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Discovering vocation with your kids (with Dr. Gene Veith)


WORLD Radio - Discovering vocation with your kids (with Dr. Gene Veith)

What is the doctrine of vocation? And how can it help your kids and teens see God's love in everyday life? Kelsey Reed and Chelsea Boes interview Dr. Gene Veith on today’s episode.

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s World News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth in knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed, and today I’m here with a different Boes. Welcome to the conversation.

I want to reiterate how much we love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to newscoach@wng.org.

At God’s WORLD News, as we write articles for kids and teens, the theme of vocation comes up again and again. It’s really an evergreen topic. We see stories of people living out their callings well: We see pastors caring for the homeless, families taking in orphaned refugees, workers serving through their work. And we hear of people failing to live out their callings: Politicians succumbing to division, leaders oppressing their people, companies putting profits above human flourishing. Vocation is a theme that is often misunderstood. But in fact, our Christian tradition brings us an entire theology of vocation. And that theology touches us and our kids and our students in a deeply personal way. To help us explore this idea of vocation, Chelsea is here to help us interview Dr. Gene Veith.

Chelsea is that other Boes serving as my co-host for today. You may have heard her on our last week’s episode. Chelsea Boes has been writing for WORLD for a decade. She is our WORLDkids Editor, but her vocations extend beyond writing and editing to include wife, mom, daughter, church member, and homesteader. Did I leave anything out?

CHELSEA BOES: I think that pretty much covers it. Coffee drinker, film enthusiast. I don’t know if those count as vocations.

KELSEY: I think if we put any certain amount of time towards those things, they become vocational. Working out our craft of coffee drinking.

Well, because of her unique relationship with our guest today, I’ve invited Chelsea to serve as our primary interviewer of Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. He’s a writer and a retired literature professor. He is Provost Emeritus at Patrick Henry College and the director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He previously served as Culture Editor of WORLD Magazine and Professor of English and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Concordia University, Wisconsin. He’s the author or editor of 28 books, including Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, The Spirituality of The Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, Classical Education, and God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. He and his wife, Jacqueline, have three grown children and 12 grandchildren. They live in St. Louis, Missouri. Welcome, Dr. Veith.

DR. GENE VEITH: Good to be with you.

KELSEY: We’re so glad to have you. Before we jump into our discussion today, Chelsea, I wondered if you could give us a little bit of background story. What made your experience of Dr. Veith’s class and material, his mentoring in your life as a young college student, so impactful?

CHELSEA: I don’t know how much of this you know, Dr. Veith. I don’t want to make you blush or anything. And you don’t have to put that in. But I when I came to study at Patrick Henry, in 2009, Dr. Veith was provost and a literature professor there. I didn’t know it, but I was pretty confused about vocation. So his book God at Work was required reading that year, and it blew my mind a little bit. I was coming from this tiny church in the Northeast that was full of farmers, where most girls didn’t go to college. But I knew I was born to be a writer. I wrote at the movie theater, I wrote at funerals, I wrote at weddings. And I just couldn’t stop doing this. So in a lot of ways, I didn’t fit in in my home church. These people around me were really good at things I wasn’t good at, like driving tractors and sewing and business and farming. And on the flip side, I cared really deeply about things that didn’t seem to concern them in the least, like poetry and journalism. So before I left for college, I kind of thought that people in my church were better than me, because they had many skills I didn’t have.

When I got to PHC, where everyone was so academically gifted, I started to think maybe I was a little bit better than the church people I had left behind. So then I get to my freshman year, and I get to Dr. Veith’s book God at Work, and this treatment of the subject of vocation was totally new for me. This idea that God was loving me through the work of the people in my church, and in turn was loving them through me—that realization, like we aren’t in competition at all, our vocations are all valid and necessary, and together we’re part of this, like, living, breathing love of God. And there was another aspect of this. I think, for a lot of teenagers in the church that kind of go through this angsty period, where they’re like, “What does God really want from me? What does He really want me to do?” Even though I was clearly born to write, I was kind of like, “Am I really serving Him? Wouldn’t I really be doing, like, the most concentrated service to God if I was using my vocation in some kind of religious way?” Right? Like writing women’s devotionals. Or marry a pastor and support his studies. So Dr. Veith helped me here too. Because if all vocations really count, and really transmit the love of God to our neighbors, then that means journalism counts. Composing literature counts. So, in a really real sense, this book helped me as I came of age and found my place in God’s world.

