Lutherans in the Twin Cities

“Take this job and love it!”

When your life is properly centered, you’ll see “work” differently.

When was the last time you heard of someone who entered a profession and then launched a campaign to tell others his career choice is probably overrated?

That’s essentially what Martin Luther did, to the chagrin of his fellow clergy in the early 1500s. Although ordained a priest in the Western Christian Church, Luther realized how pernicious it could be to represent his calling as “superior” to any other. That, however, was the official line coming from the hierarchy.

Luther realized, correctly, that such talk would lead everyone to want to be ordained (a ludicrous idea), or to denigrate their own vocation (a disastrous idea). The situation led the gutsy theologian from Wittenberg, Germany, to formulate what became one of the great affirmations of the Lutheran Reformation: Any God-pleasing calling (vocation) is a valuable way to serve God.

The director of a recently organized initiative at Luther Seminary thinks the Lutheran Church is about 500 years late in taking Luther’s affirmation seriously. Jack Fortin, who heads Luther’s Centered Life Initiative, says, “The future of the Church lies in equipping the laity.” He’s talking about people who are not, and never will be, ordained.

Fortin says Christians are eager to find ways to make significant and appropriate connections between their faith and their daily lives. “We’re working [at the Innitiative] on a cultural transformation,” he told Metro Lutheran. “Ordained clergy is not the calling. It’s one of them.”

That, of course, is Martin Luther’s 500-year-old idea.
Most Lutherans remember from confirmation instruction that Luther affirmed “justification by grace through faith” (God loves sinners unconditionally, and delivers that gift to all who open themselves to it). But Fortin says, “That’s one of two legs on which a Lutheran Christian ought to stand. The other is a proper understanding of vocation.”

How does the believer embrace the calling in which he or she finds him- or herself? Fortin says, “It begins with centering. Our lives need to be centered in God through Christ. Hence the name, ‘The Centered Life Initiative.’ You don’t need to find ‘balance’ in your life, as some current spirituality gurus are proclaiming. Your life can actually be out of balance in some ways, but if it’s centered properly, then you can make sense of it — and find satisfaction in what you do.”

Fortin’s new book, The Centered Life, is a disarmingly simple document. You can read it in an evening (or, as this writer did, riding to work on the bus). The slim volume, available either from Augsburg Fortress or from the Initiative, lays out the rationale for centered living. (It also provides discussion questions for those wanting to reflect on and share the book’s insights in a study or discussion group.)

Fortin is convinced that centered Christians make the best responders to God’s calling — wherever the call is discerned. He says God can call us in one or more arenas simultaneously — in the workplace, in the home, in the church family and/or in the wider community.

“Everybody has at least one calling. Clearly our vocation (calling) doesn’t end when we stop earning a salary. Then it could be serving as a volunteer, or doing something we didn’t have time to do when we were gainfully employed.”

The Initiative director likes an idea put forth by Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner: “True Christian vocation happens when my deepest passion intersects with the world’s greatest need.”

When that happens, Fortin says, people discover that deep satisfaction “kicks in.” It’s what has already happened when a person is able to declare, “I can’t believe I get to do this great job — and get paid for it!”

What happens if “the job I’m stuck in” doesn’t bring that sort of satisfaction? Fortin says it’s possible we’ve not yet discovered how God has most uniquely gifted us. Perhaps we need another career track.

But changing jobs isn’t always possible. “I talked to a guy who made widgets and didn’t enjoy it. But he discovered his true vocation was having a positive influence on the lives of other people at break time. That’s what I mean by finding your true vocation, even if you think you hate your ‘job.’”

In his new book, Fortin quotes Paul Minor, an expert in the field of Christian vocation. Minor says ethics should be one of the values always present in a God-pleasing vocation.

Says Fortin, “We’re seeing a growing public awareness that ‘the bottom line’ can’t be the last word. People want more from companies than profits for shareholders. Sooner or later, our calling leads us to demand that peace and justice issues are also addressed.”

Is “centered living” another way to discover “the purpose-driven life”? Fortin says, “Rick Warren’s book by that title gave rise to a study program called ‘Forty Days of Purpose.’ We believe centered living goes the next step. We focus on what happens beginning on Day 41.”

For more information about the Centered Life Initiative, call 651/641-3429 or visit www.cen teredlife. org