Is there an authentic way to create pathways of vocational exploration for people of various faiths and secular identities without simultaneously asking them to accept a Christian construct of vocation?
Several years ago I found myself in the basement of a hallowed university hall serving as a chaplain’s office intern and flipping pancakes on a griddle for a study break. Students of all backgrounds were descending into the basement to hang out in the cozy space and grab some late-night pancakes in the midst of their studies. I chatted with students as they poured on the syrup or engaged in something I’ve never understood: covering their pancakes in peanut butter. (Pluralism has its limits!)
Having gone to college at a school with a program for theological education housed in the chaplain’s office, it was natural for me to ask students, “So, what’s your vocation?”
As if on cue, one of the staff members of the chaplain’s office rolled out of his office and waived the proverbial red flag: he pulled me over and shared with kindness that this was not a question we ask. Given the commitment the office has to a radical interfaith hospitality, asking students to conform their thinking to the terms and ideologies of one tradition was not appropriate. I have reflected upon this in the intervening years, and have been left wondering: Is there an authentic way to create pathways of vocational exploration for people of various faiths and secular identities without simultaneously asking them to accept a Christian construct of vocation?
The historical Buddha realized that we are asleep most of the time. We are so often wrapped up in thoughts of the past or future that we do not pay attention to the here and now. This is why Buddhism emphasizes Mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying full attention to the present moment and what it can teach us, but also how it calls us. Mindfulness is not a goal in itself; it is an instrument that leads us to action.
If someone had asked me when I was growing up if I had a sense of vocation, I would have had an easy answer. Yes! I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in the first grade. But if someone had asked me if my religion talked about vocation, I would not have had such a quick answer. Buddhism didn’t talk in those terms. The historical Buddha’s teachings were the result of his search to understand the causes of the suffering inherent in human life.
I suspect that anyone involved with the teaching of undergraduates will appreciate this interview (from 2008, but heretofore unpublished) with the historian Hayden White, who died last year. I encountered White’s work in graduate school, when his Metahistorychanged the way I thought about scholarship. In this interview, practically every response he offers contains multiple gems of insight, and those who are interested in helping students with matters of vocational exploration and discernment may find his thoughts quite inspiring. In addition, those readers who work at liberal arts institutions may be particularly interested in the person whom White considers to be the greatest teacher of all time.
Robert Pogue Harrison, who introduces the interview for the Chronicle, notes that “As departments shutter and enrollments plummet, White’s thoughts on professionalism, vocation, and love are more relevant than ever.”
The interview can be found here. It may be behind a firewall, but most academic institutions subscribe to the Chronicle and their libraries can provide access for anyone who hits a roadblock.
I hope others find this short interview as inspiring and enlightening as I did!
What lies might groups with different forms of privilege come to believe about themselves? When those lies are about their abilities and the horizons of possibility for their futures, how do they affect their sense of calling? These questions were posed by Christine Jeske of Wheaton College to a packed room of higher-ed professionals during a session held at the recent NetVUE gathering in Louisville. Trained as an anthropologist, Christine has previously worked on attitudes toward and myths about work in the South African context, where there is a stark disparity between rich and poor. But what myths about work do we convey here in the U.S. when we talk with students on vocation? And what are the unintended consequences of those problematic narratives? How can we tell a different narrative, one that more accurately represents the world in which our students will live?