KELSEY: I’m so thankful. That story helps us to engage well. And so thanks for sharing a bit of your story. And I’m going to let you take the reins from here. But I know many of our listeners are going to connect to the things that you’re drawing out today, and that you’ve begun to draw out in that story.

DR. VEITH: Yeah, I’m glad to hear that story. I kind of knew that. I remember this day, what, nine, 10 years ago, more, I guess, when you were a freshman in my class, that you were kind of dealing with these issues, and also wondering where you’re going to end up. And so, I’ve been interested in kind of following you at a distance, and seeing that things have worked out, and that you really are serving in your various callings, including marriage to another one of my former students. And anyway, thanks for telling me about that. Usually, teachers don’t get that kind of feedback. You never know what effect something you say in class might have. And I’m glad that it has said some effect, at least in that in your case.

CHELSEA: Yes. Maybe you’ll hear all the tales when you get to heaven.

KELSEY: Isn’t it just going to be one big relaying of all the stories? I can’t wait. So Chelsea, I’m going to ask you to go ahead and, in your capable way, let’s draw out some more of this thinking.

CHELSEA: Okay. So my first question for you, Dr. Veith, is, what is vocation? And why is it a great contribution of the Reformation? And maybe you could also tell me, what is vocation not?

DR. VEITH: The word vocation is just the Latinate form for calling. And the Bible uses calling and call and in many different ways, and many different contexts, and they all really teach us about this biblical concept of vocation. Maybe the clearest passage is 1 Corinthians 7:17: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” So you have the notion that God assigns us a life. Again, vocation is not just about jobs, or things like that. We’ll get into that. But God gives us a life in which we are to live out our Christian faith. He assigns us a life, and then He calls us to this life and the different aspects of it. So, this concept of vocation is very profound. And in the Middle Ages, they used that term, but it only applied to people who were called to be a priest or a monk or a nun. In fact, if you get on Catholic sites and look up “vocation,” that’s still mainly how they use the word. “Oh, we need more vocations.” So that relates only to church work.

One of Luther’s great insights with the Reformation was the “priesthood of all believers,” which is not that everybody gets to be a priest, or a pastor—it’s that you don’t need to be a priest or a pastor to have access to God and to be used by God and to be part of His work. And this has revolutionary implications that we don’t need to get into right now, but it’s very important. And yet, I think we’ve sort of lost that concept of vocation. And there’s a lot to it.

What is it not? Well, it’s not even primarily about our job. The term has been narrowed, narrowed, narrowed to where it just refers to what you do for a living. That’s part of it, but it’s not even the most important part of vocation. That part in 1 Corinthians that I quoted, Paul is talking about marriage, and those who are called to marriage, those who are called to singlehood, the advantages and disadvantages of both. And Luther, in expanding this, talks about the different estates that God has established for human flourishing. And the primary one—and He gives us multiple callings in all of these estates, we have many callings, not just one—probably the most foundational is the family. Marriage is a calling—being a husband, being a wife. Parenthood is a calling, in the father or mother. Being a child, being a son or daughter, even when you’re grown up and on your own—you’ll still always be the son or daughter and part of your family. Those are vocations. Luther did talk about how the family makes a living. And of course, back in the late Middle Ages, people basically—it was tied to their family. Now it’s different, but I think the principles still uphold, and we’ll talk about our work as vocation.

But we also have a vocation in the society we’re in, the citizens, as part of a community, as part of the secular people around us. And we have a calling, Christians do, in the church. We’ve been called by the gospel. And that’s part of our—that’s maybe the most important calling that we have. But all of these are our vocation.

Now, here’s a big error in the concept of vocation, even when some Christian writers use that term today. Vocation is not about self-fulfillment. The purpose of vocation—as Luther explains, exploring the scripture—is to love and serve your neighbor. Every vocation brings neighbors into your life. If you have a vocation of being a wife, the neighbor of that vocation is your husband. And your purpose in your vocation is to love and serve your husband. And the husband’s vocation is to love and serve his wife. Parents love and serve their children. Children love and serve their parents in the workplace. Every vocation brings neighbors. Your customers are your neighbors that you’re loving and serving—the people who use what you produce, the clients you serve. In whatever you’re doing, in what you do, in your vocation, what God calls you to do is to love and serve your neighbors through what you do. And in the society, our vocation as citizens—we love and serve our country. That’s completely legitimate. But more specifically, we love and serve our fellow citizens.

