Synchronous Life – Honoring Occupation

(Sermon Study Notes for 032016 – Download PDF here)

We are meant for work, and for Good works. In the very beginning stories of human life meaningful work was seen as an essential element of our existence. Work can be a means by which we honor and glorify God, or it can distract us and destroy that which is good.

Sermon Study Notes – 032016 – Exodus 36:1-7

Occupation means not only what we do to earn income and thus purchase the things we need to live. The literal definition is “anything that occupies your time” – therefore watching TV, doing yard work, writing a poem or cooking a meal – these are all occupations. For the purposes of the Synchronous Life discussion, occupations are those things that are done external to oneself. Thus thinking a poem is an intellectual activity, while writing or reciting it to someone is an occupation.

The text for today (Exodus 36:1-7, see also Exodus 31:1-11) demonstrates how God has gifted and called particular individuals to occupations whereby they will do something or make something, and thus contribute positively to the community. They have been “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12). As background for this, we have also Genesis 1:26-2:9, excerpts from the first and second creation stories that illustrate how God made human kind with occupation as integral to our created nature – to care for creation and one another, and thereby provide our livelihood and develop society.

In the texts from Exodus we see that some work serves the purpose of enabling or enhancing the worship life of the community. Not that we must have a structure within which to worship, or instruments and musicians to lead us, or vessels and other objects for our use in worship. These are not, strictly speaking, necessary. And yet they are helpful. They can aid in drawing us in and holding us together as a community and focusing our attention on God. (NOTE: They can also become obstacles, when they become the objects of worship rather than tools that facilitate worship – that is the definition of idolatry.)

Think about the place, the space, and the objects used in your experiences of worship. How are they helpful, and how might they become a hindrance? Which ones do you personally use, and which are used by others, though perhaps for your benefit – i.e. you use a hymnal and the communion trays, but do not personally play the organ. Give thanks for those who made all of these things, those who gave the money for them, and those who maintain and prepare themselves to make worshipful use of them – all of these are expressions of occupation. Now think about all of the rest of the church life – study, fellowship, service, evangelism, administration – and all of the items used, and by whom. Think over all of the various occupations that go into making a church function well. In which of these are you now or have you been involved? How have you helped make these things possible? When can you recall that these things became sources of struggle or conflict in the life of a congregation?

What about today and tomorrow? How are you currently involved? What is your occupation in the life of faith through the congregation or community where you are connected? What might you do differently? Various occupations suit us during the changing seasons of our lives. Yet there is always something we contribute to those around us and to the world. What is it for you?


Questions for Reflection:

Occupation is one of the Six Domains of a Synchronous Life:
Spiritual / Physical – Emotional / Relational – Intellectual / Occupational

  1. How is your occupational life important in your faith journey and relationship with God? How has that changed over time? Remember, this applies not only to what you do to earn income, but any activities – work, hobbies, etc.
  2. When might occupations cause problems for someone’s spiritual journey?
  3. Where in our community and culture do you see occupations to be vibrant and life-giving? Where are they being applied with wisdom, resulting in righteousness, justice and equity?
  4. Where in your own personal life does your occupational life get expressed? How do you keep it active and vibrant?
  5. What might a church, The Church, and our church, do to support people in their occupational lives – in the pursuit of meaningful work and activities that help them become better people and receive God’s blessings so that they can bless others?
  6. How do occupations impact the other areas of life – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, intellectual? What might you do, and what might the church do, to help people better integrate, harmonize, and synchronize the energy and vitality in each of these other areas with their occupational lives?
  7. How have you, and how can you, share your occupations with others? Who have you apprenticed, taught, mentored in a skill or knowledge area of yours? Again, this can be a “work” or “hobby” or “volunteer” activity.
  8. When has God shown up in your occupational life? When have you been active in some task or another and become aware of God’s presence, or God working in, through or around you to bless others, yourself, and the world at large?


Worship Resources for 032016

CtW – Psalm 90 sv

Leader: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

People: You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Leader: Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

People: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Unison: May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

Prayer of Confession: UCC Book of Worship 36a

Text: Exodus 36:1-7
Title: Synchronous Life – Honoring Occupations
Also:  Genesis 1:26-2:9

We are meant for work, and for Good works. In the very beginning stories of human life meaningful work was seen as an essential element of our existence. Work can be a means by which we honor and glorify God, or it can distract us and destroy that which is good.







