I am starting to rethink one of our basic premises at The Washington Institute that we want to help people connect their faith with their vocation with engaging the culture. Not that I think this premise is wrong, not at all, but in today’s world, it may be incomplete for many people. What got me thinking is that right now I have three close friends two of whom are unemployed while one is very underemployed for some time now. We pray together and we pray separately in our homes for them, and I agonize over how they will make ends meet soon and how to best help. Looking at the unemployment statistics with some attempt to grasp just what it is we’re dealing with, I was reminded of a quote attributed to Stalin (if he didn’t say it, he should have) that “one death is a human tragedy; 20 million deaths is a newspaper headline for a day.”
In the latest official count by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.1% of the paid workforce is out of work with 851 thousand jobs lost from in February alone and an increase of 5 million people out of work in just one year. A total of 12.5 million of our fellow Americans are now out of work. On top of that over 6% of our country has either quit looking or taken any part time work just to get a little food on the table. That means of our friends and neighbors across the country, almost 12 million of them are not working and an untold number have simply quit looking or taken part time jobs where they are seriously underemployed. We can debate the economic stimulus that just passed last this past week as to whether it will make a big dent in this or not, but from what I gather, it will get worse before it gets better and time is going to roll forward for a few years before this monstrous thing is under control.
It all makes me wonder about whether the work Steve and I do day in and day out in the faith-vocation nexus is possibly a luxury in these times, not unimportant, but maybe it needs some adjustment in our thinking. Can’t a job[i] that pays the bills be viewed as a connection to faith when an out of work friend finally lands a job that will keep his family in their house? Isn’t it possible that God’s “calling” is to support your family even if your passions and gifts are not being fully employed? And can’t we as people who seek to follow Christ in every facet of life do so in the White House or the boiler factory with equal confidence this is where he wants us today? It seems to me if we don’t begin to talk of vocation in this way also, as sometimes being a job that comes after months of anxiety and the prayers of many, that we may be in danger of something akin to the very thing we so strongly speak and write against at the Institute–the two-tiered view of Christian life that sees church work and Christian ministry as being superior in God’s eyes to being a salesman or a lawyer or a schoolteacher. I’m afraid for some, unless we redefine vocation a bit, it will just be a luxury. At least that’s what I’m thinking.
Ray Blunt is a Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute as well as the Senior Mentor for discipleship at Ad Fontes Academy.
[i] The word “job” came out of the industrial revolution in England when thousands of displaced farm workers came to the cities to work in factories. They began to refer to the work they did as a “job,” the common term for sheep or cow manure-not a term of endearment but it put food on the table, barely. Think Charles Dickens.