So we want to go for the common good, not just what’s good for us. And of course, in the church, we love and serve those our community, our fellow Christians. So this idea of self-fulfillment—I heard, well, I read somebody write about vocation. He talks about how, when he was going through school, he worked at a canning factory. And he said, “I hated it. It was tedious, monotonous, I couldn’t stand it, but I had to get the job to work my way through college.” He said, “There was a lady there that worked next to me. And she had worked there for 20 years. How sad that is. Whereas I, I found my true vocation when I finished my degrees and finished grad school and became a theology professor.” But he was looking down on this lady that was working a menial job. But in working in the canning factory, she was loving and serving her neighbors by feeding all of us who buy the product, and keeping us alive. And here’s the big key about vocation: There, too, it’s about loving and serving your neighbor. The second is that God works through vocation.

We often talk about what God is doing in my life. This is what God is doing through your life. Luther talks about how God gives His gifts, almost always, through vocation. We pray, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread, and he does that through the vocation of those farmers in your town that you grew up in, farmers who grow the food, the workers in the canning factory that this professor looks down nose at. You know, we could add the tractor manufacturers and the banks that give the loans to the farmers to do their work, and the whole economic system. Luther talks about how daily bread actually includes everything we need, house and home. And so the whole economy is really a network of, yes, we think of it as people following their rational self-interest, but Luther saw that as God caring for His creation.

And so God Himself—Luther described vocation as a mask of God. When someone is sick, we pray that they would be healed, and the way God—God might do a miracle—but His normal way of healing is through vocation, vocations of doctors and nurses and pharmacists and so on. And then, when we need medical help, see, those medical professionals, God is in them through the gifts He gives them, the powers He brings to them. He’s serving us through them. He protects us through police and military. And so whenever somebody does something for us, we should understand, we should see, recognize that God is in them. They are a mask of God. You don’t see Him any more than you see the little kid in a Halloween costume going around you. But He’s there. Okay, she has a mask, and by faith, we can look behind the mask. So you can’t ever look down on anybody. One issue in the—there’s a movement about God in the workplace now, which has done good, has done well in recovering vocation. But a criticism of it is, it always concentrates on the professionals, and it leaves behind manual workers and people in the jobs that people sometimes look down on. Vocation doesn’t do that. Vocation values those who serve, and the manual folks, their service is often more direct than the more indirect, though the highly paid, things that professionals do.

KELSEY: I’m hearing these concentric circles in your descriptions. I’m hearing God at center, and then His image-bearers. So the theology of Imago Dei worked out into the theology of home and economy, which I believe the Greek root word there is oikos, into a term that you use, oikonomia, and then outward into every circle that is concentric, with the Lord central to everything that we do, and that we might live in Him and move and have our very being expanded outward from there.

DR. VEITH: Luther talks about another estate, the common order of Christian love. And these are the relationships that we have apart from the family—the church society, the workplace, the common order. You know, the Samaritan going on the path, finding someone in need. And so our informal relationships are also part of a calling, because they bring a neighbor into our lives. So I think there’s a vocation of friendship, of vocation of—what to call it. Well, again, the common order, that just everyday life also is a sphere of living out our faith, if you live out our faith in love for neighbor. That’s what it’s about.

CHELSEA: I was telling Kelsey this morning—well, at the time of recording, we’re at the very beginning of Lent. So Ash Wednesday was two days ago. It was also Valentine’s Day, and my kids came home with all this candy from school, and they ate candy all day. And then I took them to Ash Wednesday service. You can imagine where this is going. I was confirmed in the Anglican Church this fall. So it was my first Ash Wednesday ever. And I go in, I sit on the back row. Jonathan was there, too. And our kids are so unspeakably naughty. I told one of my church friends after, I said, “They say Ash Wednesday is about remembering or death. But in my case, it’s the day your kids actually kill you.” But anyway, so one is just flailing on the floor saying, “I’m bored! I don’t want to be here!” And the other one is screaming because she lost her toy. I look over, and one has gotten the lotion out of my purse, and she’s rubbing it through her hair. We get up to go in the line, to go to the priest to get the cross on our forehead, and one of my kids just falls down in the aisle in despair. Oh, it was so dreadful. So anyway, I get up there and he puts it on my head. And he says, “Remember you are dust.” And I go back down through the aisle and I passed my friend, and she said, “I heard that baby crying. And I thought, that’s Chelsea’s baby. And I said, Lord, help Chelsea know she’s doing good job, and she’s okay.” And later that night, she texted me and said, “I hope you understand that what you went through tonight was God shaping you through your kids more than any homily you missed,” because I definitely missed the homily. And I thought—wow, I am really being formed by God through my children, and through my vocation as a mom.