Exodus 36

1 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.” 2 Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. 3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.


Exodus 31

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

Multivocal Story: My Path To Being a Realtor

Dan’s story is a great example of why I do the work I do. Pastor? Yes. Realtor? Yes. Many other things in his multivocal life and ministry? YES! If you know folks like Dan who are serving in pastoral ministry AND doing other kinds of work that they find personally fulfilling and financially rewarding, please point them in my direction. I’d love to hear their stories.

Source: My Path To Being a Realtor

Transforming Vocations – Introduction

Transforming Vocations – Introduction

Vocation is the manifestation of our voice, our self, in the world. It is the way we are most fully present and contributing our uniqueness that creates and enhances the lived experience for ourselves and others. At its deepest level, vocation is the expression of the unique image, gift and call of God on each individual. Transformation is the process by which a subject undergoes a dramatic change. The caterpillar which turns into a butterfly is perhaps the most widely recognized example found in nature. The essence of the being remains the same. It is still the same individual, but its form and structure and character have been altered so as to be almost unrecognizable. This project, “Transforming Vocations,” is a study of clergy whose unfolding call to ministry includes similar dramatic shifts, through many and various stages through and beyond fulltime parish and pastoral ministry.

The caterpillar experiences changes that are often hidden, and at times sudden, though not without predictive signs. The caterpillar does not choose to be transformed. The process and outcome are guided by life forces greater than the caterpillar. So too for the pastors whose stories are offered here. At times they are acting, while at other times they are being acted upon. The vocation of the butterfly is no nobler than its predecessor states, though perhaps more appreciated by onlookers. Nor can one simply manifest as a butterfly ex nihilo. The latter states are only achieved by traveling through the former. There is no other way to become fully who and what God is creating and calling us to be. Perhaps the same can be said of the fresh expressions of ministry now emerging. Is it possible that they can only come to fruition, thus advancing the church and the reign of God in those particular contexts, if these vocational transformations take place and move on toward completion? If unfavorable environmental circumstance cause the metamorphosis to be aborted, then the beauty waiting to be revealed, by which the world is blessed, will never appear.

Vocation may be, but need not be, connected to income and career. Some people prefer to integrate their occupation and vocation, while others desire to have them separate. This latter group may work in some employment where they earn an income, and then they donate significant time and energy to an important non-profit endeavor or hobby. Still others would like to integrate their career and vocation but find it incredibly difficult – think writer, actor, dancer, painter, sculptor, musician or singer. These individuals find it difficult to generate sufficient income from their art, and find themselves working in other pursuits to pay the bills. This kind of tension often leaves them feeling stretched and frustrated. They know what their voice in the world can be, yet they are limited to x number of hours per week or month because their “real job” requires so much of them. The “starving artist” is a common cliché – the actor in New York or LA who waits tables to pay rent. In smaller cities and towns, community theatres are filled with people who work other kinds of jobs and carve out ten to thirty additional hours per week during a show. The weekend craft fair circuit is another place you will find artists and artisans selling the creations that they make in the evenings.

Community agencies and congregations could not survive without the scores of volunteers who give freely of their time over and above their work hours. We strive to promote volunteerism in young people through our schools and community youth programs because we believe these activities help create more community-minded, selfless adults, and because the needs in these organizations are so great. Most of these programs for youth are also largely run by volunteers with a minimally paid administrative staff. Small staffs at community centers and congregations have typically provided administration in these settings while much of the effort in planning, leadership and delivery of services is provided by volunteers. The employees in such settings are often overworked and underpaid.

The close of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries ushered the mainline congregational pastor into a new the world, what I will call the New Pastoral Economy.[iii] Many who entered seminary prior to the year 2000 anticipated that they would be able to choose from among multiple pastoral staff positions upon graduation, and that during the span of their pastoral career, opportunities would always be available for growth. The anticipated career path would run as follows:

  • Commit to 3-5 years of fulltime graduate school study funded by a combination of loans, grants, scholarships, part time jobs and support from family and friends;
  • Read, attend lectures, write papers and pass exams;
  • Complete one or several ministry practicums, internships and residencies
  • Prayerfully discern, along with colleagues and mentors, individual gifts, graces, and callings for ministry.
  • Navigate an arduous theological, psychological and spiritual path to ordination.
  • Find ways to maintain and develop personal relationships throughout this journey.

