Vocation without the “V” word

What do we do when the word “vocation” itself is a problem? Vocation, NetVUE contends, is a powerful lens for undergraduate education. But what’s to be done when our students or our faculty/staff communities don’t much like the word?

For some institutions, an older history with the V-word with a much different meaning proves unhelpful as a platform for new programming. For others, it points to an approach for education which is entirely too theological for the climate of the campus. I work on a campus where care for the student journey of meaning, purpose, and well-being is extremely high. So much so, in fact, that “vocation” stands as one of our General Education Student Learning Outcomes. Our students look to faculty and staff for very holistic formation and we excel in providing it.

And yet, on our campus, if you openly use the word “vocation” or “calling” in a classroom, the conversation stumbles or stagnates. At times, in one-on-one conversations my students may be warm to the notion of a calling, but discussing that with peers in a class setting seems to violate some unspoken social taboo with students at Blackburn College. The V-word just does not fly here. So how do we educate through vocation without the V-word?    Continue reading

Chasing the Tail of Providence

My title, “Chasing the Tail of Providence,” is a phrase which has emerged in the past few years as my best touchstone for work with students and with NetVUE member schools in guiding the process of vocational discernment and exploration. It has become a reminder for me of what we are doing, and especially what we are not doing, in educating our students through the lens of vocation.

The phrase is a reminder that we engage with the deep mystery of immanently present transcendence in our work, and that as soon as we name “calling” as our project with students, we connect our efforts with the lofty heritage of Abraham, of Jeremiah, of Paul, of Muhammad, of Ignatius, of Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. This is a heritage in which callings would barely be touched by career counseling or personality inventories, but rather where calling means a deeply relational connection with providence, going far beyond knowledge–lived, in fact, much more than known. We claim an engagement with a larger wisdom, a wider pattern, and a deeper grace when we call what we do with our students “the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation” (NetVUE’s stated mission is to foster this). And yet, it is our great honor boldly to wrestle with the mystery of calling with those students under our care.

Whether it’s one-on-one conversation with a student (an irreplaceable setting for vocational reflection, though it runs a bulldozer through our weekly appointment calendars) or whether it’s designing a campus-wide initiative for helping an entire academic community better engage questions of calling, it’s important to remember both the promise and the limit of our enterprise. Continue reading