers and why ingredients matter, the sacramental life and even the music of U2, together were woven into the conversation.

A young man from Charlottesville had driven up to talk about his life. After some years on the road as a musician, his band’s music ringing its way up the staircase of fame, he is beginning to think through what he wants to do with the rest of life. But that brings up all sorts of things, some clear and some not so clear. As we have talked about vocations and the arts over the years, about the meaning of music for life and the world, he wondered what I might think.

Of course that didn’t matter nearly as much as what he was thinking about the future, of what he wants to do and why. The words “vocation” and “occupation” more often than not thread their way through my conversations, doing my best to make clear that there is a difference and why the difference is important. The one is a word about the deepest things, the longest truths about each of us; what we care about, what motivates us, why we get up in the morning. The other is a word about what we do day by day, “occupying” particular responsibilities and relationships along the way as we live into our vocations. They aren’t the same word, and understanding that matters.

So I wanted to hear what he was thinking, and not surprisingly, given who he is—a remarkably thoughtful, serious, kind, humble person –he was thinking things through with characteristic care, sifting and weighing things that matter most: his young marriage, his gifts and interests, where he lives and the community that is his. He sees himself situated, and wants to makes decisions that honor those commitments.

Along the way the words “seamless” and “coherence” came up, and we talked about them in relation to his life. He understood what I meant, immediately, saying, “I was born into that way of seeing; my education at Rivendell School was that. We were taught to think seamlessly.” Yes, Rivendell, such a place it was and is—for hobbits wherever they may be found.

I confess that I smiled, probably even more deeply in my heart than he could see on my face. Meg and I were involved at Rivendell for many years, and along with others Meg spent a lot of time writing curriculum for its first years, offering an almost unique vision of learning for those with eyes to see. In a word, it was seamless, a curricular vision that did its best to bring all of life, all of learning, into a coherent whole, unit by unit. So whether studying animals, Virginia, oceans, the Civil War, or the Reformation, Meg imaginatively created ways to learn to read the best stories and learn to spell at the same time, to make sense of history and to understand geography at the same time, to count numbers and to develop scientific skills at the same time.

This young man understood, in that deepest, truest sense; perhaps even more so today, as he reflected back on the last years of his life, seeing his music written into his vocation, seamlessly and coherently, even as he begins to wonder what will be the next occupation that will take him further up and further in to who he is and what he cares about.

We ate well, even if simply. Tasty and healthy at the same time, and so a signpost of meals to come– almost sacramental, I suppose. His life will be his, but as he steps into the future, I hope that he will see in the coherence of his calling and career a way for heaven and earth to meet, sometimes in some places. At our best, at our truest, I think we all want that.

(Photo of Elevation Burger at its best, ordinary food for ordinary people. Hamburgers made from healthy meat and fries fried in olive oil. Ingredients matter.)

From the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture.

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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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