Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2006

Why We Do What We Do

by Karis Thompson, '06

Each year the graduating class elects a student as the graduate responder

during commencement. M.A. graduate Karis Thompson was the Class of 2006's choice.

The last few years, I've had the opportunity to live in St. Anthony Park, the neighborhood surrounding Luther Seminary. During my daily walks to and from campus, I'll pass by any number of houses with yard or window signs campaigning for myriad political candidates or civic causes.

But one house offers a different sort of message. A plaque on the side of the house asks not for your vote or what you can do for your country, but asks the question,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Some days, seeing this question makes me feel a bit badly about needing coffee--or, ever since spring arrived,high doses of a generic Claritin equivalent--to even muddle through my one wild and precious life. But other days, it inspires me to live with both more abandon and intention.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that this finely-phrased question concludes a quite lovely poem entitled "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver and serves as introduction for a Web site created by Tony Deifell, an activist,a Harvard MBA, a photographer,consultant, teacher and leader of a non-profit.

With all this and more as his resumच, it would probably be easier for him to answer the question, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" by listing things he hasn't done and doesn't plan to do.

But in an interview with the Utne Reader, Tony shared that in 1998, he fielded a variation of this question that he couldn't answer so immediately or extensively. A child, who Tony had never met, called and insistently asked him, "Why do you do what you do?"

To this question, and to his own shock, Tony had no ready response.

But during the time since he received that phone call from a young stranger, he has spent much time reflecting on why he does what he does. And he's invited others to consider this question and to post their photos and answers on a Web forum.

I would guess that everyone in this room has some sort of answer-- whether succinct or open-ended--to,"What do you do?" or, for those of us who have just graduated, "What are you going to do?" Indeed, it would be mighty difficult to function at seminary or to live in America without being able to answer these questions. In our contexts, your vocation is your identification. You are what you do. You're a welder or a lawyer.A manager or a coffee barista. A migrant worker. A pediatrician. A teacher. A student.

But what if our identities were bound up less in what we do but in why we do what we do? Bound up less in a specific call and more in the One who calls?

Graduating senior JoAnne Amaral and her husband Jim will be going to China to teach for two years and will be bringing along their three daughters ages 14, 12, and nine.

When I asked JoAnne what compelled her and her family to launch into this daring adventure and commitment,she said,

First, we've been blessed to be a blessing. And second, we want to see what God's doing in the world.

Their answer to the question, "What do you do?" gives hints about their identities.

But their answers to the question,"Why do you do what you do?" offer a fuller story of who they are and bear witness to who God is.

God has blessed us.We want to be a blessing to others.

And we're excited to see what God's doing in the world.

Why we do what we do speaks of who we are and witnesses to who God is both as individuals and as the church.

As the body of Christ, why do we do what we do?

Why have we undertaken the rigors and challenge of further education?

And why are we serving God the world in a great variety of vocations and in diverse contexts?

Because of what God has done.

Because of what God is doing.

And because of what God has promised to do.

God our Creator has made us and all that exists. Jesus our Savior has redeemed us and reconciled us into a new creation.

The Holy Spirit sustains and transforms and binds us together as one body.

And God continues to bless the world and to work in the world,and calls us to perceive it and to participate in it.

Thanks be to God. Amen.