On Vocation and Money

On Vocation and Money September 12, 2013

Dear Glaucon*,

Thank you for questions about vocation.

No good person wants to live for money, but all people need to take care of their needs. Curmudgeons of every generation, and I have reached curmudgeon age, tend to believe the fantasy that the “kids” today want it easy. Since every generation since my time has been accused of the same and the Republic has prospered, I am very skeptical of this idea. But let’s be clear, no job is fun all the time and fun all the time would not be good for us in any case. If you are not happy with your job, because it isn’t a lark, then you have a problem.

For most of human history, men and women farmed. A few got to do something else, but their numbers were miniscule. Yet in talking to my grandparents and the members of the generation before their own, I did not find them particularly sad, depressed, or broken hearted about their jobs. They farmed to eat and to get some cash to buy things they could not make. They did not seem any more or less happy, than I was.

They found meaning in their work, some enjoyment, but it was not why they lived. The good folk I knew described themselves by their beliefs, their families, or their geography (Baptist or Adventist, Reynolds or Mace, Goose Creek or up the Little Sandy).

I doubt any large numbers of these people loved farming as farming, but they did it and learned to appreciate it. Though they worked long (very long) hours, it did not dictate their every waking thought. They could “quit” when they went to Church or sat on the front porch chatting. They might not have picked farming or small shop keeping, but it left them alone to flourish as humans while teaching them good lessons of moderation and patience.

You can learn to love a job you do not like, or to tolerate it, and this is common advice across the Net from curmudgeons.

“Look, son, I did not like my job as a house painter, but I did it. Go sit in your Dunder Mifflin cubicle and like it.”

But there may be a problem within the Dunder Mifflin cubicles that did not exist in the hard work of the family farm, the small shop, or even the factory. Of course, if your job asks you to do immoral acts, then you must quit. No job is worth your soul.

But what of jobs that begin to demand more time or commitment? “More” may not immediately be wrong, but there is a limit. What if a job that is so consuming that it does not allow spiritual life to flourish?

At some point, that job has become a temptation to vice.

Such a  job never quits and it crushes the soul by forcing it to make gain and advancement the organizing idea of one’s life. This pressure always existed for rulers, the rich, the workaholic, or those who were very successful, but now the vices of Scrooge have crept into even fairly low paying jobs.

A job can require effort and care, but only in proportion to the importance of the task. If a man is saving lives, then his concentration must be very close to absolute. In most jobs, the company should expect an honest days work for an honest wage, but “sports metaphors” have crept into the work place making havoc of humanity. Even fast food jobs often act as if they could expect one-hundred percent commitment or they engage in the weird attempt to inculcate a corporate spirit.

I love alma mater, the Church, and country: I will not love Walmart.

Humans, especially, Christians, should resist this corporate life. We are the King’s men and women, not slaves to jobs.

Christians should work hard, be respectful, and follow company policy, but at the end of the day put away the job as they put off the uniform. If their job consists in service to other humans, they should treat those humans with dignity, honesty, and respect. Every costumer deserves to be well treated and get what they ordered to the end of the work day, but the work day must end. A Christian should do his business well, but not be his business!

And yet not so much further up the ladder, as one gets to jobs requiring (if not using) a college degree, the boss begins to ask for more. He wants the employee to give “110%” and hints that nobody is ever “off work” as a member of the team. The worker, if he is in sales, is encouraged to view every human contact as a sale and every conversation as a pitch. If a man or woman wishes to remain at the level where he is at, then he is a “loser” and let go or given unsatisfactory evaluations.

In an emergency of course, the drought on a farm, the crisis in the company, extraordinary effort is required, but there is an end to it. I have seasons of my year and have had seasons of my life when the job consumes most things, but this cannot continue forever . . . even in jobs a man loves. The unmarried person (as Paul says) would have more time to dedicate to his or her work, but even for such a person there are limits. Only Jesus can demand absolute commitment.

It is not enough to earn one’s wages, at Scrooge and Company a worker must worker harder through some “commitment” to a value statement or mission. There have always been “go getters” who sacrificed everything for the company yet many workers  in my grandfather’s generation, the Greatest Generation, would pass up promotions to have more time for church work, hunting, or family life! They were content to be lower on the corporate ladder to achieve more in some other area. They were not lazy, they lived more balanced lives.

What if you work for such a soul-sucking company where selling paper, insurance, or anything must be your highest good or you must go?

It is here that a hard choice must be made: you must begin (quietly) to look for a better vocational option, but continue to give your employer all the time and effort you can morally give. You are right to hate such a job, because it is hateful, but don’t be so messianic you starve.

You may have to move. Some parts of the country have become so hostile to business only extraordinary effort can keep business afloat. Other areas have cultures where only the ruthless are rewarded. Areas like Houston have plenty of employers who want happy people who give to the company what a company should expect.

A final word lest I be a hypocrite. I love my own job so much that I am tempted to do it all the time. In fact, I often wake up in the middle of the night and work, because if you could help a leader like Robert Sloan wouldn’t you? And so I must be reminded that Jesus is Lord and His Kingdom is not coextensive even with so great a place as HBU.

Though the job of educating is of great importance, it has a place, a large but limited place, in a full human life which includes civic, family, social, religious and other duties.

I have to turn off my iPhone.

Under the Mercy,

(Your chum) JMNR

*not his/her real name.



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