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Faith and Learning

The Meaning of Christian Discipleship: Finding Purpose and Vocation through Suffering, Tragedy, and Death

When: June 9, 2021, 2:45 pm - Wednesday

Where: Ezell 234

Session 2

Session Abstract

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “When Christ calls persons, he bids them come and die”—a vision radically different from the common notion that we find our vocation by following our deep gladness. What does it mean that Jesus bids us “come and die”? How do we find meaning, purpose, and calling in tragedy, suffering, and death? And what are the connections between Christian discipleship, suffering, and death? In this panel, three Christian scholars will explore these questions out of their own experience and scholarship. Deron Smith, Dean of Vocation and Spiritual formation, Lipscomb University, will respond.


Paper Abstracts

Jason Mahn, Augustana College, “Purpose and Meaning in a Time of Crisis”

Reflecting on his new book, Neighbor Love through Fearful Days (Fortress, 2021), Jason Mahn will consider how the overlapping pandemics of COVID-19, white supremacy, and climate chaos should challenge and change Christian accounts of vocation—accounts of being called by God to work for the common good. Mahn spent 2020 reflecting on the shifting nature of neighbor love, as lived out by his neighbors, students, and friends from various (and no) faith traditions. This presentation will come to terms with the difficulty and necessity of considering purposeful love and service to the neighbor in times of deep fear and pain.


Deanna A. Thompson, St. Olaf College, “Beyond Deep Gladness: Coming to Terms with Vocations We Don’t Choose”

Frederick Beuchner’s famous claim about vocation as “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” has framed reflection on vocation for the past several decades. This paper investigates how recent insights from trauma studies encourage theological framings of vocation that make space for our “deep sadnesses” stemming from both individual and collective experiences of suffering, and how those insights from trauma studies can be brought to bear on discerning ways to faithfully live into vocations we don’t choose.


Richard Hughes, Lipscomb University, Convener

  • Jason Mahn, Augustana College, “Purpose and Meaning in a Time of Crisis”
  • Deanna A. Thompson, St. Olaf College, “Beyond Deep Gladness: Coming to Terms with Vocations We Don’t Choose”
  • Deron Smith, Lipscomb University, Respondent

Join us in 2024!

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith delivering the CSC plenary address

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David Brooks engaging conferees during breakfast at the CSC

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