At the end of all this, one could reasonably expect that congregations who would pay a living wage would be seeking you as their next pastor or associate.

However, something has changed. Church futurists were forecasting these changes, but denominations, church associations, congregations and their leaders were caught unprepared. In many cases, they are still struggling even to see the present reality, much less respond to it in creative, life-giving, and sustainable ways. Why were the warnings of this dramatic shift in the ministry-as-career landscape going unheeded by those most responsible for calling and equipping clergy and sending them into pastoral ministry? These are important issues, but I will not attempt to explore them here.

My primary focus in this project is toward those who have served in local congregational ministry for some number of years (typically not less than five) only to find themselves needing to rethink the relationship between occupation and vocation, between job and calling, between congregation and other contexts, between serving God as a career and earning a living. Congregations are shrinking in size and their members are aging, both of which place a downward pressure on congregational income; the number of congregations able to pay a fulltime pastor a reasonable salary is also shrinking; the average pastoral salary is not keeping pace with inflation or the cost of supporting a family. The number of people is rapidly increasing who will never look to a religious community to be part of their lives. [iv]

Pastoral ministry was among professions, like education and medicine and perhaps law, where individuals believed they could both fulfill a true calling and make a living with the same activities. These and others are careers where identity is often most wrapped up in job – I’m a healer, I’m an educator, I fight for justice, I am a pastor. Rare is the story of a doctor who cannot find a patient. People need these services and are willing to pay for them. There may be attorneys who struggle to find a position, but this is more likely the result of an excess of graduates rather than a decline in the number of compensating positions. Teachers fall into a slightly different gap category, because their jobs are by-in-large publically funded. Educators experience pressure on wages and work hours, with salaries limited by state and local taxes while uncompensated worktime beyond the classroom increases due to testing and other administrative tasks. Some believe that technology can partly if not completely replace the local classroom teacher, which might create additional downward pressure on the job market for educators. [v]

I need to duly acknowledge here that what I am describing as “the New Pastoral Economy” is primarily a problem of middle class Anglo congregations – mainline and evangelical. My observation has been that congregations from racial and ethnic minorities[vi] are often served by bi-vocational clergy who work full time jobs and serve their congregations in the evenings and on weekends. Similar arrangements are found among congregations situated in areas of extreme poverty, or serving primarily the working poor. As such congregations increasingly served middle class cultures or communities, their clergy were more likely to draw a fulltime salary from pastoral work. The result now is that when I am in conversation with clergy representing racial and ethnic minority groups and mention the New Pastoral Economy with its pressure toward bivocational ministry, the typical response is, “Welcome to the club.” An opportunity for future learning is hinted at here – those of us coming late to the bivocational ministry party have much to learn from our sisters and brothers of color and those serving communities on the economic margins of society if we will be humble enough to ask and listen and observe. Several of those interviewed for this project have chosen to serve such populations as a part of their emerging call.

All of this is, of course, contextual. I live in a suburb of the Dallas / Forth Worth Metroplex – an area I refer to as “the rhinestone in the buckle of the Bible belt.” If there remains any place in the United States where the life and ministry of Christian Congregations are still privileged, it is here. Prayer is still found at public events. Municipalities and school districts often interact favorably with faith communities. This is rapidly changing, but for the moment, it is still here. Other regions of the country fall across the Secular – Spiritual – Religious spectrum. The northwest and northeast of the United States are both less religious and more spiritual / secular. Southern California is an interesting mix of evangelicalism, spirituality and secularity, as is Colorado.[vii]

Diana Butler Bass and others have ably catalogued the trends away from congregational participation and religious affiliation.[viii] Even the New York Times has described the impact on congregations of rising costs and declining income.[ix]  Tom Rainer points out the changing definition of “active member” from attendance every Sunday in worship plus a midweek activity, to two or three activities per month, worship included.[x] All of these things impact the ability of a congregation to pay clergy a full time living wage commensurate with their education and experience.[xi]

