I think most of us want coherent lives; in fact we long for coherence. Given my own beliefs about who we are as human beings, and the kind of world we live in, I sense that we feel a dissonance in our souls when we have less than coherence. We may not talk about it; we may stuff it deep down inside, but as I watch people I see folk who hope for integrity between heart and mind, between our passions and our lives.
Integral and integrity are related, of course. Perhaps the most ancient root is the Hebrew word, tamim, which means “whole.” Not fragmented, not broken, not disconnected. It assumes the possibility of coherence because it assumes that the universe is coherent, whether we want it to be or not.
The last few days I have been with a group of folk from all over the country who are committed to working this out. And Friday morning I spoke on those words, placing the question of vocation right in their middle, i.e. vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei– which is the credo of the Washington Institute.It is no more and no less than arguing that who we are and how we live is written into the very meaning of what God is doing in the world. We are not incidental to the work of God in history, we are integral to it—by surprising, mysterious grace.
One of the best parts of this was that I got to work with three very good friends: Don Guthrie, Dave Kiersznowski, and Tom Nelson. In their different ways they have been long companions in this business of thinking through the meaning of vocation, and what it means for the church and the world. For years Don and I worked together on the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, and over the last years have taken on academic labors through Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, especially a DMin program focused on faith, vocation and culture (and now in his senior role at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School we will do more). And Dave as a businessman in Kansas City, the CEO of the Demdaco Corporation, and Tom as his pastor there and the author of Work Matters, have been close friends in thinking through and working out the conviction that vocation matters to God and the world. We have longed to do more work together, and this was a gift. And wonderfully, all three wrote endorsements for my new book, Visions of Vocation.
When that finished this morning, I spent time with a new friend who works for General Mills whose headquarters are in the “Cities.” We met in the fall when I spoke here, and are getting to know each other over the same shared hopes that what we do with our lives means something—integrally, not incidentally –to what God cares about in the world. To press the point: that what we do with our lives through our vocations is at the center of what God is doing in the world—again, by surprising, mysterious grace. Most of what he has heard from the church is that it is what happens after work and on the weekends that really matters for “spiritual” things. But that has never satisfied him. Like all of us, he longs for coherence, for his commitments to have consequences, for his words to become flesh in the “stuff” of his life, day after day, over the course of his life.
Finally, before I got on the plane I had lunch with three new friends, younger as they are, who have the same hopes. They too yearn to make sense of what they care about, and what they do; for their understanding of vocation and of occupation to be coherent. So over a wonderful meal at a farm-to-table restaurant, we talked about the world and our place in it, their work and what it means and could mean.
And now I am on my way home. On the tables this morning was an article I wrote a few years ago about my friend Dave K, “Vocation Needs No Justification.” In many ways it sums up my days, this week and most weeks. It is the story of his own wrestling through the hope for coherence in his life– that our deepest beliefs about God, the world and our responsibility in it, are integral, not incidental, to the work of God in history. It is one of the truest truths of the universe, for everyone everywhere.
(Written Saturday night on my way home.)