Thursday, August 19, 2010

Profession, Vocation, Occupation

Preface: This was written but not published when we were getting ready to move. Now that I do have a job, I came on to blogspot for the first time in a month and realized I'd never actually sent this out. So here it is, in its time-warped "glory."


One of the most common questions I've been getting about the move (and I've been getting this from my grandmother, some high-school acquaintances, and everyone in between) is what I'll be doing once I get to Lexington. When I give the honest answer ("I have no idea") the followup question is always the same: will I be in professional / vocational / occupational ministry. I don't usually play the deconstruction game, but let's check this out a bit. Imagine this conversation between myself and a hypothetical friend.

HF (hypothetical friend): So, Micah, are you looking for a role in professional ministry in Lexington?

MrO: Let's talk about that word "profession." We take it to mean a line of work or a trade. But if you check it in the dictionary, you'll find that it's actually a matter of allegiance... we profess vows to a religious community, or profess a faith, or profess a belief or opinion. Only one of the four definitions given by Messrs. Miriam and Webster has to do with economic activity, and my understanding is that even that was once a matter of allegiance... I profess allegiance to a guild or a trade.

I used to joke that pastors are professional Christians... they get paid to do what we're all supposed to be doing anyway. But that's not really the right word on my part. The reality is that ALL followers of Jesus should be professional... we should "Hold firmly to the faith we profess." So in that sense, any ministry I do should be professional.

HF: You know that's not what I mean. What I mean is, are you looking for vocational ministry in Lexington?

MrO: That's a funny word, "vocation." It's from the latin voca, which means "to call." Your vocation is your calling. It's what people are talking about when they're "called" into ministry. Eugene Peterson, though, has an entirely different take on it.
During his seminary education in New York City, Peterson worked with a group of artists. They were dancers and poets and sculptors, and they all worked blue-collar jobs as taxi drivers, waiters, and salesmen—whatever they had to do to pay the rent and put food on the table. Soon enough Peterson realized that “none of them were defined by their jobs—they were artists, whether anyone else saw them as artists, and regardless of whether anyone would ever pay them to be artists.” That is to say, being an artist wasn’t a job for them, but a vocation. Their jobs simply kept them alive so they could pursue their vocations. “Their vocation didn’t come from what anyone thought of them or paid them.”

So if I'm getting paid by a church, that might mean that my ministry is NOT my vocation. Not saying that's definitely the case, of course, but the real question is "would I do this even if i wasn't getting paid for it?"

HF: That's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is are you looking for an occupational ministry in Lexington?

MrO: You know, "occupation" is another funny word. We use it to...

HF: Your being needlessly pedantic, and it's really annoying.

MrO: Hey man, you're just a literary device that lets me order my thoughts. It's a pretty well-established one, too, started by Plato. I mean all of the Socratic philosophy we have is just Plato pitting Socrates against...

HF: Dude.

MrO: Right. Anyway, there's two ways you can take "occupation." It could be a trade, but it could also mean holding territory for an invading force. And that's what we believe about the Kingdom of God... that we're the beachhead of a Kingdom that is breaking through into this world. It's fully present but not fully realized; both "already" and "not yet." Right now it's only here in part, but soon it will be here fully. The dam is currently bursting... right now there's a trickle of water at the ankles but before long there will be a wall of water that sweeps a new Kingdom into existence. It's a Kingdom entirely without borders or even governments, except for one King.

And so for the next season of life, my next occupation is Lexington. That's the beachhead I'm occupying, that's the territory I have my eye on. That's where my ministry is, and that's what it means to do "occupational ministry."

HF: What. Are. You. Going. To. Do. To. Make. Money.

MrO: Oh, my job? I have no idea.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cleaning out the hard drive...

It's my last week at work, so I'm getting ready to give back my work laptop. I've found lots of stuff on here that I'd forgotten, but here's my favorite. Little jab at all of my friends on Twitter.

Venn Diagram of Personality Disorders and Social Media

Of course, since this blog auto-feeds to my Facebook account, I'm probably well into the "Narcissism" category.

Expect to see a torrent of blogging this week, as I publish all of the little things that I'd stashed away to share "later."

That Martin Luther King, Jr... he's not bad

Everybody knows MLK, right? Everybody knows he's a good guy who did good stuff. But I've never actually been exposed to his writing before. I've heard lots of things ABOUT King, but until recently I've never actually read his own words.

This guy was a force of nature.

If you've never done it, you should go read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I'm working through it for the first time, and I'm staggered by the guy's depth of thought. This man wasn't just a good orator, he was a great thinker. The whole thing is quotable, but this part was big for me right now:

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever... If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

I'm not an oppressed minority. But I do sometimes think "I shouldn't feel this way." I think I should force myself not to be discontent.

News flash: it doesn't work that way.

Instead of trying to force myself to feel differently (or just happily wallowing in my discontent), it's far more constructive when I identify positive behaviors and channel any discontent towards those behaviors. MLK figured it out over 50 years ago, I'm figuring it out today, and you may have figured it out years before me.

But if it's new to you, or if you've forgotten, now is a pretty good time to start.