I've been teaching at the collegiate level for almost 5 years now. I wonder, often, about what in the world I'm doing. I was raised to believe, both by family and by the Church, that I could change the world. But what happens when the world doesn't change? What happens when you meet students that, for no apparent reason except maybe that you are scheduled to teach them at 8 in the morning, absolutely despise you? The irrationality of what I do, at these times strikes me.
I'm asking these things rhetorically, but with a certain poignancy. I know of professors, brilliant men and women who could change the world, who are burned out by the politics, the narcissism, the you-name-it of education. As a young professor who has his career yet ahead, I weep for these but also hide it in my heart. That will be me some day. I don't say 'might' because these are far better, far stronger people than myself. I'm already feeling the burn as I try to speak for wisdom over monetary comfort -- a worthwhile and futile pursuit in any age. In the end, Jesus often looks exactly like Mammon.
Here, maybe, is the danger of the Protestant rejection of the monastic economy. In trading out a life of constant worship for one of work, we declare loudly who our God is. This is not to say that work is a bad thing -- it certainly eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God -- but in our desire to demythologize 'calling and vocation' away from monastic and 'religious' orders we have not ably reenchanted the concept away from a baptized Weberian secularism. Work shall save us by giving us material comfort, high status, and a sure sign of God's blessing in our lives. We tell our students to investigate their 'worldviews' to gain a sense of deep 'calling,' which, for many, looks like the job they came into college to get. The point of cognitive dissonance is not reached until either mid-life or, possibly, post-college quarter life when the debt stacks high and the ability to be content just working for the glory of God has been sapped out by such winsome talk of 'purpose' and 'vocation.'
What we may, instead, want to start preparing students for is the necessity of being despised. For all the glamor and idealism of 'calling' I find myself being stepped on by adolescents. I see my mentors dragged through the mud casually by teens who consider themselves benefactors of the college. I also see students, told that God has a specific purpose for them, struggling -- tearfully -- to make any sense of it: for if God Himself has a purpose for me, it must involve clarity, direction, and some glory. God must be calling me to something 'special.'
Possibly would it be better to simply say that God has called you to become a mature person, a citizen of the Kingdom, doing work that just needs to be done? Do we really need to fill our heads with illusions of grandeur of how God is going to change the world through us? God changes the world through suffering -- there is the message that we don't hear. You want to be called by God? Come and die.