Royce, loyalty, and vocation – some initial thoughts

Writing in 1908, in part responding to what he saw as the problematic and radical individualism of American culture, Josiah Royce suggested that the whole moral life can be centered on the singular virtue of loyalty. Loyalty, as Royce defined it, is the “willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause”Josiah_Royce [from The Philosophy of Loyalty (Vanderbilt UP, 1995) 9]. In the same work, Royce goes on to spell out how a “cause” can serve as the overarching focus of human lives, connecting them to others through concerted, coordinated action.

My hunch—an idea that I would like to pursue through this project—is that Royce’s work can serve as a resource for vocational discernment because Continue reading

Vocation and freedom in a “free market” economy

Certain presuppositions seem to be embedded in our culture’s general approach to vocation. It is generally assumed that the goal of making vocational decisions is doing what one wants to do. This need not be understood in a crass and shallow way; “what one wants” could be, for example, serving the downtrodden. Nevertheless, discerning what one wants to do is generally understood as the first step in vocational decision.

The second step is assessing what one is able to do; not everyone who wants to make a living as an NFL quarterback or a novelist is able to do so, for a variety of reasons. It is generally understood, however, that having more choices is better than having fewer choices.  The ideal is to be able to say to someone “You can do anything you want.” The telos or goal of vocational decision is thereby seen as being “chosen,” rather than given from outside the person.

These presuppositions need questioning, first of all with respect to their origins. We need to look at Continue reading

Ritual, contest, image

Since the inception of higher education, American colleges and universities have always claimed to be focused on the development of the whole student. The contribution by Quincy Brown in collection At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education focuses on student activity outside the classroom—particularly advising, athletics, residential life, Greek life, and campus ministry—as places where vocational discernment should and does occur. The nature and quality of these encounters are shaped by such diverse themes such as ritual (including rituals that are not specifically ecclesial), contest (athletic, artistic, or academic), and image (the outward signs of membership in a particular campus community or culture).  These themes that are not always addressed and “unpacked” in a classroom setting. He also draws on John Wesley’s conversion (and the Wesleyan understanding of transforming the world through a disciplined life) as a source for understanding the importance of co-curricular experiences for shaping our students’ vocational discernment experiences. Other sources for reflection on this theme include James Fowler, Sharon Parks, Victor Turner, Kathleen Manning, and Larry Braskamp.

Suffering and vocation: a matter of perspective

John Neafsey explores the relationship between suffering and vocation in A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience. He speaks to the notion of “redemptive suffering,” meaning that painful life experiences have the potential to make us wiser and more mature. What turns this possibility into promise depends on our attitude toward suffering.

I can attest to the reality of redemptive suffering based on my own life experience. Personal losses have served as powerful avenues of growth and maturity. Experiencing a significant cancer diagnosis at the age of 25, my eyes were opened Continue reading