My first hero was Jerry Kramer, the professional football Hall of Fame guard who played for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I and II. In 1968, he published Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer. I received a copy from my grandfather for my 10th birthday. I remember watching the Ice Bowl, the December 31, 1967 NFC Championship game played in Green Bay (WI) in -20F (-36F wind chill) weather. I saw it on black-and-white TV and remembered the final Green Bay drive. Quarterback Bart Starr ran the ball into the end zone behind Jerry Kramer’s block to win the frozen game in the final seconds.
Kramer’s book inspired me to play football. I grew up in south Texas and football was more religion than a sport. I imagined playing for the Green Bay Packers, just like my hero Jerry Kramer. Coach Vince Lombardi would teach me how to play and I would one day play in a NFL championship game. The fact that Jerry Kramer weighed 245 pounds and the largest male member of my family weighed well under 200 pounds did not enter my mind. However, by the end of my 8th grade football season, I knew that my football abilities did not match my dreams. At best, I would make the second team and play only when our team was well ahead.
Dr. Steven Garber, Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College (Vancouver), authored Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2014). He wrote that vocation “is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei [mission of God].” (page 18) Few of us will be famous sport stars, entertainment celebrities, or political leaders. I am amused when watching television shows like The Voice or American Idol and see contestants so desperate to win celebrity status. I cringe when contestants state that this is their only chance for stardom. Vocation is not about becoming famous. It is about being called to use your God-given gifts to serve your community.
The world has so many needs and it is up to each person to match their giftedness to a world need, which can be immense, harsh, and dangerous. “Sometimes people decide that their vocations are in fact to know the world and still love the world; in fact, sometimes there are people who know the worst about the world and still love it. Truth be told, mostly those people are unnoticed in this life. At the end of the day, we are ordinary people in ordinary places.” (page 188) There were over 50,000 spectators in the Green Bay stands during the Ice Bowl. Millions watched the game on TV. But less than 100 football players participated in the game on that frigid afternoon and only half the players won the championship.
“Most of the time, all over the world, the church teaches otherwise, that vocation is incidental, not integral, to the missio Dei. It is always a compartmentalizing of faith from life, of worship from work, and it has tragic consequences for the church and the world.” (page 155) Our vocation has meaning even though we are ordinary people. Most of us know about Mother Teresa who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. But how many of us know even one other name of the over 5000 individuals who work for this charity? They are ordinary people whose vocation is serving the Calcutta poor. Their ordinary lives matter, even if they are not famous.
“Life for all of us is complex, because we are complex. And our vocations are complex, because we are complex. Vocation has to be a big word, able to handle the whole of life.” (page 198) There is nothing wrong about dreaming big or wanting to develop our God-given skills to their highest level. But we should always strive for fully integrated vocations of faith, hope, and love – not fame.
This past month, I have seen so many ordinary people living extraordinary vocations: health care nurses and doctors, first responders, grocery store clerks, medical researchers, nursing home care givers, delivery workers and many others. They are putting their own health at risk for our community. When they decided on their respective vocation, the Covid-19 pandemic was probably not on their minds. But these ordinary people wearing face mask protection are living fully integrated lives in missio Dei. Thanks be to God for ordinary people. God must have loved ordinary people so very much because God made so many of them.