Vocational Heroes in a Time of Pandemic and Lockdown

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In all of the good or bad that may have come out of the current mess that the world is in due to coronavirus, I see at least one good thing happening. The daily social media feed has been full of pictures, quotes, and videos of ordinary people praising other ordinary people for just doing their job.

Dating back to Martin Luther, Lutheran theologians have argued for the idea that Christians serve their neighbors not through individual acts of "super works," but through the everyday mundane motions of daily vocations. Lutherans argue in favor of the idea that one serves God by serving their neighbor in the day-to-day acts of everyday life. Mothers serve God by being good mothers. Likewise, fathers serve God by being good fathers. Storekeepers serve God by selling needed goods at a fair price. And so, the story goes.

Yet, this idea has not often been broadly accepted in wider theological circles and certainly not in the world at large. "Specialness" is more commonly celebrated than are the mundane daily acts of normalcy, which more often than not go overlooked. Heroes are people who do extraordinary things. Worldly heroes save babies from burning buildings and similar acts of uncommon valor. Spiritual heroes forsake the standard trappings of human life to give all of their days to feeding starving children in India or Africa. Mothers who nurse their young at 2 am are thought to be doing what mothers typically do, but are certainly not seen as heroes.

In all of the good or bad that may have come, or may be coming, out of the current mess that the world is in due to coronavirus, along with the subsequent lock-down, I see at least one good thing happening. The daily social media flood of misery and nonsense on the internet has been, at least to some small degree, supplanted by pictures, quotes, and videos of ordinary people praising other ordinary people for just doing their job. Grocery store workers, food service providers, and sanitation engineers (garbage collectors), as well as doctors and nurses, are being called heroes for going to work in the face of potential danger to continue to provide needed service to the rest of us. But, all in all, they are just doing what they have always done—their job.

Now, usually I am against calling someone who is just doing their job a hero. Such dramatic dribble usually comes off to me a saccharin-sweet gobbledygook meant to elicit an emotional reaction that is sometimes, though not often, warranted. But I must admit that I am enjoying an idea that this very odd time is bringing to the fore, namely, that service in one's vocation––normal everyday stuff––is being commended as service to the community at large, and thus possibly even to God.

I have often contended that we have overlooked the everyday work of the hands in favor of what are regarded as more "glamorous" works of the mind. We have, I believe, done so to our detriment. I have also argued that the church has too often embraced the idea of "special service" to God over and against the Lutheran doctrine of vocation: that we serve God in everyday life when we fulfill ordinary callings to the best of our ability. I am happy to see that both ideas seem to be getting their comeuppance in this odd time.

I am usually frustrated these days. And if you are like me, it is difficult to find the good in our current situation. I am stuck at home. (Ok, I like that part more than I want to admit.) Our churches are, for the most part, effectively shut down. Civil society is, in fact, effectively shut down, or at least dramatically curtailed. It's good to see my family this much! But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean. Politics are, as always, frustrating. Possibly more so. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight. (It'd be nice to have a timeline that is more accurate than a blindfolded man throwing darts at a dartboard!) And I could go on and on pointing out all of the social-political, cultural, and spiritual negatives of this time. So, it is good for me to see a spark of positivity where possible.

We at 1517.org have seen a bit of a bump in recognition in at least one significant aspect of our goals and vocations: providing quality online Christ-centered and Gospel-oriented resources to the people of God and the Church at large. I see good here. I am happy to view it. But it is also good, right, and salutary to see people appreciating the under-appreciated aspects of regular-old vocation in which ordinary people serve every single day in a mostly overlooked fashion.

I am grateful to God for all things with which He has richly blessed me during this time. As for me and mine, we are safe and healthy. I pray the same for you and yours during this time and always. There has been a graciousness that has thus far characterized this time, which is not often present. So let us, too, be grateful for the opportunities God has given us all to serve Him in the everyday acts of love directed to our neighbors. Call one another heroes if you must. But most of all, let us call one another servants of the Lord almighty!

So, thank God for mothers and fathers, grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, nurses and doctors, friends and neighbors, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, and all the workers and servants of the Lord I forgot to mention here. And please, gracious Lord, guide us to recognize Your hand in everyday life through our neighbor even when life returns to normal.

In the name of Jesus,