January 14, 2022

 

Charli D’Amelio is a 17-year-old who two years ago started posting on TikTok videos of herself dancing and lip-synching to popular songs.  Today she is TikTok’s biggest money-maker, last year bringing in $17.5 million.  She is an “influencer,” and she makes more money than the chief executives of some of the country’s biggest companies.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article by Joseph Pisani on this lucrative profession entitled These TikTok Stars Made More Money Than Many of America’s Top CEOs with the deck “Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, Addison Rae are among TikTok stars who out-earned leaders of many S&P 500 companies.”

By way of illustration, the article (which is behind a paywall) points out that Exxon pays its CEO $15.6 million; Starbucks, $14.7 million; Delta Airlines, $13.1 million; and McDonald’s $10.8 million.  The median compensation of the CEOs of S&P 500 companies, much of which comes in the form of stock options and other perks, is $13.4 million.  Such amounts strike us working stiffs as wildly over the top, but they fall far short of what a teenage girl earns by lip-synching on social media.

How is this possible?  Well, online platforms and advertisers typically pay a small amount for every thousand page views.  Miss D’Amelio has 133 million followers.  That adds up.  “Influencers” with big followings then get paid by companies to use and promote their products.  That, in turn, can lead to endorsement deals on other media and to product lines branded with the influencer’s name.

Miss D’Amelio is the most successful, but there are countless individuals on TikTok and YouTube who make their living and sometimes big fortunes simply by being on the internet.  (Others, of course, make a living on the internet by using it as a medium to provide goods, services, art, information, and ideas.  I am not talking about them.)

My question is, is being an internet influencer a true vocation, in the Christian sense of that term?

You can see Miss D’Amelio’s videos here.  Usually she is lip-synching.  She isn’t dancing much anymore, as such.  Sometimes she talks to her audience about her life.  Some of the videos just show her using products–putting on cool sneakers, brushing her teeth with a product-placed toothpaste, wearing different outfits.  She doesn’t seem to be doing too much on her videos, which are extremely short.  But, as her Wikipedia entry shows, she has parlayed her internet celebrity into many other more traditional ventures, including film, television, make-up lines, a book, notebooks and coloring books, and other merchandise.

Nothing against this young lady–she is talented, ingenious, and has an engaging personality–but I am just agreeing with what she herself told an interviewer:  “I consider myself a normal teenager that a lot of people watch, for some reason. It doesn’t make sense in my head, but I’m working on understanding it.”

Now the intrinsic value of work cannot be reduced to its monetary value.  Farmers, factory workers, the people who pick up our garbage, and others who perform services vital to our physical existence are doing far more important tasks than celebrities–not just influencers, but movie stars and professional athletes–and yet they are paid far, far less.  Even among celebrities, influencers are a special case.  Movie stars are paid exorbitantly for their art of acting.  Professional athletes are paid exorbitantly for their physical performances.  Internet influences do produce something–their videos–and they are putting on a performance, but they seem to be celebrated mainly for their own selves.

What defines Christian vocation is love and service to the neighbor.  Who are the influencers’ neighbors?  And what is the service they are rendering them?

Advertising is surely legitimate, a way of alerting people to products they might find useful.  Madison Avenue advertising executives, marketing personnel, and people in sales are performing legitimate vocations.  Aren’t influencers in that role?  And yet, they are not planning marketing strategies or closing sales.  They are not so much advertisers as the medium for advertisers.

I think the appeal of influencers, as well as other internet stars who chalk up big money-producing traffic numbers without advertising, is that they seem like friends.  To their followers, they are attractive, personable, and cool, someone fun to hang out with.  In our times when personal relationships are hard to come by, and even on-line relationships can be vicious, judgmental, and status-driven, watching someone you can relate to on a video channel makes a pleasant substitute.

So is being an influencer a vocation, a calling from God?  I would say, not really but sort of.  It is not a real vocation, but it is a virtual vocation.  It is parallel to virtual communities and virtual reality, a simulacrum that falls short of embodied relationships and physical existence, but, for some people, is better than nothing.

