Scott’s Column: Our Times
February 1 2017
Frodo Baggins was troubled and afraid. He and the fellowship were in the darkness of the Mines of Moriah, surrounded by evil enemies. He lamented the dark and dangerous path his life had taken, away from the tranquil and pastoral setting of his home in the Shire. He had been called to take the Ring of Power and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom, a long and dangerous task. There in the Mines, Frodo’s resolve and courage were challenged.
The wizard Gandalf the Gray told Frodo that he cannot choose the times in which he lives, but only what he does with those times.
These are wise words.
Lately I’ve been reading The Road to Character by David Brooks. Yes, the David Brooks conservative political commentator you may read in the paper, listen to on NPR, or watch on PBS. He is also is a student of virtue ethics, the subject of this book.
He writes about an older tradition of vocation, what he calls “the summoned self.” He writes,
“This perspective begins not within the autonomous self, but with the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded. This perspective begins with an awareness that the world existed long before you and will last long after you, and that in the brief span of your life you have been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs. Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole? What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed? “
Brooks writes that this notion of vocation as a summons or call means that “a person becomes an instrument for the performance of a job that has been put before her. She molds herself to the task at hand.”
We Christians believe in this old idea of vocation—that we are each called by God to some task that participates in the larger mission of God. Because we are called, we don’t get to create ourselves as autonomous individuals. We are part of something much larger than ourselves.
I admire the questions Brooks says we should ask of ourselves. I would add, “What must we do to be God’s best instruments in our time and place?”