Saturday, October 10, 2009

Queued Up

Let's talk about lines. The line between hunger and irritability is narrow. The line between John Taverner and Milton Babbitt is thick. The line between Yanni and Vladimir Putin is a sturdy black fortification constructed by a cautious fief-holder in a granite-rich territory overrun with bandits.

Thick or thin, lines are there to help us distinguish things from other things. Parsing the world into discrete entities helps us process what to do: If we couldn't distinguish Yanni from Vladmir Putin, how would we know when to run?

OK, maybe that's a bad example. But, in general, lack of lines is bad news. Lack of lines makes us woolly-headed and wobbly-limbed, weak-kneed and wacked-out and far, far too fond of the letter w.

Which is why things get particularly tricky when you blur the already micron-thin line between vocation and avocation. Most people go to their jobs. They enjoy them or not. They come home. They leave their work-selves at work -or at least at the home office- and enjoy the meat of their living outside of 9-5. I'm thinking banker, truck driver, office drone, postman.

There are a few jobs, though, that charge the line between avocation and vocation like a mean, husky nine-year-old through a Kindergarten game of red rover. Suddenly the thing you love and the thing that pays the bills are rolling around on the ground together, bloody and inextricable. Suddenly you're supposed to make money and joy simultaneously. And it's tough.

The ministry is one of these jobs. I've discussed this with my friend H, the seminary graduate. H struggles to distinguish at any particular point in the day when she's working and when she's living. Is she a pastor or a friend? Is she the interpreter of God's word or someone who likes stilettos and margs? If she's both, how does she integrate her two selves?

Musician is another. Especially for someone like me who is semi-pro, making a portion, but not all of, my living from music, it's difficult to figure out what's what. Is music my vocation or my avocation?

If it's my vocation, I should play as long as I get paid, even if the experience is less than fulfilling. After all, unfulfilling stuff you do to collect a paycheck is what "work" means to most of the world. If music is my avocation, on the other hand, I should play only what I love but prepare to do it in exchange for three crackerjacks and a pack of Juicy Fruit.

What's the right balance here? Maybe four crackerjacks and a Capri Sun?

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