Few clergy ever expect to earn what doctors or lawyers or psychologists do, but when their salaries fall at or below that of a public school educator, they begin looking at things differently. My hope and expectation was that as a congregational pastor I could be the primary bread winner in my household. My wife is a public school teacher. Together we hoped to provide a modest but comfortable middle class living for ourselves and our children. (The appropriateness of this hope will be addressed in my own Personal Narrative.) We live in a safe and quiet neighborhood and our home is below the average market value in our community. We drive base model older cars. We would like to pay for our children’s college education, spend a week at the beach each year, and still save for retirement. The number of pastoral staff positions that would fund this lifestyle is rapidly declining.[xii]

In some traditions, it has long been the practice for a pastor to serve multiple congregations simultaneously. In Methodism, this is known as a two or three point charge. The expectation is that together the income from these congregations combines to support a reasonable standard of living. Often these are located in rural areas where employment options are more limited for other members of the pastor’s family. They assume the clergyperson has both a calling and desire to serve in such communities. I predict that this model will grow in suburban and urban settings if current church financial and membership trends continue. A potential result of this is that one person serves two or three congregations, when previously each of those congregations employed one or more clergy full time, with the result that the congregations will receive a different amount or style of pastoral attention, or both.

My working assumption is that these shifts provide new opportunities for clergy and congregations to reimagine and renew the pastoral ministry landscape and the relationship between clergy and congregations. The changes are certainly stressful, and I will identify and explore some of those stresses. Change may also bring relief, as in, “Thank God that is over.” I will eagerly look for and listen for these blessings. Whether or not we can or should reverse this trend is a conversation for another time. It may even be found that this trend is returning us toward a more faithful and biblical living of the pastoral vocations, and that the last several hundred years have been the aberration. Perhaps this present shift will in time be revealed as little more than a necessary course correction.

How do we who love the place from which we came, and those who raised us (the modern, traditional, mainline or evangelical churches that are struggling so today), and at the same time remain faithful to the God who continually calls us forward in faith with the words, “Behold! I do a new thing in you”? How do we do both? How do we love and serve the former while giving birth to the latter? My desire here is to understand, articulate, and support the journeys of those clergy who are entering into the liminal[xiii] space of a transforming vocation. These pastoral servants have answered a call, they are here, and their numbers will likely increase in coming decades even if the trend is eventually reversed. This has also been my own personal journey, so my work on this project has to do with my own vocation, too. I want to gain insight into what is happening in and through me. I want to know how to live this new calling faithfully, with integrity and generosity of spirit. I also recognize that part of my calling has long been to support clergy and laity as they respond to the various ways that God calls people into vocations of ministry as followers of Jesus Christ. I hope that this doctoral thesis and the broader scope of my work provide resources for the church as we continue to exercise our voices to proclaim the Good News.

The phrase “Transforming Vocations” will prove to be multifaceted. From one angle we can see that vocations, and the very idea of vocation, are being transformed. Stand elsewhere and it becomes clear that the vocation itself may power transformation of the individual, a family, a congregation or community. As we learn to speak with new and different voices (vocations) we discover things about ourselves. We live into new or long-dormant truths, while laying aside others that no longer, or perhaps never, fit.

Project Structure

This written project unfolds in four stages that mirror the journey of vocational transformation itself: 1) Personal Awareness, 2) Cultural Wisdom, 3) Companion Stories, and 4) New Reflections. Something within or around us stirs and awakens our imagination. Our mind and heart reach for what is “known” by our contemporaries and forbearers about the matter. We seek the wisdom and company of others who are also on the journey. Our heart and mind process all of this and develop working hypotheses and construct a narrative to understand and function within our new reality. Ideally, we continually repeat this cycle of experience and reflection until we experience that final transformation into the fullness of all God created us to be.

