Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Finding a Way

I am fascinated with stories of reinvention and change. There was a man I buried the other day who sold cars, then houses, then insurance, then managed an apartment complex. Another man I know sold cars, worked a radio station and then went into real estate. There's the guy at the funeral home who "works" funerals and is also a pastor, and another who sells heavy trucks on the side.

I grew up with this notion that you chose a career and then worked at it until you retired. I know this was the perceived norm for the generation ahead of me, and for generations ahead of them. I'm not sure how this notion came about for me. Dad painted vending machines before I was born, worked for IBM for twenty years, retired early from them and then bounced around managing a parts depot (subcontracting for IBM), working at Sony, then for a real estate developer. My mom stayed at home, sewed and baked and so forth until she suddenly went to pharmacy school then worked at a variety of hospitals and pharmacies until she retired.

Working the same vocation as your father, and his father before used to be the way of the world. The family farm, the family business, the family trade was a certain and dependable as early marriage and plenty of children to help out. Expansion and success often was borne on the backs of employees you raised but didn't have to pay. In this world, one either embraced where fate had placed him, or despaired of something he is not suited to. Women were not even given the choice of despair; their only outlet was marrying outside the small circle, of finding a different kind of life through opportune marriage...which actually, was more freedom than boys had, especially the first born males; they had little or no escape from the family vocation.

Today only the professions can speak of familial loyalty and constancy. Physicians, attorneys, dentists and clergy tend to remain so throughout their lives, and many follow in their father's (or mother's) footsteps. I suppose this is so because of the commitment that the professions require: years of education beyond the the bachelor's degree; the sense of calling that many of the professions have; the income that they demand (except for the obvious!); the social status they give.

The conservative in me should abhor this kind of vocational chaos as something harmful to society. It is true that society lacks stability across the board. And certainly there is a discipline and obedience we learn in staying put. There's a reason monks were told to stay in their cells (what their rooms/communities were called).

However, in changing careers, in reinvention, in change I see fallout from the Gospel, but not the Gospel itself. We are not bound by fate or slaves to the gods. We are captives no longer. Christ has freed us from the prison of our sin, but He has also freed us. Period. Living in fear of the unknown, fearing change, fear in general is cast out with the love of God. And even monks were not born into it, but had to renounce their former ways and choose a new life by God's grace to get to their cells in the first place.


  1. Doorman-Priest said...

    I found that really interesting. Thank you.

    I trained as a teacher and that was certainly my first calling. Against all the odds (and social norms) I also became licensed as a nightclub bouncer and this turned out to be a second calling. As a result of this I am now training for ordination, my third calling. I suppose this counts as that chaos you were talking about, but to me it seems organic.