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

January 13, 2022

 

Dealing with the COVID epidemic has been taking a toll on nurses and other health care professionals.  The overtime shifts, the staffing shortages, the triage of patients, the grief at losing so many, exasperation with the healthcare establishment, and firings due to the vaccine mandate are leaving frontline medical workers frustrated, exhausted, and emotionally drained.

It has gotten so bad that two-thirds of America’s nurses say that the COVID epidemic has made them consider leaving their profession.

So reports The Wall Street Journal in an article on burnout among nurses that turns into a reflection on vocation. Rachel Feintzeig has written the feature story When You’re Burned Out at Your Job, But It’s Also Your Calling , with the deck “Overworked nurses are considering less intense and remote jobs due to Covid-19, but stepping away is hard when you’ve dedicated your life to caring for others.”

The term “calling,” along with the Latinate form “vocation,” of course, has become commonplace even in secular circles.  But it derives from the Christian doctrine of vocation, a preoccupation of my recent writing (see  the links below) and of this blog.
Though the Wall Street Journal doesn’t discuss “calling” in terms of the One who calls us to love and serve our neighbors in all of our stations in life into which He has brought us, it raises some important issues that are worth thinking through theologically.
The problem of burning out in one’s calling is not, of course, limited to nurses.  Nor is vocation limited to our economic callings, what we do to make a living.  We also have callings in our families (as spouses, parents, and children), in the church (as pastors, other church workers, and laypeople), and in the state (as citizens, officials, voters, etc.).  We can burnout in our work and we can burn out in those vocations, as well.

In the course of her discussion of the plight of nurses, Feintzeig says,

In recent months, as I’ve written about burnout, I’ve heard from overwhelmed teachers and social workers who say they too struggle with toxic bosses and unsustainable workloads, but wrestle with the guilt of abandoning people they pledged to help.

The question they face: How to leave a job that feels like a calling?

“When you do really feel called to your profession it becomes intertwined with your identity,” says Delaney Barsamian, a 31-year-old in the Bay Area who left her emergency-room nursing role last year for a remote job helping patients make end-of-life plans. “It was almost like a breakup. I was in love with emergency medicine.”

Of course, all callings have as their purpose, in different ways, to help people.  And the constellation of our multiple callings, given to us uniquely and personally, constitutes our identity.  So frustrations with our callings and leaving our callings can be traumatic.  The article gives a useful term for why that can happen:

“Nurses are so angry,” she says. “I’m seeing and hearing this incredible sense of malaise and hopelessness.”

The feeling that pushes many to leave is one of not being able to do the job they signed up for, not being able to care for patients the way they believe they should. The technical term is “moral distress.”

“You’re put in a situation where what you’re asked to do defies your sense of values and ethics,” Dr. Brown says. “It’s like a creeping eating into your moral consciousness.”

“Moral distress”!  Not being able to do the tasks you were called to do!  Or being put in the position of doing something wrong.  Nurses experience “moral distress” when they encounter obstacles to their work, which creates a moral frustration, not being able to do what is right.

This applies also to other callings, such as teachers not being allowed to teach, police officers not being allowed to enforce the law, soldiers not allowed to pursue victory–to mention other vocations whose morale is currently low–and also to business owners who feel thwarted in trying to provide their goods and services,  farmers whose crops can’t get to market, factory workers who get laid off, and on and on.

Or, in the other meaning of “moral distress,” of being asked to do something that defies your values and ethics, when teachers are forced to teach something they don’t believe in, police officers put into positions that require them to violate the rights of citizens, soldiers ordered to violate their consciences, business owners who feel competitive pressure to pursue unethical practices, and so on.

Another vocation that has become especially burnout prone is the pastoral office.  Pastors can feel “moral distress” when they find their ministry is thwarted by squabbling parishioners, an interfering church hierarchy, or indifference on the part of those they are trying to minister to.  Or when they find it necessary to preach or practice what they don’t believe in.  Or when they start to do things that violate the moral law they are supposed to uphold.

And, in the family vocations, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters might feel “moral distress” when their relationships are not what they should be.  In marriages, this kind of burnout can lead to divorce, with ramifications for their children, as parenthood too becomes a casualty.

So what are the solutions to vocational burnout?  I can’t give pat answers–I’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments–but here are some thoughts.

