Vocation and the common good.

In a few words, that is what I care about, and so what I work on, day after day, year after year. More could be said, and most of the time, I do.

Today I begin a weekend of addressing this one more time, the second trip of three to Seattle over the course of a month or so, each one rooted in the same commitments, each one connected to the work I do for the Murdock Trust of Vancouver, WA. In this 40th year, they are still working away at doing what is theirs to do, for the sake of the Pacific Northwest. Addressing hundreds of communities throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska, the Trust has chosen an unusual reason-for-being, i.e. being a common grace for the common good foundation. Not parochial— which is not an evil and not even wrong —the Trust has chosen to be as generous with Seattle Pacific University, the notably Christian and Wesleyan school, as they are with the Catholic Gonzaga, the Presbyterian Whitworth, the Quaker George Fox, and the openly secular University of Washington, Reed College and more. Not because of moral equivalence, but for a principled vision to work for the renewal and revitalization of communities throughout this part of America.

And more, and more. Like clean water projects in Idaho, and healthy fisheries in Montana, and maritime museums in Seattle— and ministries for trafficked women and Young Life too. By the hundreds, year after year. Several years ago they asked me to be their Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good, and while I don’t live here, and can only purse these hopes from a distance, sometimes I can come— like these three visits this spring. 

I spent yesterday afternoon with Steve Bell of Bellmont Cabinets, a remarkable businessman whose creativity and gumption have brought into being a company which over 40 years has grown from his garage to a huge facility south of Seattle that makes cabinets for people all over America, selling their work through Lowe’s and more. Until a few years ago they were Pacific Crest, seeing themselves as serving and selling in this part of the U.S, but consumer demand for their high-quality designs and trustworthy products has meant a gradual entrance into the marketplaces of New Hampshire, and Colorado and Hawaii, which were three of the destinations I saw marked on cabinets yesterday; most days they expect to send out over 500 cabinets to homes and businesses in every state. Finding ways to know people whose work is for the common good is integral to my role with the Trust, even as it is itself a very good gift to me– there is a true sense that I live my life to meet a man like him.

At midday I will speak to a group of Seattle Pacific University students about learning and life and labor, especially about connecting them with a more seamless vision that is rooted in who we are and why we do what we do. And then for the weekend I will speak again for the final gathering of the Cascade Fellows Program, taking up themes that are deep for me, running back through the years of my life, and that I hope will be good for them as they come to the end of their year together exploring their own vocations and what they mean for the common good of the Pacific Northwest and the world.

Only in the most fanciful way, sometimes I have wondered what I would do with millions of dollars… and there is much that could be done. But would I create a foundation that works for the sake of the world? That gets involved in the health of small towns, even as it works for the sake of trout in Montana, even as it works for the next generation of folk who want to care about the way the world turns out, longing to understand more fully their place in it? I don’t know, fanciful question that it is, but I know I am glad to have a small part in the work of the Murdock Trust which is, heart and soul, committed to being common grace for the common good.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

Meet Steve