Stages of Vocational Transformation

Stage One, Personal Awareness, presents my own narrative of vocational transformation, beginning with my journey to seminary, skipping forward to my most recent discernment to step away from fulltime parish ministry, and then starting back at the origins of my call to ministry and walking forward to the present. Stage Two, Cultural Wisdom, encompasses stories of discernment, call, vocation and journey from the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian New Testament. Added to these are descriptions of the journey from Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer and the team led by Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge who developed Theory U. Stage Three, Companion Stories, brings forward the journeys of six clergy colleagues who are at various stages in their own Transforming Vocations. A modified ethnographic interview process[xiv] was used to capture these stories. “Modified Ethnographic Interview” refers to a process based upon the work of James Spradley in The Ethnographic Interview. It is “modified” because I did not travel and spend time onsite with the interview subjects. I relied upon their descriptions of their settings, captioned photos, and what I could glean from their social media pages. Stage four, New Reflections, begins to propose additional steps forward that will support the clergy on this journey and resource the communities who train them and the ones they serve. These steps include work that I will undertake as an extension of this project, new initiatives I will launch, and suggestions for how others – particularly churches and seminaries – might adjust their approaches.

Wherever your road leads, you don’t have to travel alone. In fact, God does not call us into the world or into ministry in isolation. Our own egos, fears and organizational systems impose that isolation upon us, to our detriment. The Appendices offer a collection of resources for further study, reflection and conversation. They are designed to be used by individuals, groups or organizations. Most of them originate in my own ministry experiences, having been adapted for this project. A few stand as a witness to my own thoughts at several key points in my journey of vocational transformation. These personal pieces are not meant to be examples for others to follow, but may provide some context for the work and even offer some familiarity and comfort to those on a similar path.

My sincere hope with all of this is that the reader might gain valuable insight into her or his own journey, experience mercy and grace for the past, and receive encouragement and hope for the road ahead. I hope too that we may have increased sympathy for those called to this Transforming Vocations Journey. Finally, I hope that we might more faithfully support one another into whatever future kingdom endeavors God might call us.

[i] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[ii] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[iii]     “New Pastoral Economy” is a phrase that has been used previously to describe shifts in agricultural, most specifically with reference to Austraila and New Zealand. ( (accessed February 21, 2015). My novel usage here is meant to capture the broad sweep of dynamics and factors related to the shifting economic realities of pastoral ministry as a career and income source.
[iv] and  (accessed April 7, 2015).
[v]      Michael B. Horn, Louisiana’s Digital Future: How Online Learning Can Transform K-12 Education, New Orleans, LA: Pelican Institute for Public Policy, (2012). (accessed February 21, 2015).
[vi]     “Minority” as a term to refer to people of color is already ironic, if not a complete misnomer. By 2050, if not before, people of Anglo-European descent will be the numeric minority in the United States. Already they represent a minority of Christians globally, and perhaps also in the U.S.
[vii] (accessed April 7, 2015).
[viii]    Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, (New York: HarperOne, 2013), p20.
[ix] (accessed February 21, 2015). See also reports from Alban Institute:   (accessed February 21, 2015).
[x] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[xi] (accessed April 7, 2015).
[xii]     “Presbyterians expect fewer fulltime pastors,” Christian Century, 128, no. 10 (May 17 2011): 14.
[xiii]    Liminal Space – Victor Turner, “Liminality and Communitas” in The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure, (Ithica, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 1995): 94-130.
[xiv]    James P. Spradley, The ethnographic interview, (New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979).

DMin Thesis Abstract – Transforming Vocations

A B S T R A C T: Doctor of Ministry Thesis ~ May 2015
Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University
Rev. Kendrick G. Crawford
M.Div. Brite Divinity School, 1996
Texas Tech University, 1992
“Transforming Vocations – Journeys in the New Pastoral Economy: Conversations with clergy moving from traditional parish ministry toward ‘what’s next.’”

Jesus offers to us his own experience of crucifixion and resurrection as a metaphor for transformation in our lives. This theme is translated into a secular framework by Theory U. The common understanding in these and other narratives is that “the new cannot emerge until the old begins to fall away.” The prospect of this, however hopeful, is also frightening and lonely for those who experience it. Such is the lived vocational journey of clergy who are being called out of fulltime parish ministry into new forms and expressions. In some cases the new work is new only to them, while in others the ministry is being created as if for the first time. Particularly when this is the case, no one knows how to encourage or support these pastors. Often their work is not even acknowledged as pastoral, with the commonly heard concern, “Oh, so you’re leaving the ministry?” Added to this is the clergyperson’s own internal wrestling with what it means to honor their call and ordination in these new ways. Their own question is, “Am I still a pastor?”

