What is religion to you? Is it your vocation, an advocation, or merely a hobby? The question runs through all the lectionary scriptures for the Sunday that begins our summer vacations. Jesus turns back an overly enthusiastic follower (Luke 9:51-62), presumably because he foresaw the man not being up to the transient and dangerous life that lay ahead for Christ’s designated disciples. With similar language, Elijah tries to send home an applicant who wants to be the chief prophet job when Elijah retires (II Kings 6:1-14). “I’m not the one doing the hiring,” Elijah admits, alluding to the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. “If God gives you a vocation, then you can take over my spirit and calling.” In these stories the middle ground gets pulled away. The would-be follower cannot simply be an advocate — that is someone who feels called to be a companion to the real professional. A person either has his or her own calling, and spiritual endowment, or one is a mere hobbyist.
The vocation vs hobby question has been an important one for me. I draw a line. Writing is my vocation, I rise early every morning and work at it. Photography is my hobby. I have made the mistake in the past of believing that if I had the right camera, a Hasselblad or a full-frame digital Nikon, I would be a professional. As an advocate, I often hang with people that do. But when they make plans to rise before dawn and wade out into cold waters to document ducks, I don’t set my alarm. This reflects more than a lack of commitment. God has not called me to photography the way I have been called to write. There is a mysterious power to the spirit, which transcends what other people say you should do. On Facebook, many people “like” my photographs. In the real world, I have a hard time selling the books that I have written.
The vocation thing transcends the making money. I occasionally sell my snapshots and am considering publishing a coffee table book featuring photos around a theme. But even if the text in this project is short, the photos will serve to support the writing. I state this confidently, because I have come to that mantle-passing-Elijah-to-Elisha moment where I know my own calling. I will labor to express truth and beauty in words on a page, even when I don’t expect to make a dime. I realize the rarity of this. Most people are clueless. I suspect a spiritual formation process would be helpful to some. Everyone needs to pray and reflect more on their life’s calling. The church could be more helpful in this than it has been. Pastors should stop preaching about discernment as if it only applies to college freshmen. Key to self-discovery, though, is abandoning the capitalist principle which says, “Do what you get paid to do,” as well as, the social media principle that says, “Do what other people appreciate you for.” Only one question matters, “What is God calling me to do?”
The Apostle Paul, as usual, spins this the other way. He talks about the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All Christians are called to be fruitful and these nine words define what that is. We discover our particular vocation by reflecting on where God has enabled us to be more fruitful. Our job may be as mundane as a bank teller’s, but if the Holy Spirit enables us every day to be loving, joyful, peaceful, etc. in that setting, then it is our vocation. To paraphrase Paul, if we live by the Spirit, we will also be guided by the Spirit into that particular enterprise where we are not mere hobbyists or advocates, but people called by God.