Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Luther said that faith serves God, but works serve our neighbor."

That's an early sentence out of Gene Veith's short book, which resurrects Martin Luther's teachings on the workaday world for the 21st-century audience (who, like me, has probably never read a word that Luther actually wrote, besides the hymn "A Mighty Fortress" anyway). And with it, Veith launches into a clear outline of what Luther and others taught about the holy pursuit of... plumbing.

Veith covers the vocations of work, citizenship, family and church membership, often using regular-Joe examples related to plumbing or farming or a host of other occupations. The writing isn't as exciting as, say, an adventure novel, but it's sufficiently on layman's turf that you don't have to have studied Biblical languages or church history to follow what he's saying.

I've read Veith's blog, Cranach, for quite some time. Topics there range far and wide, and when you learn what he believes about "vocation," or calling(s) for what we do with our time and talents, you understand why. For one thing, he thinks it's "in vocation that evangelism can most effectively happen." If the plumber does his job well and goes above and beyond in order to do so, people begin to ask why.

As someone who has regularly considered selling everything and flying off to the mission field -- but hasn't, at least not yet, in part because my skills are more suited to work in the continental US -- it's refreshing to learn the ways in which my faith is not only compatible, but foundational, to what I do for a living and how I do it. As Veith explains, my reach for excellence and integrity may look the same as another good worker without that foundation, but at the end of the day a Christian's purpose in doing it is to show love for his - or her - neighbor. Even if I'm in the US heartland, my work can have eternal impact.

After all, Veith points out, no one lives in a vacuum, completely capable of filling all his own needs. The farmer must still buy seed, and fertilizer, and equipment. He'll call the plumber, just like I would. And the plumber, in turn, gets somebody else to help prepare his tax return. "Whether we want to accept it or not, self-sufficiency is an illusion. We do depend on other people... for our very lives."

He's right, you know. Even overseas missionaries need their friends back home who are good at stuff like writing or computer programming. Even plumbing.

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The eloquence of the Greatest Generation

I received a lovely surprise today at work: A thank-you bouquet from a WWII veteran.

This veteran is originally from the town where I work and at 90 years old must be one of a very small number of men left who had served in World War II. He had seen an article I wrote recently about the Roll of Honor, a local monument to the area's WWII veterans (both the living and those who've passed on). So he called me this week, hoping someone at the paper could send him a photo of the monument.

He lives out of town and had never seen it since it was rebuilt in 2010, even though his name and those of several of his relatives are on it.

I couldn't find him any from the paper but I snapped a few with my phone on my way to an assignment and emailed them to him. He replied with his thanks and I figured that was taken care of.

Then about noon today, one of the front desk ladies brought these peach roses, saying they were delivered for me. For the life of me I couldn't guess who had sent them, until I read the short note with the veteran's name.

In flower language, peach means gratitude. Those of us in journalism treasure every kind word we receive - there is a bulletin board at work with the note cards we've received over the years pinned to it, just to remind us that not all the feedback we get is negative. But this is by far the most pleasant "thank you" any of us in the newsroom has ever gotten.