DR. VEITH: And that’s an important point about vocation, too, that’s often forgotten. Vocation is the life God assigns us, where He wants us to live out our life, live out our faith. So we will have trials and tribulations in our callings. And it’s those trials and tribulations that help us to build our faith, our reliance on Christ. And so, you know, that was a very minor one. But so many marriages, for example. There’s trouble in a marriage, the assumption is, “Oh, this must not be right.” Or “Maybe I married the wrong person, or”— no, those trials are part of—Luther talks about bearing our cross in our vocation. And these are occasions where we learn to face up to our own sin, because we sin in—okay, so where we sin, we want to be served. We would rather be served than serve. And so for our spouse, we don’t think we’re getting enough from this. “I’m not being fulfilled; I should go elsewhere.” Some imagine that the vocation, the calling isn’t valid. But this is part of that. And sometimes we have to be broken and face failure and frustration in our callings. Because those are the trials that we have, where we end up growing in our faith, where we come to face up to our real needs and our nature and our sinfulness, and turn to Christ for forgiveness and healing, and learn to love our neighbor in a selfless way, like Christ loved us and went to the cross for us. None of us will be called to anything like that. But that model—Jesus talks about the disciples wanting to be on His left hand and on His right. Who gets that honor? And Jesus says that the Gentiles and non-Christians like to lord it over each other—it shall not be so with you. He who would be first must be a servant. Again, that idea of loving and serving your neighbor, to be a servant. And then the big kicker, the mind-blowing part: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” And so there has to be a different dynamic in the way we approach each other in our callings. And it does go against the grain of our culture. I mean, even for us conservatives, we like, you know, pursuing our rational self-interest. That’s the basis for capitalism. Well, okay, in a sense, but in a bigger sense, you have to be making a product that actually helps people, or a service that people need. Otherwise, your business will collapse. And you can approach it in that way of service, and all of a sudden it becomes meaningful in a way that maybe it was just drudgery before, because you see a real purpose, and you realize that God is in what you’re doing. That should really make it—just charge it with meaning.

CHELSEA: Yes, yes, that’s what I was going to say is, it makes me think, of course, of the Hopkins poem, “The world is charged with a grandeur of God.” But the world is also charged with the love of God. And I remember just being in college and, you know, eating a bagel and thinking, “There’s so much love in this bagel. There’s the guy who drove the truck, and there’s the person who milled the wheat, and there’s the person who watered the plant.” Yeah, whatever. But it makes life just more fun, I think.

DR. VEITH: Well, really it does. Again, this image of—great literary reference. I’m proud of you as a lit professor. The world is charged with the presence of God. He’s everywhere. He’s in the people you’re doing things for, He’s in the routine, dull business of whatever you have to be doing, whether you’re driving your kids here or there or working in a job that’s not that fun. It really shows how God’s present—not just His presence, as you say, His love. And His love is channeled through it, through our love. And the more faith we have, the more we love, we can love with God’s love. And it’s an amazing, amazing thing.

KELSEY: I’m so glad that you brought up the literary connection. And you made me think, with Hopkins’ poem, of an author that I’m loving these days—Anthony Doer. And it’s interesting, I’m reading his book right now, Four Seasons in Rome, where all of these connection points between his vocation as writer, and as husband, and as father to two twin boys, is played out in this remarkable work. And one of the things he alludes to in his book is a New York Times review of one of his other books, where he’s criticized for how much he loves all the little details of nature, and how even his experience of an enjoyment of nature seems to eclipse his discussion of the human experience. But really, I see in him this joy of every single dimension of his experience. It’s infused with such delight. And that’s what I hear you guys describing, and that it’s in every, you know, piece of our experience, that that’s also often fraught with the suffering of sleepless nights, which he also describes in his book, and fraught with the discomfort of it, and maybe even the suffering of self-sacrificial engagement. And so this, I think, is a great place to pivot towards just thinking about how other this concept of vocation is, as compared to our cultural norms. We’ve been kind of dancing around this understanding, or this description, you know, that this is very countercultural. It’s upside down in so many ways. So Chelsea’s next question, that I think is coming up, is such a great way to draw out more of this.