Sometimes the Christian doctrine of vocation, which focuses on love and service to the neighbors whom the calling brings into your life, contrasts with the secular doctrine of vocation, which focuses on self fulfillment.

The self is voracious and constantly changing, so the quest for self-fulfillment tends to be futile, leading eventually to disappointment and the need to try something new, only to have that eventually fail also to be sufficiently satisfying.  Sometimes vocational burnout is a failure of self-fulfillment, in which case a Christian can refocus on love for the neighbor  (your spouse, your children, your customers, your patients, your country, your parishioners, God).  This can reset the vocation back to its true purpose, so that you again have the purpose that motivates your life and your work.

We can expect trials and tribulations in our vocations, the “bearing of the Cross” that forces us to rely more and more on God, who inhabits and works through our callings.  Could your burnout really be a Cross instead, one that by driving you to desperate prayer and a more intense reliance on Christ your cross-bearer, can actually increase your faith?

Burnout does not always lead to changing vocations.  The nurses interviewed in the Wall Street Journal story who left their particular jobs are still in the health care field, just in a different location or area of practice.  Similarly, a burnt out pastor might just need to take a call to another congregation in order to reinvigorate his ministry.

A caution, though, is in order.  Economic vocations can easily change, and sometimes people in one line of work, which they find frustrating, can be called to another line of work.  Some vocations, though, such as the family callings and the calling of the Gospel, are permanent.

If you are married to someone, as Luther once said, that is your vocation.  You have no calling to get married to someone else, as long as your spouse is alive, except, at most, under the direst circumstances.  If you are frustrated with your church, you might join a different congregation or church body, but don’t try a different religion.

Seeking help and counsel from others can also relieve vocational burnout.  (See, for example, Doxology, a ministry to pastors, which specializes in problems of burnout.)

Any other ideas?  Have any of you experienced this kind of burnout, but found a way to recover the joy of your vocation?

 

 

By the way, if you are interested in vocation, you might want to check out my “trilogy” on the subject:

God at Work:  Your Christian Vocation in All of Life,

with Mary Moerbe, Family Vocation:  God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood

Working for Our Neighbor:  A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics, and Ordinary Life

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

October 20, 2021

The Anxious Bench, a Patheos blog run by various Christian historians, recently published a fascinating post by Nadya Williams, a professor of ancient history at Western Georgia University, entitled Created for Work?: The Cost of Leisure and the Privilege of Work in Antiquity and Today.

She discusses the concept in ancient Rome of otium, or leisure, as opposed to negotium, or busy-ness.  “Otium was held to be the ideal state of existence in Roman society,” she observes, “for this leisurely state of being was essential for philosophical reflection, writing, and any meaningful life of the mind.”

Though the Roman playwright Ennius and the statesman Cato the Younger argued that an excess of otium was just as bad as an excess of negotium, Romans still tended to prize the former and look down upon the latter.  These values had a particular consequence.  Prof. Williams writes,

When we reflect on the Roman ideal of otium, we have to keep in mind that it could only exist if someone else took some of the negotium off your hands.  Put plainly, Roman otium was only made possible by the existence of slavery.

She goes on to write about the Roman institution of slavery–based not on race, but on the subjugation of conquered people–a system so extensive that even some slaves owned slaves.

If the pagan Romans, as well as the Greeks, favored otium, Christianity, with its doctrine of vocation, put a great value on work, including manual labor (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Thus, going outside the scope of Prof. Williams’ post, when Rome fell and Christianity began to be culturally influential, the slavery of pagan Rome faded, though some aspects of it arguably continued with the rise of serfdom, though medieval peasants were never considered property and enjoyed certain rights that slaves never did.

Still, the greater status of otium remained with the feudal social classes.  You find it as late as 19th century novels, which sometimes portrays an aristocratic family being scandalized if their daughter fell in love with a “tradesman.”  Or if a younger son of a noble family went into “business.”

Slavery–this time based on race–was brought back, though, by Spanish, Portuguese, and later English colonists in the New World, who demanded vast amounts of labor to work their plantations.  They became complicit with the Muslim slave trade, which reflected the continued practice of slavery throughout the Islamic world, and then started their own brutal slave trafficking. The Catholic Church condemned this new slavery, though many Catholics ignored that teaching, just as many Catholics today ignore the church’s teaching about abortion.

