Vocation Again

From the ochlophobist:

Tom would tell me, later in the game, that as a white male, even from appalachia, I stood very little chance of getting tenured anywhere other than an Evangelical Christian college, and that I should thus change disciplines. I wandered about, eventually getting my education in the classics of the West not at an academic institution but at an antiquarian bookstore run by one of the last persons to have gotten the old european education (himself a friend and disciple of Alexander Dru), and who led me through a tutorial of the old sort during the years I worked and lived there (yes, in the upstairs of the store which was in an old church with a Torah scroll in a box at the foot of my makeshift bed, though no longer considered a Torah proper, because it had been touched by goyim). It was at that bookstore that I learned that I had little interest in academic politics and that I really did not care for the mass culture of teenagers and twentysomethings which permeates universities. I realized that what I had loved about spending time with Tom was Tom and books and ideas, and not academia. I have not looked backThese years later I find myself a coppersmith by trade turned metal shop foreman. Metal is a much more forgiving image than most human beings, though not nearly as forgiving as the saints; it occasionally can provide one with solace. In its non-ferrous forms, those with which I am most accustomed, it is buoyant at the brake with porosity that rests on whims and God’s weather. Copper gives more than it receives. At the end, for your best, you will sell a work of dull beauty, not the glitter of gold or silver, but one which is well enough pronounced, and admits more of its pedigree of earth than the precious metals. Alexander the coppersmith did much evil to the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 4). Hopefully St. Asicus and the other coppersmith saints have done something to redeem the trade. It seems to me a human enough endeavor. Metal, especially soft metal, has its own sadness, revealed even in tears (though the common, more polite term is sweat). In the clanging and oft harsh noise of my shop, surrounded by the on their sleeves vices of those who are mostly underclass, I sometimes question myself. Was this manner of life prudently chosen? Those moments are short. Most of my coworkers are from Memphis ghettos or poor rural communities of the northern delta. They only speak narrative.

Thank God for the crooked paths he makes straight.

The ochlophobist causes me once again to visit this topic, especially in light of my previous post on work busyness that prohibits blogging.

Mine has not been the most well-orchestrated life, to say the least. As a senior in high school, I visited two colleges in the spring of which I graduated. Under the influence of a book I had just read (Through Gates of Splendour, by Elisabeth Elliot), and a “Jesus freak” sort of Christian youth culture, I decided to “go all out” and head for the mission fields where I could die for Christ–of course, I headed there by way of Bible college.

While at Bible college I was torn between the anti-intellectualist “the apostles didn’t need a seminary degree” and the desire to read and study and write which academia presents. But I also went through my own little renaissance, experiencing classical literature and art, and so was torn between a life of theological investigation and a life of, what would in time coalesce into, philosophical investigation.

I meandered my way to a Bible college degree, then, unable to overcome the inertia, headed off to seminary. Life and the life of a green and unfunded campus minister had other plans, so I relocated back to my home state and eked out a living in Lawrence, before nearly starving myself to death and, God help me, moving back in with my parents (serially, they were divorced by this time). While in Lawrence, I met the woman who would be my wife, we dated, we got engaged, we got married. And I once again decided to head back into God-jobs.

So, I shoe-horned myself, and pretty much hog-tied God, as it were, into placing me in an abusive rural congregation. We left after some nasty beatings and about eighteen months. I found myself back in non-God-jobs, again nearly starving, this time with a wife for the companionship and the extra guilt that I was now responsible for two hungry mouths. I happened to change church fellowship and become an Anglican, and finessed some extra hurt and abuse of trust for my wife in that switch.

Then the missus got the education bug, having completed her own bachelor’s degree, and we headed south to Baton Rouge. While there, the missus took a big step, got past my previous Anglican shenanigans, and allowed me to listen to the siren songs of my then-former and -current priests encouraging me to explore a vocation to the priesthood in ECUSA.

So, the missus and I headed to Chicago. Long story short: Anglican priestly orders went bust for me. I entered academia, pursuing the teaching profession, in the arena of philosophy. Along the way, we had two kids and student poverty was once again sending us into bad straits. Now with the added guilt of two more hungry mouths.

So I cast out my line for a job, and got where I’m at today, still looking longingly at academia, but also with enough exposure to academia to feel a bit soiled by the longing. Thankfully as an Orthodox there’s a lot less focus on the “what is God’s specific plan for your life?” and a lot more “struggle in the now for your salvation and the salvation of those around you.” I clearly have no clue about the former, and muck about apparently well enough in the latter that God has refrained from blasting me to smithereens.

I suppose there are folks out there who look at my investment of time and money (and the large student loan debt I have) and tsk tsk about the self-indulgence of a seeking after vocation. They’re probably right. I definitely have learned a thing or two which will shape my counsel to my children.

But if the Orthodox way of life is right: our vocation is to become gods, being by grace what God is by nature, and experiencing union with him in Christ. And I can do that in just about any job. It will be harder to justify failing to attend to that vocation, than it will be to justify failing to attend to the many vocations I’ve attempted.

Lord have mercy.

3 thoughts on “Vocation Again

  1. Benedict,

    Thank you for your post. Like you, I often look longingly at academia–but my anthropology is too theological for psychology, too empirical for theology, and too philosophical for almost anyone else! šŸ™‚

    That said, I was wondering if we might chat sometime in the next few weeks. It seems to me that there are many OCwPhD’s (Orthodox Christians w/PhD’s) out there. Most of us our converts, a fair number are clergy, and almost all of us put a near fatal hole in our academic careers by becoming Orthodox.

    It seems to me that we all might want to gather together and pursue our scholarship on our own terms. What would that look like? No idea, but that’s why we should chat.

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  2. Father Gregory:

    I am definitely intrigued by and attracted to your proposal.

    I should, however, clarify: I am not a PhD yet. I’ve completed my course work but am still in the proposal stage (not even writing). I need to complete and defend my proposal, which, successfully accomplished, would put me in the writing stage.

  3. Regarding Fr. G’s proposal: I know that Fr. Hans Jacobse in Florida (of OrthodoxyToday.org fame) has been or is putting together an Orthodox Institute. I’m not sure what his plans or vision are for it, but perhaps y’all might want to talk with him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s