CHELSEA: So my next question is: How does the doctrine of vocation change our perspective on the secular world? And I just want to preface this a little by saying, you can come from a Christian household with a very guarded idea of the secular world. And that can be helpful and it can be harmful. And that’s—something that Kelsey often does on this podcast is, she looks at something and says, “Hey, what can we affirm about this thing? And what can we challenge?” So it has almost this creative and engaging type of attitude. And that’s how I feel. The doctrine of vocation can do that too. I remember when I was, in college, my best friend—we’ve been best friends forever and ever—and she went to become a medical missionary to a leper colony in Ethiopia. So we have this feeling, like, that’s the real work. That’s the real thing. And for me, like my love of the arts, and of movies, was starting to grow. And her, she’s really pragmatic. She’s a nurse. Nurses are practical people. And it’s great, they keep us alive. It’s amazing. And we’re really good friends in that complementary sense, because I’m very nuanced, and she’s very decisive. But I just remember feeling like, again, this idea, like, that’s the holy work. And the movies that I love, you know—look down your nose at these things—when really, it’s something that can be opened up and engaged with, because we have truth, and we have faith, and we have discernment. And most of all, we have delight.

DR. VEITH: Well, in a sense of, if you understand vocation, that God works through human beings, there almost isn’t a secular world. There are people who don’t know God, and that’s what we normally mean by secularist. But notice, I mean, did the farmer who grew the grain that went into your bagel—was he a Christian? I don’t know. We’d like to hope so. But in a way, it doesn’t matter as far as God using that farmer to give daily bread. God’s will—we often underestimate the will of God, as if it’s something He wants to happen, as if He isn’t actually at work. God is at work in all human labor. And so even those who don’t know Him, unintentionally, are doing what He commands, in the sense of their vocations. Now sinners, they tend to be doing their work, whatever it is, for themselves. They have a different motivation. It has a different meaning for them, very often it has no meaning for them. But to make a living in doing something productive, they’re helping someone. They’re serving someone, whether they love that person or not. God is working through them, even though they reject God. And so this creates a terrible conflict in their lives. And unbelievers, especially, have difficulty in vocation, and then understanding the significance of their lives.

Now a Christian, in a way—God, in His governance of His earthly kingdom, Christians and non-Christians are working side by side. If there’s two people on the factory line, one may be a Christian, the one next to them may be a non-Christian, they’re doing the same work. The difference is that the Christian can do that work out of faith, for the purpose of love and service. And the other [person] is doing it to make, just to make money and to—or maybe finds it fulfilling in some way. And that’s the only motivation there is. But this to think of a world—there is no world that God is not reigning in. And so yes, for Christians to live in a society that’s hostile to their faith, it’s challenging. But again, for them, that becomes another thing to overcome, another battle of faith that can help them grow in their faith, and in their dependence on Christ. And we can be sorrowful, compassionate for those who don’t know the Lord, because of the tragedy that that brings into their lives, now and then in eternity. But Christians—I don’t see a biblical warrant for separating from the so-called “secular world.” Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know that there is a secular world. Maybe secular people. But the world is God’s. And it carries on. He’s taking care of it, of us. He’s taking care even of the nonbelievers. And it’s temporal. That will pass away, which is why Christians shouldn’t get too caught up in things of this world and completely despair when it looks like things are going worse and worse, because God is still on His throne. And He’s still working through us. But through us—He’s working even through the unbelievers, is another thing that helps us to realize.

As far as arts, you know, an artist who creates something beautiful or significant, that gives someone pleasure, it’s a way for the artist to love and serve her neighbors. Again, a lot of artists are nonbelievers. And so they create something their own. But that can be a benefit to neighbors too. And so that is an area that’s definitely important, because where did the person get the talent to make this art, who we talked about creating art? Well, where does creating come from, if not the God who created everything? You know, we need to remember that, but also remember the need for different kinds of gifts. The pragmatic nurse, as you say, loves and serves us in a very important way. God works through her to bless those lepers in Ethiopia. What an awesome thing she’s doing. But again, the artist or the writer, writing something that’s profound—that, too, is God is working through that artist too. Not in the sense of divine inspiration, like in scripture, but that’s a calling, that’s a gift, that’s a realm of service, and of sin, and of conflict sometimes. But that’s where God, you know, that’s the life that the Lord has assigned. Right? And that’s precious, because He is precious.

CHELSEA: That’s good. So can you bring this down to the concrete level? So how would you talk to a mom, or a dad, or a teacher, helping a kid find their “vocation,” quote unquote? So you have lots of kids in your life. You have a dozen grandchildren, you had kids, you have many, many students. I mean, I know how you talk to us about it, from experience. But to you, is vocation something you find, or is it “thrust upon you”? Or how does that go?