The purpose of this practicum/project is to capture and represent the stories of this journey into the New Pastoral Economy – the emerging landscape of multivocality in ministry and often multiple streams of income. Additional goals are to identify key themes and experiences that can be waymarkers for clergy on the journey; to provide resources for the journey; and to propose future work that would continue this effort. My hope is that the project contributes to and advances the conversation and the practice of multivocal Christian ministry that will continue to emerge in the coming decades.

The practicum was conducted over a four month period of time. A group of six ordained clergy were interviewed using a modified enthnographic approach. They have experienced a variety of vocational transformations over the last decade. They represent a dozen current and former denominational affiliations. Each of them served in full time pastoral ministry in local congregations prior to discerning the call (being driven by the Spirit?) into the liminal space of emerging vocational manifestations. They are all still discovering and creating their own way, finding multivocal expressions of their original call. This is also my story, so the project tells portions of my own journey of discovery.

The practicum/project demonstrates the wide array of life stories that bring people to the discernment to step away from fulltime congregational ministry but NOT turn away from their sense of call and vocation. These are not people who are giving up on God, the church, or their own ordination. Rather, they are recognizing that faithfulness to these gifts from God requires that they leave the supposed security of parish life and a staff salary in order to follow the leading of the Spirit and become cocreators with God and colaborers for the incoming reign. Each participant expressed how grateful they were and how much the process of telling their own story was itself instrumental in their growing understanding. The project illustrates the critical need for more opportunities of storytelling and sharing, of community building among these clergy, and resourcing for them and the work God is calling them to fulfill.

Download PDF here: DMin Abstract – KGCrawford – Transforming Vocations

Veterans can find meaning and purpose as they design a new life using existing skills

What if Veterans were helped to not only translate their skills to civilian careers, but to dig deeper into their hopes, dreams and passions? What if they were helped to articulate and pursue a sense of calling and vocation? A holistic life and career coaching process would allow them to flourish by integrating every aspect of their self – body and spirit, relationships and emotions, work and intellect. If we want veterans to find wholeness, we need to relate to them as whole persons, not fragmented and compartmentalized segments.

VeteransDay2014The various branches of the US Military do an excellent job of teaching and developing women and men in particular ways beyond making them warriors: physical fitness, discipline, teamwork, and leadership along with specific job related skills. Active duty and veterans are also able to acquire course of study certifications or undergraduate and graduate degrees. These competencies help equip them to make the transition to civilian life, if they are able to clear several other hurdles.

Upon discharge and return to civilian life many veterans suffer from a sense of hopelessness that is complex in its origins and scope. At its worst this despair leads to suicide, as David Wood reminds us in his 2014 Veterans Day post. Some of these background issues are categorized as medical or psychological (including but not limited to PTSD), and the VA is working to improve its ability to address those. There is a growing recognition that something else is at work which has recently been labeled “Moral Injury“. The Soul Repair Center under the direction of Rita Nakashima Brock at Brite Divinity School, TCU is one of the organizations leading the effort to address Moral Injury. They are developing creative and collaborative ways to build capacity within communities that will support veterans and their families.

While the label “moral injury” may be new, the concept is not. When I served for a year as a resident chaplain at the Dallas VA Medical Center I was privileged to work in a program for homeless vets. One of our primary tasks was to provide room for them to reflect on their experience from a spiritual perspective so that they could identify the spiritual and religious resources that may be at their disposal for addressing the struggles they face. These studies clearly indicated that a spiritual component was present in the difficulties veterans faced, as well as in their resolution.

I want to suggest that this may carry over into their transition to the civilian workforce. The spiritual nature of human labor as meaningful and productive and creative may go back to prehistoric times where religious rituals were connected to various trades and crafts as well as hunting and agriculture. People often associate identity with work, whether their tasks are creative, destructive, or neutral. One of the difficulties people have with their work is that it may not provide them any sense of meaning or purpose, and yet it occupies the bulk of their waking hours.