The Lutheran Concept of Vocation and a Literacy of Cooperation

Greetings readers!

I hope you don’t mind that I’m venturing into the theological a bit, sharing how I’m personally exploring the relationships between my faith tradition and the ideas that I am learning in a course on the Literacy of Cooperation at Rheingold U.  As people are willing and interested, I’d love to read similar reflections from diverse religious and/or philosophical perspectives.  How does your religious tradition or philosophical perspective approach the notion of cooperation?

I come from a Lutheran faith tradition where our theology places very high value on the concept of vocation or calling.  One part of this “doctrine” (simply defined as “teaching”) is the idea that all people have multiple callings, sometimes competing callings.  I, for example, have the vocation of father, husband, professor, administrator, member of a neighborhood, citizen of a local city, citizen of a state, citizen of a nation, global citizen, son, brother, scholar, etc.  From the perspective of my faith tradition, each of these have the central value of providing one with an opportunities to love neighbor.  A popular and historical illustration of this is the Lutheran idea that the milkmaid loves God more by milking a cow that in return provides milk for her neighbor than by singing spiritual songs at work or placing crosses on the milk jugs.  Similarly, the cobbler loves neighbor by making excellent shoes and not by making mediocre shoes with crosses on them. The Lutheran tradition historically teaches that love for God is best demonstrated by showing love for neighbor.  One quote from Martin Luther is, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”  Similarly, Luther was a strong advocate for people being in vocations where they can maximize their gifts and abilities for the greatest benefit of one’s neighbor.  For example, he seemed to advocate for choosing political leaders based upon their gifts and abilities to lead more than on the basis of whether they shared membership in the same religious tradition.

I’m revisiting all of this now from the perspective of a literacy of cooperation.  In some ways, I’m delighted to discover / re-discover the amazing synergies between much of what we are studying and the way that “love your neighbor” is framed from my own faith tradition.  Since I have worked in the Lutheran education system for almost twenty years, I’m also thinking about how both the literacy of cooperation and this notion of vocation can work together to provide a distinct metaphor that can hold together a vision for 21st century education.

Here is a very simple example of how these two lenses can serve as a way to hold ideas together.  My daughter didn’t seem to like math at first.  Then something clicked for her.  At the time, she was learning to count and enjoying applying this newly developed skill to various real-world contexts.  I was sharing a simple lesson with my children about this idea of vocation.  I then asked my daughter, “How can you love your neighbor with math?”  She gave me a blank stare, and I didn’t pursue it further at that time.  I just encouraged her to think about it and let me know if she came up with any ideas.

The next day, I walk into the door after a day of work and my daughter greets me with a hug, beaming with excitement.  “Daddy!  I just loved my brother with math!  I loved him with math!”  It turns out that they were arguing over a bag of “treats.” She realized that she could use math to come up with a fair solution to the dilemma for the two parties.  She counted out an equal amount of candy for both and they were happy.  For us, that is a very simply solution, but what I loved about this situation is that she was learning math and she was learning how knowledge and skill serve as resources for cooperation and loving one’s neighbor.

I wonder if this doesn’t give insights into how a literacy of cooperation could serve as an idea that holds together the many diverse subjects and disciplines that people learn in formal education.  It reminds me of Neil Postman’s book, The End of Education.  In that text, Postman argue that we’ve lost a robust metaphor to hold together a vision for American education. In the text, he proposed a variety of possibilities: Spaceship Earth, Word Weavers/World Makers, The American Experiment, The Fallen Angel, etc.  Interestingly, many of these have a strong vision for cooperation on some level.  What would happen if they also included a vision for loving one’s neighbor?

Posted in cooperation, editorials

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.

2 thoughts on “The Lutheran Concept of Vocation and a Literacy of Cooperation

  1. Jonathan Orr

    “A popular and historical illustration of this is the Lutheran idea that the milkmaid loves God more by milking a cow that in return provides milk for her neighbor than by singing spiritual songs at work or placing crosses on the milk jugs. Similarly, the cobbler loves neighbor by making excellent shoes and not by making mediocre shoes with crosses on them. The Lutheran tradition historically teaches that love for God is best demonstrated by showing love for neighbor. One quote from Martin Luther is, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” Similarly, Luther was a strong advocate for people being in vocations where they can maximize their gifts and abilities for the greatest benefit of one’s neighbor.”

    In some of our Lutheran Schools I feel we fall into the trap of an excellent education is a mediocre education with Jesus layered on top. While my intention is to not minimize the important of Christ in Lutheran schools, I feel we often miss opportunities to witness to our neighbors. The mediocracy that exists and is very visible to someone not Lutheran or even Christian, and that can drive them away. We need to do a better job creating amazing educational environments AND promoting them to our communities. Then we will attract the greater community AND share Christ’s love with them.

  2. Mary Hilgendorf

    Great timing! I’m still working on the course design for Issues in American Education. I’m grappling with the concept of schools being agents for societal change. I hadn’t made the connection that cooperation is a secular parallel for the Biblical concept of “Love your neighbor.” Thanks!

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