This was during the classical revival of the 16th and 17th century, which, in its humanist as opposed to its Reformation form, may have brought not only the good but some of the bad elements of the Greeks and the Romans to the fore.  Such as an unhealthy respect for otium, looking down on those who did the actual work, and selling out for slavery.

Protestants in Northern Europe, evangelical Anglicans in England, and Puritans in America tended to be the driving force in the abolitionist movements in the 19th century.  These are the Christians who would have had the most robust appreciation of the doctrine of vocation.

I realize that the issue is complicated, with plenty of failures and inconsistencies to go around.  Some Christians argued that being a slave is a vocation, confusing the Greco-Roman institution cited in the New Testament with the slavery of the new world, which consigned a whole race to slavery with no provision for individual callings.

Certainly, there is room for otium in vocation, as we see in the mandates for rest in the Biblical ordinance of the Sabbath.  And vocation is not a matter of constantly being busy, as we see in Christ’s admonition to Martha, with her negotium, and His praise of Mary taking time to sit at His feet  (Luke 10:38-42).  And in the Gospel, all Christians have rest from their works (Hebrews 4:9-10).

After all, the whole point of vocation is that God is the one who is working through human beings, as they love and serve each other.

Today, though, we seem to have both an obsession with otium and a life of often meaningless negotium.  Vocation can help us sort those out and can bring freedom, both for ourselves and for others.

 

Illustration:  Mosaic of Roman slaves performing agricultural tasks, Historym1468, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

September 6, 2021

Happy Labor Day, which this blog is Christianizing as Vocation Day!

To celebrate this holiday, in addition to enjoying your family vocations and receiving your daily bread by cooking out, it is fitting to meditate on this important but oft-neglected doctrine of vocation, which we have been trying to bring back to the fore and thus revitalize Christianity.

Today I would like to draw your attention to another theologian who has written with great insight about vocation:  Einar Billing, author of Our Calling.

In my own writings on the subject, I have drawn heavily on Gustav Wingren’s Luther on VocationBilling (1871-1939) was another Swedish theologian, a bishop from a previous generation.  Wingren (1910-2000) disagreed with Billing, insisting that vocation falls into the category of “Law,” whereas the bishop believed that it falls into the category of “Gospel.”  But it strikes me as an odd controversy.  Wingren has a rather idiosyncratic view of the Law, but he certainly brings out Luther’s emphasis on God’s work and God’s blessing in vocation.  And Billing says directly that our calling also has a law dimension.  What he is addressing is the fact that Luther uses the same word “calling” both for how, in the words of the Catechism, “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel” and for our various tasks and relationships in ordinary life.

With their different emphases, if you put Wingren and Billing together, you get a rich, multi-faceted perspective on the teaching.  Our Calling is a little book of no more than 64 pages.  Strangely, it is out of print and not even available on Amazon,  You can, however, check out an online version with a free account from that wonderful resource, The Internet Archive.  (Someone needs to bring this book back into print!)

Here are some excerpts for your Vocation Day reflections:

Life organized around the forgiveness of sins:  that is Luther’s idea of the call.  (p. 8)

In all our religious and ethical life we are given to an incredible overestimation of the extraordinary at the expense of the ordinary.  (p. 29)

When it began to dawn on Luther that just as certainly as the call to God’s kingdom seeks to lift us infinitely above everything that our everyday duties by themselves could give us, just that certainly the call does not take us away from these duties but more deeply into them, then work becomes calling. (p. 2)

Luther, indeed, sees a threefold value in the work that is one’s calling.  It educates myself, inasmuch as through its toilsomeness and its “cross” it disciplines my body and so in reality gives what Roman Catholicism vainly sought in the artificial work of monasteries.  It becomes the means by which I can serve my neighbor better than through all the almsgiving of Roman Catholicism.  Finally, it contributes to community life, peace, and security.  (p. 6)

There where you sit or go about your menial tasks, there you have even now everything, then you have God himself.  (p. 5)

Photo:  Einar Billing (1920) by Finn, Emil L:son, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

August 25, 2021

I’ve been teaching our church’s Bible class, looking at the three books penned by Solomon.  The Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are extremely interesting and rewarding, though they are difficult to the point that some people ask, “why is this in the Bible?”

