1. What inspired you to produce this volume of essays?
Young people often struggle with questions of identity, purpose, meaning, and right living. They search for sound guidance on how to step forward in life on sure footing. Christianity and the liberal arts tradition offer a treasure of inspired and time-tested wisdom to help each generation live well in every aspect of life. This book aims to help young people find sure footing in two ways: by considering multiple facets of their lives in light of divine and human wisdom and by imagining how to live out their many callings for the wellbeing of others and their own happiness.
2. In the introduction, you write that “there’s a profound givenness to the universe and each person’s existence.” Could you elaborate on that?
Young people are often tasked with determining their identities, personal significance, and the cosmos as if free painting on a blank canvas. This might seem like the path of freedom and happiness, but it causes much anxiety and ignores that while we have much liberty in life, there’s also much about us and our universe that’s given to us. We are created by God in his image (albeit broken now due to human sin), born into a family with relationships, live in a physical world under “laws of nature,” receive the eternal status of being a saint and priest because of what Christ has done for us, and have specific neighbors that need us to serve them in particular ways. It’s not only truthful to recognize that much of who we are is given to us, such recognition opens us up to beauty and goodness. Seeing that much of our identities is gifted to us by God moves us to rejoice in the beautiful massive mural of life that God has painted for us and made us a part of. It also informs our understanding of who we are and how we should live together.
3. Throughout the book, the lens of vocation describes identity in relational terms. Is there also a sense of identity that is more autonomous, or disconnected from our neighbor? Why or why not?
Each person is individually made in God’s image and loved personally by God through Christ. Each person has eternal worth before God and has an identity by himself or herself. Adam, the first human created, is instructive in this regard. God created Adam, placed him in the garden, and spoke to Adam telling him to care for the garden. God treated Adam as an individual with his own worth, intelligence, and purpose in life. However, it’s instructive to note that God goes on to state, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18). This is God’s revelation to Adam—and each person—that our complete human identity is found in community. God reveals that community starts in marriage and works out from there to all other neighbors.
4. Much of the book deals with thinking vocationally. What is the purpose of thinking avocationally?
Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Much attention is rightly placed, then, on loving others. That’s the purpose of each vocation, whether in work, the family, society, or the church. Implicit in Jesus’ command, though, is the assumption that each person does and should also love himself or herself. One place this happens is in our avocations, the hobbies and activities that excite us. A book that takes a complete look at identity would be remiss if it didn’t state that it’s also good to love oneself and help readers explore what they’re enthusiastic about, the rest and joy those activities give them, and how avocations can connect back to and inspire one’s vocations.
5. How can these essays offer comfort to the recent graduate looking at a particularly dismal economy in a chaotic world?
Much is uncertain about the future for recent graduates. It’s important to remember, though, that your identity isn’t simply equated with work or, even less so, money. What you’re called to do is love those whom God has placed before you today—family, friends, fellow citizens, neighbors, and nature. Turbulent times don’t change that calling; they magnify it. Chaotic times might cancel some of your plans, but they don’t upend the meaning, significance, and deep gladness found in fulfilling your various vocations to care for others. Faithfully forge ahead in your callings to love others and patiently trust that God will work through other people to provide for your needs too.