DR. VEITH: Yeah, good Shakespeare line. I think the assumption is a vocation is something we choose. Because again, we’re all about choice and our will, rather than God’s will. And it’s a difference in thinking about if you choose a vocation versus are called to a vocation. If you’re called, in a sense, that takes a lot of out of your own agency. Vocation is something that kind of happens based on the opportunities that you have, the doors that are open, the doors that are slammed in your face, the job you apply for, the jobs you get fired from. All of these are ways God brings you to where He wants you to serve. And He does that. He will bring you where—it may not be where you expect or even want, but He brings you to areas of life and areas of service. So I tell people—and just thinking about our own children—of course, we didn’t really study vocation during a big part of their childhood. But you find your vocation just in the ordinary way. I mean, vocation sanctifies ordinary life. And since God works through ordinary means, and ordinary people, He’s working through your parents and your teachers and your coaches and your friends. And you see what you enjoy, remembering vocation may not be what you enjoy completely. But you see what you’re good at. You let things happen. And our family, like we gave our children a good Christian education. So they’re good readers and writers and thinkers, and had good background, and we encouraged them to follow up with their interest. The ones who were interested in music, we gave music lessons. It doesn’t mean they become performers. But it’s good to let young people, you know, try things and explore things.

When our children went to college, and went through a whole bunch of majors, trying to find what fit, we didn’t get on them and say, “No, choose something! Hey, you know, engineers make a lot of money. So that’s a good career. So get a STEM job, go into that,” when our child wasn’t good at math, and wasn’t really suited for that. So it’s just a matter of kind of letting things happen, and trusting that God is leading. But you still have to do the planning, the choosing, the thinking, the agonizing. You know the great scripture in Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” So we do have to do the planning, and just in the ordinary way, but understand that God is leading you to where He wants you to be.

And here’s some good advice for parents and young people in finding vocation: Look for the vocation you have right now. Get them to think about vocation right now. What are your callings? And do that by, what neighbors are in your life? Okay, typical teenager, his vocation is to be a student. And there’s a proper work of a vocation, in this case, studying, doing your work. And there are neighbors brought into your life—in a class, your fellow students, they’re your neighbors. Your professors. The people you’re studying. We talked about how, in the Shakespeare class, Shakespeare is your neighbor, who you’re loving and serving by understanding and appreciating his works. Again, you have a vocation in your family. Your brothers and sisters are your neighbors. Your parents are your neighbors. That’s your vocation. Your friends are your neighbors. How can you love and serve them? Often, we think of children as not even being fully human until they graduate and are on their own. Even your children fussing in church—again, they have a calling. Luther said being a child is a calling. And being a child means they’re going to do childish things. So you can expect that, and not get too bent out of shape about it as a parent. But again, it’s great that you had them in church, that you had them in real worship. So many churches kick the children out of church, send them to a nursery, or send them to children’s church where they color or something. And they don’t teach them to worship. And yes, they’re rowdy and have to learn to sit still. But you’ll find that the music and the liturgies and the practices and the prayers—those are forming. Those are formative, and it sticks with them forever.

One of my grandchildren is autistic, and he and I have a special bond. And anyway, he’s learned to love church. He loves the repetition. Okay, we’re Lutheran, so we have a very liturgical kind of worship. But he’s in there, and there’s chapel at the Seminary. He goes every day. And he talks about Jesus, and he agonizes over when he’s bad, and likes to come for communion. Anyway, he has a piety—it’s really a very high level. Well, Jesus says that our piety needs to be like that of a child. And that has to include vocation. Somebody said, “So what’s the vocation of a little baby, just crying and keeping people up and dirtying diapers and all the rest?” And somebody said, “Well, a baby’s great love and service is to make other people be filled with love.” If anybody sees a cute baby, they can’t help but feel love for that for that child. And, yeah, but we have a young woman who sort of did something similar in the Christmas program. She was dressed like a little angel, and her time to go up front and say a little piece, she ran back down the aisle to her to her mother. And everybody laughed, and it kind of broke up the whole idea of the story they were portraying. But everybody loved that. Even when they don’t go as planned, that’s even cuter than when they just do what they’re supposed to do, sometimes.

KELSEY: And children really know how to break the fourth wall.

DR. VEITH: Absolutely. Just a very sophisticated, postmodern dramatist.

