Lent Schment

Post-modernity, late-modernity, reflexive-modernity, hyper-modernity, or whatever you want to call the philosophical setting of academia today has the potential to take a serious look at the fact-value split that developed and guided modernity into both incredible feats of human ingenuity and created unhelpful dichotomies in how we relate to each other. As a self-admitted recovering positivist, the challenge I face is unpacking the consistent use of the same word with an inconsistent meaning and what that means for faithful relationships.


I'm not sure what you think of when you encounter the word "vocation," but of late this word has given me headaches. But before I get into why, story time!

When I was in junior high school, we were introduced to the idea of vocation through a presentation from a vocational counselor who talked with us about a test we then took in high school to help guide us down our vocational path. In college, everyone was required to take a class on ethics that was particular to their major, which were generally referred to as the vocational ethics classes. In seminary, my classmates and I were encouraged to develop our sense of vocational identity as pastors. And then I started reading the Book of Concord* for class, only to discover that for the Lutheran Reformers vocation also includes relationships--like being a parent, a child, a sibling, a neighbor, and also an employee, an employer, a citizen, etc.

One of the downfalls of modernity is that, in removing God from public space, we have removed faith from vocation and merged vocation with occupation. Thus, when a man loses his job, he also loses his identity. And yes, that is sexist. Part of the modern fact-value split was the entrenchment of such sexism. The fact side of the split includes things like reason, science, stoicism, being male, etc. The value side includes things like faith, art, emotion, being female, etc. With this split, it became acceptable for women to find their identities in relationships, but men had to be the "bread winner."

The sad reality is that as the feminist movements arose, the approach generally seems to have fed right into the fact-value split rather pointing out how silly it is. There are of course those within the feminism working against this--Janet Soskice comes to mind--but generally by focusing on women being treated as the equals of men, the value side of the fact-vaule split is lost. Today, when a person loses his or her job, he or she loses his or her identity. I'm not sure this is an improvement in understanding vocation.

* At the time, I was working with the Tappert edition because the Kolb-Wengert edition didn't exist yet. Now I generally work with the Kolb-Wengert edition, but am fully aware that the McCain edition in fact presents a better reading experience, and I own both. The question between the two is what you want to deal with: an overabundance of footnotes (Kolb-Wengert) or having to separate the historical documents from editorial notes presented as part of the documents (McCain).

Spiritual Experience

At the 2012 Consultation on the Missional Church, Elizabeth Drescher presented some findings from her recent research that shows most people in the United States report spiritual experiences with the four F's: family, friends, fido, and food. The good news is we're still willing to acknowledge spiritual experiences (as the rise of the spiritual but not religious segment of our society shows). Given the particular topic of the Consultation, Drescher noted how digital media enables these relationships and she encourages the church to take an attitude of hospitality to such experiences and relationships. Yea, verily!

But see how this, too, still fits into the fact-value split. Van Huyssteen argues (and I think, convincingly) that humans are creatures with spiritual needs, so it shouldn't be a surprise that people have spiritual experiences. The question facing us today is if we can talk about having spiritual experiences in public--with both meanings of how that can be read. Can we have Palmer's public spiritual encounter with strangers and also talk about that encounter or other spiritual experiences publicly?


As we begin Lent, it seems appropriate to mention spiritual discipline, but not the one you decided to do this Lenten season. Chances are that unless you picked an actual spiritual discipline, what you do probably won't amount to much. And if you did pick a spiritual discipline, its probably a reflection of your desire to withdraw from the world to avoid its harsh realities. Its amazing how the old person in us distorts what would otherwise be reasonable to a self-serving goal. (By the way, I'm speaking from both personal reflection and theological insights.) Vocation speaks into the idea of spiritual disciplines, during Lent and otherwise, by pointing to the relationships rather than some invented discipline.

The invention of disciplines is actually a problem. As Marc Kolden notes in The Christian's Calling in the World,

"The problem that developed in the church of the late Middle Ages was that people were taught to take up invented crosses in the form of religious practices and devotion that caused much pain, suffering, and inconvenience for the person in question." (p. 46)

This is a problem because,

"The gospel sets us free from the law’s condemnation and it sets us free to seek the good of our neighbor—which is, after all, the true purpose of God’s law." (p, 10)

Our invented spiritual disciplines send us seeking after invented crosses for the purpose of self-improvement, which may or may not be spiritual, instead of helping us live in the freedom of the gospel for the sake of the neighbor.

"Luther insisted from scripture that one is not to bear some self-selected religious 'cross' in the imitation of Christ (after all, Jesus told his disciples to take up their crosses, not his). Rather, a cross will be laid on each believer, as it was laid on Jesus; and for us, as for him, it will be laid on us in our callings." (p. 46)

We are to listen for how God is calling us through those around us.

"There is a 'cross' in every vocation, Luther said. The cross is the means by which God puts to death the sinful self through the demands for service wherever we are." (p. 13)

If you're looking for a spiritual discipline this Lent--or whenever--then listen to those around you. How is God calling you through your spouse, children, and parents? Your colleagues, friends, and neighbors? Through strangers, acquaintances, and those you would rather not spend time with?

Shameless Plug

If the above quotes from Kolden caught your attention, then I would  direct you to the program Connections: Faith and Life as a free, four-unit resource for congregations to explore in depth how God's call and your daily vocation connect. Hence the title of the course...