Bad Boomer Theology Fails Recent Graduates

Terri and I have attended two commencement exercises in the last few months.  In December 2010, we celebrated Tara’s MBA graduation from the University of Houston.  Then in May 2011, we relished in Erin’s BA graduation from Oklahoma City University.  We heard lukewarm keynote speeches that echoed similar themes.  I left feeling I had been served pabulum in each of these addresses.

David Brooks and his recent New York Times column titled, “It’s Not About You” noted the popular themes of graduation addresses, largely delivered by Baby Boomers to a Millennial audience.  He believes we may be misguiding today’s young adults; or as he says it, “this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders.”

Are we (I) giving poor advice during this liminal moment of the young adult’s life?  We are sending them off into this world with our baby boomer theology ringing in their ears like: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.”  We have fed our children a heavy diet of individualism, unapologetic independence, and self-sufficiency, which has (mis)shaped American culture.

Brook’s suggests the concept of vocation may resonate more clearly with the coming generation.  His article made me recall the distinction between a vocation and an occupation.  Occupation is something we can do.  A vocation is something we cannot not do.  There are many ways to make a living.  The way to make a life is to do the kind of work that best fits how we are made-doing work we cannot not do.

Vocation makes the quest for happiness look differently.  Our calling may mean doing something arduous, costly, and could even arouse contention.  Yet, we can find happiness in vocation as our calling becomes the center of our life, instead any self pursuit of happiness.

May this coming generation show us how to engage vocation rather than pursue happiness.  May those who are to come demonstrate how in employing self in vocation causes self to dissolve into this greater calling.  May all of us be caught by the infectious spirit of vocation, so every generation comes to realize the purpose of life is not to find self, but to lose self.


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