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Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian…

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation

by William C. Placher

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Callings -Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation is an anthology concerning work and vocation with selections from the greatest writers in Christian history such as Thomas Aquinas, Benedict of Nursia, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvauz, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayres, and Thomas Merton. The book addresses the question "what should I do with my life?"

Callings is divided into 4 historical periods: the early church, the middle ages, the Reformation and modern/post modern Christianity. Each section has short readings from writers who lived in each of the eras. The Reformation is the largest section even though it was the shortest historical period, covering 300 years. As a time of increased literacy and greater social choices, it was during this time that the idea that every person has a calling became prominent. The book's introduction defines a calling as when the bits and pieces of your struggle, disappointments and successes add up to a significant whole. Frederick Buechner further defines a calling as "the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to have done...the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

During the early church era a calling was not to a vocation/job but a calling to live the Christian life. This was a time period of few choices and your job was whatever your father's job was. A decision to accept a calling to live the Christian life meant leaving your family. A small number of Christians were executed for refusing to give a sacrifice to the Roman Emperor. Writers who are excerpted here include Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nyssa.

During the middle ages a calling was a decision whether or not to be a professional Christian, ie, someone who spent all of their time practicing their faith such as a monk or a nun. I have learned alot about this era from reading medieval mysteries such as Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse mysteries. The rules for these professional Christians set down by Benedict of Nursia are featured prominently in this series. Writers from this era include Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Christine de Pisan, John Cassian and Thomas a Kempis.

In the Reformation period the primary thinking was that your calling was your job and that everyone was called by God to do something, not just the priests and nuns. In the latter part of this time period it was believed that a person's calling could change throughout their life. Writers excerpted from this era include Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, John Bunyan, Teresa of Avila and Jonathan Edwards.

The modern era or post-Christian era is the current era that we are living in today. It is a time when your neighbor is someone of a different faith than you and you realize that we do not live in a Christian society. The values of our culture are sex and violence and there is a definite lack of leadership. A calling can be a job, or simply to live the Christian lifestyle. In this respect, this era is similar to the early church era. Writers from this era include Karl Barth, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Dorothy Sayres, Soren Kirkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pope Leo XIII and Feodor Dostoevsky.

Clement of Alexandria surprised me with his idea that the wealthy should not give all their riches to the poor before beginning the Christian lifestyle but rather should hold onto their wealth so that it can be disbursed as needed later. It seems contrary to Jesus' teaching to a wealthy follower that he needed to give away all of his possessions before following Him. Aquinas and Tertullian bored me. Aquinas's writing method did not help. He would list objections to what he was about to say, make his statement and then defend it. Benedict of Nursia's rules are lengthy and I wonder how he came up with them. I found Christine de Pisan's suggestions for wealthy women in the Treasure of the City of Ladies still relevant today. Her suggestions boil down to treating others, even your servants, as you want to be treated. William Perkins treatise on vocation discusses parents picking a calling for their minor children to perform. The children can change that calling when they become adults. This is a concept that I had never heard of before. He also states that every person should be
fitted for the calling and the calling should be fitted for the person. William Law discusses a person who lost his ability to work at the calling he was trained to do. Law encouraged him to work hard at whatever he was able to do so that God was glorified. This idea speaks to me because I suffer from a chronic illness and had to change careers to one I dislike and am severely underemployed. When you are underemployed you become depressed because you are not doing what you were created to do. Having a physical disability that prevents you from using your brain to its utmost causes depression and feelings of worthlessness. After my physician declined to give me anti-depressants, he said I should be depressed. My life sucks and my depressed feelings are normal. He would only prescribe meds to someone whose depression was unrealistic. However, I am now thinking this job I hate may be my calling. At least that's what folks whom I have assisted tell me. I love Pope Leo XIII's admonition to employers not to tax their employees beyond their strength and to provide them with work suited to their sex and age. Too bad employers don't do this.

Callings is a thought provoking book. The readings are managable enough that you can put the book down for awhile and start back up without losing the continuity. I highly recommend this book to people of all faiths. There is something for everyone in Callings. ( )
  Violette62 | Mar 20, 2010 |
Overall, then, a reasonably worthwhile compendium. It is surely not a book intended for the academic context--except, conceivably, for students on a brief 'introduction to Christian writings' foundation course.
added by Christa_Josh | editReviews in Religion & Theology, Malcolm Brown (Sep 1, 2006)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802829279, Paperback)

What am I going to do with my life? is a question that young people commonly face, while many not-so-young people continue to wonder about finding direction and purpose in their lives. Whether such purpose has to do with what job to take, whether to get married, or how to incorporate religious faith into the texture of their lives, Christians down the centuries have believed that God has plans for them.

This unprecedented anthology gathers select passages on work and vocation from the greatest writers in Christian history. William Placher has written insightful introductions to accompany the selections — an introduction to each of the four main historical sections and a brief introduction to each reading. While the vocational questions faced by Christians have changed through the centuries, this book demonstrates how the distilled wisdom of these saints, preachers, theologians, and teachers remains relevant to Christians today.

This rich resource is to be followed by a companion volume, edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass, featuring texts drawn mainly from fiction, memoir, poetry, and other forms of literature.

A study guide is available from Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) on their website: www.ptev.org

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:18 -0400)

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