It is my best shot at making sense of a good life. Growing out of the conviction that life ought to be seamless, that our visions of vocation should lead us to more coherence, I think “integral” is a better word than “integrate.” The former is a word that grows out of believing in the whole, in what is essential; the latter always leads us one more time to some kind of fragmentation, some version of compartmentalization.

How do I integrate the longings of my heart with the reality of my life?  Or how is it possible to integrate my deepest beliefs about life with the way I live life? Or to press in: my faith with my work? my faith with my farming? my faith with my understanding of history, of business, of the arts? And on and on.

As I have listened into this conversation for most of my life, it always seems awkward because it always assumes two different worlds, e.g. this is what I hope is true, these are my personal beliefs; this on the other hand is the real world of politics, or psychology, et al. The “real world,” of course as its own rules, has its own realities, as in “realpolitik,” and if we are live in that world we have to play by those rules.

Years ago I had a mentor who persuaded me that we should assume coherence. That the task was not to “integrate” my beliefs about God and the human condition with the questions of psychology—or anything else –but to do the hard work required to see into the meaning of psychology, believing that as I lived into its questions with the assumption of coherence I would begin to understand what it was, and what it wasn’t, what it could answer and what it couldn’t answer, who we are as human beings and who we are not. And if I was not able to see clearly, then it was my problem; I did not have eyes to see. It was not psychology’s problem. Or more deeply, a problem with the universe.

I suppose that is why my master’s thesis began with metaphysics, asking the first questions first. What kind of a world is it, anyway? If we get that wrong, everything will be wrong.

Years later I still see things this way. For example, the credo of The Washington Institute is: “Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.” What we do with most of our lives is not on the side of what God is doing in history, but at the very heart of it. Our vocations are written into its very meaning.

So yesterday, early in the morning, I drove to Pittsburgh to spend hours with good people who are working at this vision in their own vocations there. We have committed to a year together, and have named the effort, “Integral, Not Incidental,” meeting every couple of months at Bistro To Go on the North Side. The group is diverse, and will become even more so, but at this point the three populations are people from the marketplace, pastors, and seminary professors throughout the city. In their different ways, each have a stake in how this gets worked out.

To say it simply, our hope is to recast the paradigm about the meaning of vocation. To see it as integral, not incidental, to the meaning of life, the meaning of history, the meaning of the world, and yes, the meaning of the missio Dei.

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