Glossary: Multivocal


       the voice with which our life speaks good things into existence in the world.


       the experience of having multiple expressions of vocation


Multivocal    adj.   

– prefix “multi-” from Latin multus – much, many
– root “vocal” from Latin vocalis, equivalent to voc (stem of vox) – voice, or ‘to speak’

Multivocal is an adjective identifying a condition of having multiple vocations – literally – “speaking with multiple voices”.


This is rooted in the following understanding of “vocation”:

     Vocation is –
the voice with which our life speaks good things into existence in the world.

This understanding draws on the creation stories found in Genesis 1-3. Within these narratives we hear that:

  1. Through speech, God creates
  2. What God creates in this way is good
  3. Among these created things are humankind
  4. Humankind are made “in [God’s] image and likeness, both male and female”

I would argue then that part of the imago dei (image of God) in us is this power/ ability/ responsibility to create good things through the voice of our lives.

It is readily apparent within human relationships that our words matter – they have the power to create both good and bad things in ourselves, other people, and the world around us. We literally have the ability to speak blessings and curses – as we see clearly in the story of Isaac, Rebekah, and their sons Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27).

Vocation is the way this power is manifest, not only through our spoken words, but in all that we put into the world, whether through words, actions, or the simple energy of our presence or absence in a place.

“Multivocal” acknowledges that we do not speak or act in only one way, but in fact our lives create many things across the six domains of human flourishing – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, intellectual and occupational.

In relationships, I have a vocation as a husband, a father to both a daughter and a son, a sibling, a son to my parents, a friends, a colleague, a pastor, a neighbor, etc. In each of these I hope to be consistently “the same person” though I need to relate to people differently depending on which relationship I’m in. The clearest example for me is this: If I relate to anyone else the way I relate to my wife, we are all in really big trouble. Either I’m not treating her in the unique way that our relationship deserves (treating her just like I would a neighbor or stranger) or I’m being far too familiar with other people (engaging a kind of intimacy that I believe only belongs to her). Our word “personality” grows out of the ancient understanding within both Greek and Roman society illustrated in their theatre, where the “persona” was the theatre mask worn by an actor playing multiple roles – first the king, then the beggar, now the soldier. Each role requires a different voice, both literally and figuratively.

Multivocal has a second meaning beyond this broadest application of the various aspects of life in which we use different voices. In regard to occupations, I believe that individuals and organizations can appropriately embrace and live into multiple vocations. A person can be both an accountant and a painter, for instance. Both of these are vocations, and they seem rather disconnected from each other in spirit and practice. Yet one person may embody them both. And for that person to be healthy, to flourish and thrive, it is best for the energy of these vocations to provide mutual benefit.  Rather than seeing numbers and colors in conflict, rather than experiencing the precision of spreadsheets contradicting the freedom of abstract expressionism, perhaps these opposite energies can serve one another, through balance and contrast that highlights the value and beauty of both. There is a reason that we are drawn to contrasting flavors like salty/sweet or sweet/sour. Through contrast, seemingly opposing experiences actually complement and enhance the unique

Contrary to the wisdom offered by Curly (Jack Palance) in City Slickers

the pursuit of flourishing in an individual or organizational life is therefore not about trying to identify the “ONE THING” that will bring meaning and purpose. It is rather more reasonable and ultimately satisfying to recognize, celebrate and express multiple vocations with gratitude and joy. When there is just one thing, it is in the meta-narrative, the overarching theme that threads through all of the individual and particular expressions of vocation. A Christian might say, “My one thing is to follow Jesus.” People of many religious traditions might say, “to glorify God,” or, “to become one with God.” Others might say, “to become fully myself,” or, “to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing.” These are good aspirations, but until they find expression in the particular, they lack any concrete meaning. And it is in the particulars that a multivocal life finds its greatest realization.

The questions for us all then are these:

What good things do you want your life to speak into existence in the world, across all six domains of your life, so that you can flourish, so that your life can fulfill its purpose? And then, what specifically will you do to move toward those goals?

Here’s a resource you might consider using as you explore these questions.


I will do better. Listening across difference.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness WILL NOT overcome it. #tbtg #lovewins 

Whoever wins in November, we will all still be neighbors and coworkers. I hope we can build bridges across what divides us, and encounter the surprise of divine love hidden within and radiating from the face of the other.

Over the next 28 days (and beyond) I am recommitting myself to contribute to the goal of respect and understanding rooted in love of neighbor and even love of those we would label as enemy.

Let us show the candidates the kind of country we want (and who we want them to be) by how we treat each other, not by how the reality TV stars we watch treat each other.

My own tweeting and posting may have been cathartic (probably not really) but it was not helpful or edifying in the long run. (The one exception may be those posts which expressed concerns for people who experienced renewed trauma around the expressions of rape and abuse culture. “Lord, in your mercy…”)

In the wake of #debate debacle, I’m more convinced than ever that what is most important for people of faith to do, what is most important for me to do, is learn and practice the discipline of listening across difference. We do and will continue to disagree on so much that is fundamental. And yet we must learn to #coexist or we will devolve into some post apocalyptic vision from the literature of our childhood (Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm) or of our present cinema (Hunger Games, Maze Runner).

It may be that the candidates will devour each other, which we can’t stop. But we have to live together, which we can learn to do. We can stop demonizing the other simply because we don’t understand them. We can recognize that so much fear and pain hides behind all of our strong aversive reactions to the candidates, and have compassion for that in ourselves and others. 

This is my personal goal. If I fall short, I would appreciate having this brought to my attention in a respectful way. If I can help you through this season similarly, let me know. and if I’ve said or done something that exacerbates how difficult this journey is for you, I am sorry. Please let me know and help me understand how to avoid that in the future.

Let’s pray for and encourage each other, supporting each other through this dark and chaotic time. There is so much goodness in the world, and even in those who frustrate or disturb us. We must not white wash death and decay, but neither should we demonize people made in God’s image simply because we see and hear evil at work around them.

#trump #maga #hillary #bettertogether