KELSEY: That’s right. That’s right. There’s so much we can learn from them. The categories that you are describing so tenderly—I mean, they move me, and they make me think of what it means to be a good neighbor to my children, to behold them with the delight that you describe, the love. The way that my neighborliness to them is expressing something of the heart of the Father to them, that looking at them and saying, “Oh, you are so very good.” And their neighborliness to me, to fill me with that love that reminds me of the heart of the Father for me. Yeah. And what you have given us in these categories of our vocation being directly related to neighbor, to community, that it’s never about this self-fulfillment—it’s always that others-orientation that allows us to ask, “Who are you?”

DR. VEITH: And of course, the irony is that the more we do that, the more we focus on a neighbor, the more self-fulfilling, we actually find it.

CHELSEA: That is so true. I feel like I remember, when I was pregnant with my first child, thinking, “Oh, man, I’m never going to talk to another grown up again. I’ll never have—I’ll never be skinny. I’ll never write a book. I will—” all these “nevers.” Like, man, this baby is going to take so much out of my life. There’s this sculptural work I sometimes see posted on Facebook, where it’s a metal statue of a person, and the person has all these holes in them, and all those little holes have made up the child standing next to them. Like, I think our culture fundamentally believes that children diminish us. And oh my goodness, how silly. How silly the idea that more life would take away life. My children have added so much life to mine. They are so great.

DR. VEITH: That reminded me: another Luther quote. He talks about, you know, talking about the farmer, giving us this day our daily bread, that God creates new life through the vocation of mothers and fathers. And again, what a miracle. Is there any greater miracle that God has done than creating life, when He created Adam and Eve? And I mean, that’s mind-blowing. An immortal soul. So, God creates that. Well, he does that miracle through vocation—through the vocation of parents. And how we can not appreciate that, or even look down on, or even try to avoid it, is kind of amazing to me. But it’s something so common, so ordinary, that we forget how extraordinary it actually is, if we saw it clearly.

CHELSEA: I’m really personally curious about the idea of neo-monasticism that you wrote about in the article you sent us. I’m just kind of wondering, why are we tempted toward that? Why are we tempted to elevate so-called ministerial vocations above putting the label on the can in the factory? What is that about?

DR. VEITH: Well, it’s very ironic that, you know, evangelical Christians are sometimes thinking the same way that the medieval Catholics were thinking, that the Reformation had to reform. I think, we look at this, the spiritual and the material, and we put a barrier between them. And of course, the spiritual is better, and the material is lesser. And so we pursue the spiritual things, and our material, they might drag us down, but the more spiritual we can be, the better. And of course, that comes from the heresy of Gnosticism. For me, Christianity is about the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The creation—the Gnostics rejected the doctrine of creation. They rejected Genesis, because they thought that the material world was created by a demon, because of all the evils in it, and that we have to escape the physical world.

Christianity is about creation, the Incarnation, God become flesh, vocation. I really think it’s that important of a teaching, to put it in that company. Maybe not as important as those other two, but I think it’s related to it, that it’s in the physical realm that God placed us in, that we’re born into. That’s where we are to serve. And there’ll be a physical resurrection, and a new Heaven and a new Earth, that will be purged of all that’s wrong about things now. So I think that’s a big part of it. Gnosticism is very pervasive.

And I think part of it is that—it comes to a kind of works righteousness. People, even evangelicals who believe the gospel, that are saved solely by the grace of Christ, by the work of Christ, kind of secretly want to perform for Him in such a way that we impress God, and we gain merit, and we’re better, and that will get us in better with God. That’s what they pursue.

Now, church work is a vocation. It is a calling. I don’t want to minimize that at all. And those who are called to ministry, those who are called to be missionaries, those who are called to leper colonies in Ethiopia—wow, I mean, we’re right to be to honor those and to respect that so much, like we do all the saints. But part of Luther’s criticism of monasticism was its attack against vocation. To become a priest, or a nun, or a monk, you took a vow of celibacy, promising not to ever get married or have children. You took a vow of poverty, meaning that you’d only be supported by the church, you wouldn’t be a part of the regular economy. You took a vow of obedience, meaning that you’re under the church law, but not the law of the nation you’re in. And, you know, Luther—it’s a slap in the face of all of the other estates that God established. The family—you don’t think you can serve God sacrificially in the family? In parenthood? Monks mortify themselves by staying away from humans. The most holy monks were the hermits, who spent all their time praying and never had to interact with anybody. Well, in a way that’s kind of easier for people. Yeah, sounds good for us introverts. You’d love that. But God calls us to other people. And we need other people. It is not good for man to be alone, He said to Adam, and that still applies to all of us, even to women, and everyone. Although maybe there is a calling to be a hermit. Maybe there is. I shouldn’t say that. But I would hope they would be spending their time praying, not for their own piety, not to be more spiritually elevated with God, but praying for the world, and for the people in need. And at their best, the monasteries did take care of people.

