It’s Wednesday morning in Portland and I’m among 600 in the Crystal Ballroom patiently waiting for the program to start. It is an interesting gathering of people. Most are quite a bit younger than me. I came as myself and did not try to dress like the younger crowd, so I stand out. The group is primarily male and under 50. It would seem that what we share is a concern about the role of Christian faith and the gospel in this era.
Don Miller begins the conference by introducing the group to Portland. He explains what many of us in Portland already know – that Oregonians are not traditionally religious, but they are spiritual. There is an ethic of “individualism and entrepreneurship” that colors the culture of the Northwest. We learn that more than half of the attendees are not from the area. The conference is entitled “Q,” not “A,” because the purpose is to dialogue and raise important questions rather than provide answers – an interesting idea.
One of the objects that is unique is clearly positioned at the left of the stage – a large digital clock. Miller notes that at “Q” all speakers are timed. There are 18-minute talks, nine-minute talks and introductions. When the clock runs to zero the speaker is finished. Speakers are encouraged to be brief and set the stage for conversation rather than share all their wisdom. Essentially, everyone is to address how “we” (Christians) can be faithful to Christ and credible with our neighbors. How do we bring together Christianity and culture?
Steve Garber, author of Fabric of Faithfulness, began the conference with a discussion of vocation, or calling. He suggested that Christianity suffers when our faith commitments are isolated from our work and daily lives. He also opined that vocation, what we do in work, is integral to the mission of God.
In a university setting, we often struggle with the idea that God is vitally interested in our work. We, at times, hold the life of the scholar or even the pastor above that of the “work” of the rest of the community. Thus, students who choose to be engineers or business persons are sometimes assumed to be taking careers for financial award, while those of us who are historians or youth ministers receive a higher calling where faith is more intimately connected with what we do.
Garber suggests that nothing could be farther from the truth. God has identified honest work as valuable and has gifted individuals to create and work in ways that enhance our communities.
It was a good reminder to me that I often think in dualistic ways. Faith is what I do when I pray and worship, and the rest of life often gets placed in a different box. I loved this comment from Garber: “The work of human hands matters.” One of the more profound ways that we can impact the kingdom of God at George Fox is to help students understand the connections between careers and the life of faith.
As I reflected on his talk, I thought that this happens best in an environment that encourages mentoring relationships – our commitment to “be known.” Our students need to establish relationships with our alumni and other Christian people who live and work and provide examples of lives lived in unity. I came away thinking that it is vital that we find new ways to affirm work and to help younger people understand how their faith connects with their vocational commitments.
Garber used Walker Percy’s image of a signpost (Percy, Signposts in a Strangeland) as a way to think about a person living an integrated Christian life. We are essentially living witnesses of how God is working in our world – signposts to all those who will read the message.