The answer, of course, is that God’s Word has a breadth, depth, and complexity that can very well include the erotic love poetry of the Song of Solomon and the abject despair of Ecclesiastes.  The former is full of gospel, as the rapturous love between the king and the Shulamite reveals how Christ sees His bride, the Church.  And the latter is full of law, with the old apostate king looking back on his life to realize that his wisdom, wealth, accomplishments, pursuit of pleasure (with his 700 wives and 300 concubines), leading to nothing more than emptiness,  meaninglessness, and “vanity.”  But it also shows the gospel, as the king realizes that, while everything “under the sun”–that is, this immediate world that we can see–appears meaningless, knowing God (who is beyond the sun) transfigures life, and we see Solomon’s return to faith.

Furthermore, Ecclesiastes has much to say about vocation.  Toil and relationships can be frustrating, miserable, and meaningless.  But, when we bring God into them, we can experience them in a different way.  Solomon thus shows another dimension to life “under the sun.”

Here are some of the texts from Ecclesiastes that address vocation:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  (2:24-25)

Yes, our toil can be meaningless.  So can our pursuit of pleasure in eating and drinking (2:1-11).  But we can also experience enjoyment in our work.  And that enjoyment “is from the hand of God”!   The same is true of the enjoyment we receive from eating and drinking.  This too “is from the hand of God”!
Solomon develops that theme later, in piercing words (my bolds):

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.  (3: 9-13)

God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Think about that.  This world under the sun may be filled with vanity and meaninglessness, but there is great beauty here too.  That “everything” was made beautiful, and in its time is or has been beautiful is a striking insight.  Yes, your toil may seem like drudgery right now, but remember the time when it was beautiful to you–when you first got that job or when you were finding such satisfaction in it–appreciate that.

“He has put eternity into man’s heart.”  Here is the famous “God-shaped vacuum” that only Christ can fill, attributed variously to Pascal and Augustine, both of whom said something similar but not the same.  Here, though, Scripture itself teaches that we all have “eternity” in our hearts, making too the important additional point that we cannot from our own resources find that eternity, apart from God’s revelation.  We measure everything by eternity, so of course it fails to satisfy us and seems meaningless.  But when we find eternity, we can find joy even in this brief and frustrating life.  Be joyful and do good.  That’s the secret.  Eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil, which would include not only what we do to make a living but also the work of all of our vocations, including what we do in our families, our church, and our communities.

Solomon says as much in this other quotation (my bolds):

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. . . .

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.  (9:7, 9-10)

Enjoy your food.  Enjoy your wine.  Indeed, “drink your wine with a merry heart.”  Note the gospel:  “for God has already approved what you do.”  That is to say, God has justified us.  We now have His approval.  This frees us to enjoy life, despite all of its frustrations!

Then Solomon brings in marriage:  “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love.”  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines from many nations, but when he built for them temples to their pagan gods, they turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8).  When you read Ecclesiastes in light of Solomon’s biography, that line calls to mind the subject of Song of Solomon.  If I had only been content with the Shulamite, the devout Israelite woman who was, amidst all the others, “the only” one I loved (6:8-9)!  But, for the rest of us, this is priceless advice. Yes, “all the days of your vain life” may be full of trouble, but living them with a spouse whom you live, can fill them with with enjoyment as well.

Our toil and our relationships are our “portion in life”; that is, they are our vocations.  And what God gives us to do, we should do it with all our might!  If we throw ourselves into our work or our marriage, giving them our best, our lives even in this meaningless world “under the sun” will have meaning after all, as coming from the hand of God.

 

Illustration:  Icon of King Solomon, in Greek Catholic Cathedral of Hajdúdorog, Hungary (18th century) via Jojojoe, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

July 14, 2021

As a literature professor, much of my reading involved preparing to teach my classes or to stay up with my discipline.  So some years ago, I resolved to make a point of also reading for pleasure, so as to remind myself why I got into this profession in the first place.