But there’s that mindset that, again, scorns these realms of God’s created order, that if He created them, we dare not look down on them. And they’re, of course, necessary. You know, for the others, I heard one businessman, I was talking to him, he says—well, yes, he’s gone into business, and he’s been successful. But he sees his business as a way he can support ministries. And that’s why it’s good. In a way, that was a misunderstanding of vocation, in the—you don’t have to be witnessing on the job all the time to be serving on your vocation. Now, as God brings, as your vocation brings neighbors in your life, you will have occasion to form relationships, where you can talk to them about Christ. But again, the work itself—whether it’s manufacturing machines that make other people’s lives better, or whether you’re selling insurance, or you’re a lawyer getting people out of legal trouble, or whatever—that is precious just in itself. That’s serving God by serving your neighbor. And that’s how He wants to be served. But this idea, that we only do things for God—here’s a great Luther quote: “God doesn’t need our good works. But our neighbor does.” God doesn’t need anything. Do you think He needs us to do things? Well, our neighbor, though, has lots of needs. And God, showing His heart, wants us to address the needs of our neighbor—big ones, small ones, the whole gamut. And that’s where we are to live out our faith.

CHELSEA: I’m just going to run one thing by you. A few years ago, WORLD turned 40. And we here at the kids’ magazines are older than the grown-up magazine. I’m very proud to say we are the pioneers.

DR. VEITH: Children are older than the grownups. I love that.

CHELSEA: Yes, exactly. So on that occasion, when we turned 40, I wrote an article for my main audience, which is seven- to 10-year-olds, which—I love to write for seven- to 10-year-olds, because I think if you can’t explain something to a seven-year-old, you cannot explain it. And if it is not interesting to a seven-year-old, it is probably not interesting. So this is what I wrote about. I was writing a story about the vocation of journalism. But first, I was introducing “What is vocation?” And this is what I said, and you as my teacher can tell me if I learned correctly. I said:

Calling is an old idea. Way back in the 1500s, church reformer Martin Luther talked about calling a lot. He called it vocation. Do you see some letters from the word “voice” hidden there? A vocation is a spiritual calling. Whose voice is doing the calling? God’s. You might not hear His voice audibly, but He is always calling people to do good work. Even kids! It’s fun to imagine what our future vocations might be. But you can also make a list of the callings you have at this moment. Are you a Christian? A friend? A brother or sister? A pet caregiver? Through each of your callings, you serve God and show His love to your neighbors. Can you believe God is loving the world through you?

DR. VEITH: Chelsea, I’m so proud that you’re one of my students that really got it. That’s beautiful and well written and very profound. And I’m so thankful that you’re teaching that to your young readers, because they really do have a calling from God. And that’s the preparation, the groundwork that will be so helpful to them as they grow. And God calls them to many other kinds of things as they get older. He’s calling them now. And that voice that you wrote, the language in that piece of writing, that your voice comes through—again, that’s a voice that is calling them to these areas of service, and they can really see God in that.

KELSEY: Because of Christ, we have someone who is indwelling us, closer than a brother—the Spirit, who makes His voice known. And it’s a still small whisper sometimes, but He’s calling us. But we also have Him in His word. And so I’m going to close out our time today with a couple of passages that, for me, have been very distinct in their voice of the Lord calling His creation to glorify Himself.

And so the passages I’ve chosen, it’s Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” This being the work, the cultural mandate given to man even before the Fall, that work was given, that a calling of what it meant to honor the Lord and creation was given. And then Jesus came to reveal more of what that work would be, pushing into our concepts, as with a rich young ruler, reminding us that it has to do with that love of neighbor and that expansion of His kingdom to all of the Earth. And so Jesus came to them, Matthew 28:18-20, and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens—God’s plan for His continued work in the world is us. And He has equipped you for the work.


Show Notes

What is the doctrine of vocation? And how can it help your kids and teens see God's love in everyday life? Kelsey Reed and Chelsea Boes interview Dr. Gene Veith on today’s episode.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

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Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.

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