A few years back, I happened upon the work of Mark Federman, a Canadian scholar whose writings on innovation include this provocative suggestion: “Multiply your mind by giving it away.” And Federman means exactly what he says: be generous, be charitable, give instead of always taking. Because when you are generous with your mind—with your knowledge and education and other gifts—you help to create organizations, neighborhoods, agencies, churches, and schools that are marked not by the scarcity of the world, but by the abundance of what is possible.
I was thinking about Federman’s challenge while serving on a panel about how Lutheran colleges and universities might apply lessons learned about vocation from work with our undergraduate students to other important constituencies. The following three themes emerged from our conversation:
On our campuses, beyond undergraduates
Many colleges and universities have graduate programs in professional disciplines like nursing, education, and social work, where the concept of vocation can play an important role in shaping a professional career and life. At Augsburg, we created V-Portfolio, an online vocation portfolio for undergraduate and graduate students to share artifacts from their personal, academic, and professional journeys. V-Portfolio has proved a helpful tool for students to narrate the many facets of a vocational journey. In addition to academic work, students share experiences as parents, as citizens, as neighbors, and as professionals—creating that many-layered story of a life.
Across the vocational lifespan
Other important constituencies for our campuses include prospective students and alumni. For example, Augsburg has hosted an annual Youth Theology Institute for high school students. Over the summer, these student learning communities explore pressing issues in the world through a theological lens.
Alumni are another important audience for our vocation lessons. At Augsburg, we organized the Centered Life Series, led by Jack Fortin, whose book, “The Centered Life,” has inspired many of us in our own vocational work. Fortin curates a series of sessions each semester (in person before the COVID-19 pandemic, but even more well-attended online during the pandemic) that address a particular vocational theme. For example, one series focused on the vocation of caregiving for a spouse with memory loss; another shared the concept of interrogating our institutional saga, the work of appreciation and accountability for what German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called our historical legacy.
Accompanying our faith communities
We also have shared our vocation lessons with faith communities, in some ways coming full circle to the traditions that have given us the gift of vocation. Many of those faith communities are now seeking new ways to support the vocational journeys of their members.
The work of the Riverside Innovation Hub, an initiative of Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation, comes alongside local congregations seeking to become public churches. A public church is committed to place-based vocational discernment in the public square for the common good. In other words, the partner churches are pursuing God’s call for them to be in relationship with their neighborhoods in ways that bring flourishing and life. The Riverside Innovation Hub explores how the many resources of a college or university can be brought to bear in helping faith communities be more responsive to the vocational pursuits of their members. For example, leaders found that many young people care deeply about environmental issues and don’t feel that their faith communities offer them resources to pursue those commitments. The innovation hub brings scientists and artists and writers and theologians from the Augsburg faculty into conversation with faith communities to help expand their understanding of how they might accompany those young people in their passions for God’s creation.
Alumni living out their vocations
Multiply your mind by giving it away. In this issue of Augsburg Now, you’ll find stories of Augsburg graduates doing just that. Keenan Jones ’13 is driven to empower and educate Black boys, who fall behind in every category the United States uses to determine academic success and wellness. After 13 years in the classroom, he started a nonprofit for Black boys in grades 5–12 that focuses on literacy, empowerment, social justice, and social/emotional health. Other Auggies’ time and talents are focused on environmental justice: María Belén Power ’07 is an advocate and organizer for GreenRoots, an organization in her Boston-area suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts, and was recently named to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Elan Quezada Hoffman ’22 pursues his calling through work as an environmental inspector for the City of Minneapolis.
We’re finding new ways to share the gift of vocation and those lessons we have learned with our undergraduate students with others at all stages of life. We all are enriched by the joy of lives faithfully led.