My problem is that, as a literature professor, my standards are high, so the pleasure reading has to be really well-written.  The Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian met my criteria, and after reading all of those wonderful seafaring novels, I craved more.  So I turned to the 10-book Hornblower saga by C. S. Forester.  In many ways, I liked these novels even better than O’Brian’s, with their moody, introverted hero, full of self-doubts while always succeeding brilliantly, their exciting action scenes, and their twisty plots.

Forester was also the author of The Good Shepherd, a WWII tale of a destroyer captain whose job is to shepherd merchant ships across the Atlantic and to battle the German submarines that are trying to sink them.  The novel has a special interest for many readers of this blog because its central character is one of the few fully-realized Lutherans in English literature, and that Lutheranism is developed in detail and sympathetically portrayed.

In the midst of his tension-filled mission and outbreaks of combat, Commander George Krause prays, reads his Bible, and employs Luther’s devotions.  As we go inside his mind and point of view, we find that Scripture verses are always popping up in his head, and that he is constantly struggling with the sense of his sinfulness and his limits over against his faith.  (Luther called this kind of  spiritual trial Anfechtungen.)

I appreciate my fellow Patheos blogger Chris Gehrz for reminding me of this novel in his post The Good Shepherd.  He discusses the recent movie version of Forester’s novel, The Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks.  I don’t have Apple TV+, where it’s streaming, so I haven’t seen the movie.  So I’m grateful to Prof. Gehrz for his comparison of the movie with the book and for his thoughtful analysis of both of them.

As one might expect, the movie tones down the religious focus of the book, but the Lutheranism is still there.  Commander Krause (his name changed to Ernie, for some reason), prays Luther’s morning and evening prayers  and says grace before his meals, which are always interrupted.  There is a bit about a picture of Jesus he has in his quarters.  But, as Prof. Gehrz says, that’s nothing compared to what we find in the novel, as he illustrates.

One detail that he cites especially stands out to me.  In the movie, Commander Krause stops his pursuit of a German U-boat in order to pick up survivors of an earlier attack.  But in the novel, he does not!  The movie evidently interprets Commander Krause’s faith in terms of conventional Christian piety and good works.  But the destroyer captain has apparently read Luther’s treatise Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved.  Serving in the military is indeed, says Luther, a legitimate calling from God, a sphere in which a Christian can love and serve his neighbor, even when that requires fighting and killing.

That made me realize that the larger theme in The Good Shepherd is vocation.  Through all of the difficult choices Commander Krause has to make, in all of his struggles, his bravery, and his heroism, he is committed to doing his duty.  He would have learned to do that in the Small Catechism, which teaches about vocation in its Table of Duties.

This, in turn, made me realize that the Hornblower saga is also about vocation!  The ten novels follow the entire career of Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic wars, from being a young Midshipman, to his rise in rank to Lieutenant, to commanding his first vessel, to becoming a captain, then a captain of ever-bigger ships, then a commodore in charge of multiple ships, then an admiral, and finally to retirement, in which he has his most remarkable encounter with his enemy.  At every stage, he has to figure out how to fulfill his new office, overcomes obstacles, and gains new understandings of what it means to do his duty.

Most striking is what we see in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, in which Horatio is an inexperienced teenager suddenly elevated to the authority of an officer in the Royal Navy, the lowest rung, to be sure, but he finds himself in charge of rough and rowdy adult sailors, having to command those in his charge, which entails winning them over to his leadership.  As he does so, and as he endures being bullied by his fellow midshipmen and engages in combat, we see Horatio developing a crucial quality for the military vocations, a sense of honor.

A good collection to show the development of this sense of vocation is the Young Hornblower Omnibus, which includes the first three novels in the series:  Mr. Midshipman HornblowerLieutenant Hornblower, and Hornblower and the Hotspur (his first command).  Later Hornblower books have some non-explicit adultery–which is also about vocation, since he is sorely tempted but determines to hold to his marriage–and other adult-level material, but these early books strike me as appropriate for teenagers, especially teen-aged boys, who will relate to them and will love them.  And so will anyone who wants to read for pleasure, while also learning something, even beyond how to sail a frigate.

 

 

Photo:  C. S. Forester, By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33436168


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