Learning from the Cracked Pot

In the spring I was surrounded by graduation ceremonies, talk of accomplishments, and excitement for the next chapter ahead. In my bones, this felt like a stark contrast to the language I embraced in reading Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life.  In this book Paul Waddell and Charlie Pinches focus on vocation as a journey, that is, as a way of living, as a disposition and not as a destination. Graduation celebrations seem to place a higher importance on putting checkmarks in boxes that society has defined as significant. Does our focus on celebrating such rites of passage get in the way of living vocationally? What would these celebrations look like if the journey was the focus?

Indian folklore provides us with a story about a cracked pot that guides us to be attentive to the beauty and purpose in the imperfections of life. Written from the perspective of a cracked water jug, we learn that this imperfect pot only delivers half of the water to the Master’s house compared to the perfectly functioning pot balanced on the opposite side of the water-carrying peasant. The cracked pot feels no self-worth until the peasant points out the flowers that were able to grow along the side of the path where the cracked pot had unknowingly provided the water the flower seeds needed. The flowers not only brightened the days of the peasant and others taking this path but also decorated the Master’s house. If we are attentive, if we provide time in our busy days to really see, we are more likely to uncover the beauty and purpose in the broken, unplanned parts of our journey.

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Called to Advocacy

Amanda Tyler is the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, which is headquartered on Capitol Hill and advocates for religious freedom for all. “From a very early age, I felt a calling to law and politics – I wanted to be a public servant in some way,” she shared during a recent conversation captured in the latest episode on the NetVUE podcast series, Callings. The episode is called “The Next Move.”

In 2019, Amanda was named “Baptist of the Year” for her leadership in the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. We talked about this aspect of her work during our conversation, and she described how we are called to walk a line between fidelity to the past and stewardship for the future. (Amanda was recently interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on the topic of Christian Nationalism).

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Attention, Please: Attentiveness and Vocation

At the 2021 NetVUE UnConference, Willie James Jennings spoke of attention, or attentiveness, as fundamental to vocation, as the inner logic of calling. He advocated for cultivating students’ attentiveness to themselves, hearing their own voice, as well as of the world around them, hearing with new depth. On the following day, Paul Wadell and Charles Pinches, citing their book, Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life, echoed: “The most basic calling is to pay attention.” Even more recently, Jason Stevens detailed a particular application of attentiveness within his first-year writing courses, quoting Wadell and Pinches at length.

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself coming to a similar conclusion, namely that attentiveness is more than a virtue—that it is, rather, the foundation of every vocational journey, individually and collectively. This conclusion took shape during the spring as I taught a new course exploring the impact and meaning of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism as a lead-in to exploring the broader impact and meaning of pivotal moments for our vocational journeys. Building on several readings used in this course, as well as additional sources, this post is aimed at elaborating on the critical importance of attention and suggesting corresponding applications. 

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Mentoring for the Cultivation of Virtue in the Sciences

Part of a series of posts written by a team of faculty and students at Calvin University who are developing a curriculum to support team-based research. Their hope is that this blog series will spark a dialog about measures of success that are not typically prioritized in scholarly work and ways this project could be expanded to other colleges and universities, both within and beyond the Christian tradition. This post was written by Rachael Baker, Julie Yonker, and Amy Wilstermann.

In the first three blogs in this series, we introduced our Team Sciences and Christian Practices project—an initiative aimed at preparing undergraduate scientists-in-training to work effectively in interdisciplinary environments through the development of faith-based virtue practices. Many students in the sciences have a narrow view of vocation that overemphasizes the value and importance of their paid work and their productivity in those spaces. Through the intentional and explicit inclusion of Christian Practices in a research experience, we hope to help students better understand that living vocationally transcends the work we do and encompasses discerning and prioritizing who we want to be as individuals and community members in work (and other) environments. Our curriculum aims to encourage students to think more deeply about what it means to engage fully in community and to equip them to do so in current and future research settings, classrooms, their local community, and beyond. In this last post we describe how we prepare faculty to discuss, model, and encourage employment of faith-based virtue practices in their undergraduate research settings and how we are assessing the impact of our curriculum.

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Gay on God’s Campus

An interview with Jonathan Coley, author of Gay on God’s Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Trained as a sociologist, Jonathan previously taught at Monmouth College in Illinois and now teaches in the Department of Sociology at Oklahoma State University.

