Questions of vocation, what constitutes the best use of our working lives, are not clear cut in any religious community. Nor are they clear cut in the secular realm. So how do we know if we’re doing the right thing?
How do we determine which is the best day job for us? Aptitude? Inspiration? Divine appointment? A combination? Contrast two famous contributors to the worlds of design and cuisine: Philippe Starck and Marco Pierre White. Both skilled, both inspired, both pursuing things that add up to something beyond chairs and chard.
Philippe Starck, Picasso of design and ad hoc philosopher, has said this: ‘Look, there are already millions of excellent chairs which are very comfortable, lamps which provide light, and so on. Is it necessary to create more? The only question is: what will it bring to the human being who is trying to use it? The urgent thing today is not to create a car or a chair which is more beautiful than another; what is urgent is for us all to fight with every means at our disposal against the fact that something is becoming extinct: love.’
Marco Pierre White has been awarded three Michelin stars and returned all three. He has said this: ‘I’ve worked for over ten years for recognition, and now I’ve got it. I’ve got money now, but I’m no happier. It’s not material things that bring me happiness. Perhaps that’s why I work with food, with growing things. I can’t make a carrot, and nor can you. It’s natural. Without food there’s no life. My respect and admiration for life has come from food, through food.’
Work, food, love, life… They’re not mutually exclusive and they’re not exclusive to the church. Designing a car or cooking cordon bleu have their own rewards yet, as Starck and White reveal, if we fail to pursue something higher, there’ll always be something missing. For Starck that’s love, for White that’s life. Christians have discovered both these things in the person of Jesus Christ. Love is not becoming extinct. God is love and God is eternal (1 John 4:16). Yes we need food to live. Jesus is both the bread and the life (John 6:35).
It’s easy to see how those inside the church might consider ‘church work’ the highest vocation. It’s hard to argue with the man who said, ‘Drop everything and follow me’ (Mark 1:16-18) and it’s difficult not to admire people who’ve done precisely that. Christians ascribe great importance to the work of the church: to pastoral ministry, to preaching and teaching roles, to mission, to community service, and so on. And rightly so; these things are important. But they’re not the only important things. For each of the disciples Jesus called directly to leave everything and follow him, thousands more heard and followed without giving up their day jobs. I think that’s just as God wanted it.
Christians are called to follow Jesus wherever they live, wherever they work, and to minister the love of God in these contexts. With this as the basic Christian vocation, the lines between sacred and secular become gloriously blurred. Carrots can be cooked with the love of God, numbers can be crunched with the grace of God, children can be raised with the patience of a saint. Diverse vocations, high callings.