Tell us about the book.

The book examines activism by LGBTQ students at Christian colleges and universities. There’s a lot of research out there about how students who are LGBTQ struggle to reconcile their religion, sexuality and/or gender identity on their campus and experience various kinds of trauma on non-affirming Christian campuses. I wanted to understand how LGBTQ students become agents of social change. I examine why students join or form LGBTQ activist groups on their campuses, why they commit to activist groups and sometimes devote several years and many hours a week toward the cause of promoting LGBTQ inclusion on their campuses. I examine what kinds of changes LGBTQ students bring about on their campuses and the strategies and tactics they used to bring about change, and then I consider how students themselves are impacted by their participation and LGBTQ groups on their Christian college and university campuses. I myself attended a Baptist University (Samford University in Alabama) where I worked with other students to start an LGBTQ student group. So this project has personal roots.

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First Year, First Virtue: Attentiveness, Technology, and First Year Writing

If I want to rile students up and get debate going, I mention Vermont State Senator John Rodger’s recent proposed bill to ban smartphones for anyone under 21, and his remark that smartphones are “just as dangerous as guns.” Student response to the debate over technology is a mixture of spirited defense and despairing acknowledgement of its harms. More and more, this debate has taken a vocational inflection for me. I think that the first-year writing course is an excellent place to begin to make students aware of, concerned by, and proactive about that which imperils their ability to thoughtfully and responsibly engage in their many callings, and especially their calling to conversations.

In Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life, Paul J. Wadell and Charlie Pinches suggest that the first virtue required to begin our vocational journeys is attentiveness. Paying attention, so the argument runs, matters because “at the basis of every calling, whether a friendship, a career, or being patient with a stranger, is a summons to responsibility; however, we cannot be responsible without an accurate perception of reality, and we cannot accurately perceive reality without growing in attentiveness” (159). For Wadell and Pinches, attention is a “situating virtue” (along with humility and gratitude) because “instead of the thoughtlessness or indifference by which we turn in on ourselves and become carelessly disengaged with life, the virtue of attention forms us into persons who are fully present to life” (157). I agree that attentiveness is essential to beginning our vocational journeys. And few things are under greater assault in our culture than attentiveness.

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Coming Out into Vocation

New York Pride March, June 2019

I love the celebrations of Pride Month in New York. Some are solemn in remembrance of the violence, both historical and recent, that has been perpetrated against queer-identifying persons. Some are political as they seek to push for legislations to protect LGBTIQ+ persons, especially trans persons, in this moment of backlash. Some are totally celebratory—perhaps best seen in the vibrant, raucous, joyful, and diverse affirmations of pride, dignity, and equality evident at the annual New York City Pride March. For Queer persons, the common theme of “pride” animates an energy to make visible and affirm an authentic sense of self and of community that transgresses normative understandings of gender and sexuality, thereby creating a more inclusive understanding of humanity.

This drive for authenticity and visibility grounds the work of vocational discernment.  Indeed, for LGBTIQ+ persons coming out to a deeper understanding of our gender identity and sexuality centers the search for meaning and purpose in our embodied lived experience. Embracing our authenticity, even as it pushes us up against what is considered “normal,” illuminates the directions we must take for greater vocational clarity. We can make an impact in our LGBTIQ+ students’ lives when we help them embrace and celebrate their gender and sexuality as a strength and a resource to draw upon in the process of discerning their vocation. For students from marginalized communities this effort can make it possible for them to see beyond barriers put in their way because of systemic injustice. For students who are LGBTIQ+ this can literally be a lifeline to survival. As we seek to educate and advise students towards vocational development, we can partner with our LGBTIQ+ students in ways that help them to understand themselves more fully and assist their capacity to integrate that knowledge with their emerging sense of vocation. 

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Idealized Versions of Vocation

One of my favorite texts, written more than fifty years ago, is The Shape of Content (1957) by Ben Shahn (1898-1969), a Lithuanian-born American artist and a lecturer at Harvard University.  Originally presented as the annual Norton Lectures, The Shape of Content begins with this sentence: “I have come to Harvard with some very serious doubts as to whether I ought to be here at all. I am a painter; I am not a lecturer about art nor a scholar of art. It is my (calling) to paint pictures, not to talk about them.”

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