Vocation and Orientation

The topic of our quarter together is the ongoing process of vocational discernment, with particular attention to how vocational journeys intersect with the experience of formal theological education. The texts for this course will be the lives of the students and instructor, the lives of the mentors you choose as living conversation partners, and historical partners accessed through autobiography or oral history.


Through our work together over the quarter in a small group setting, we will attend to the following four purposes (Here are the

Degree Learning Goals

that these course purposes support).:

  1. Providing a small group “sacred space” where students can come to know one another, including their different faith understandings and traditions, at a deeper level than is usually experienced in their other courses. Sacred space has the expectation of honesty, transformation, and healing. It may sometimes be uncomfortable, much as athletic training can be challenging in a way that does not harm, but yields greater strength and skill.
  2. Introducing new students to Iliff, and assisting them in understanding and adjusting to the framework and characteristics of theological education, which are somewhat different from those in other kinds of educational programs students may have experienced in the past. Students will be invited into agency about their negotiation of these experiences throughout their time at Iliff.
  3. Assisting students to reflect theologically on their personal and professional identity, and their ongoing vocational discernment. Focus will move back and forth between who we are as unique individuals and the needs of institutional contexts for particular kinds of leaders.
  4. Beginning the development of personal and professional skills required to work effectively across difference in North American multicultural society.

Why a Spiritual Practice?

                As they move into the busy-ness of graduate theological education, students often lose connection with the deep currents of being that brought them into this study.  Part of staying connected with one’s sense of vocation is taking time to listen for the deepest meanings and broadest visions that fund our work.  One way to do this is by maintaining a spiritual practice that helps us to keep our focus, maintain our center, and stay grounded in what really matters.

                Through this quarter, you are invited as a part of this course to commit to a regular spiritual practice that helps you stay attuned to your own sense of calling and direction.  Because the practices that are life-giving vary from person to person, you have the freedom to choose a spiritual practice that resonates with your spirit. This may be a traditional spiritual practice from a specific religious tradition, such as lectio divina or Zen meditation. Or it may be a less-traditional practice that you understand helps you to stay in touch with what is the most important reality for you, such as keeping a journal, reading the poetry of Mary Oliver or the essays of Wendell Berry, engaging an art form such as playing the piano or sketching, meeting with a spiritual director, listening with full attention to music that inspires you, or walking in silence each morning. Below there are brief introductions to several practices, and you are invited to try one of them on for size if you don’t have a spiritual practice already in place that works for you.

                You have the freedom to choose what practice you will engage, but please engage it with discipline, focused attention, and regularity (for an hour or so once a week, or for 10 minutes daily). We know this is difficult to maintain in the midst of everything else, but part of living into your vocation is engaging in practices of listening and self-care that help sustain you in the midst of the busy-ness of daily life.

Here's an explanation of a morning journalling practice, from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way:

Morning Pages.docx 

Here's a link to a brief explanation of the Ignatian Examen (an historic Christian daily prayer practice):



Here's a link to a brief explanation of the practice of Lectio Divina (a prayerful practice of Biblical reading):


Here's a YouTube video of Fr. Thomas Keating explaining centering prayer:


Quotes and Images

This is a place to upload quotes or images that are related to vocation to share with your classmates.

Vocation Venn Diagram.docx

Spiritual Memoirs and Autobiographies (available at libraries and online retailers)

If you don't recognize the names on these pieces, you can feel free to research them online before choosing one!

Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Dorothee Sollee, Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian

Mab Segrest, Memoir of a Race Traitor

Paulo Freire and Myles Horton, We Make the Road by Walking

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

Cornel West, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud

Joan Chittister, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir

Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic

John Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Alice Walker, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism

Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey through Silence and Doubt                                                                              

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

J. Philip Wogaman, An Unexpected Journey

Nora Gallagher, Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith

Madeleine L’Engle, The Crosswicks Journals, especially A Circle of Quiet

Sara Miles, Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion

Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers

Louise Zwick, Mercy Without Borders: The Catholic Worker and Immigration

Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me – A True Story

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

Oral History/Memoirs available in library and for purchase from www.veteransofhope.org

Bernice Johnson Reagon, James Lawson, Ruby Sales, G. Zoharah Simmons, Andrew Young, Dolores Huerta, Anne Braden, Charles H. Long, John Biggers, Vine Deloria, Tom Feelings, Sonia Sanchez


Reflection Journal Guidelines

In this class we are using reflection journals as a disciplined tool of self-reflection and learning. Good reflection journals are lively and engaging, concise, on topic, and about 3-4 paragraphs in length. Several layers of editing generally occur between a good journal entry and the stream of consciousness that marks the beginning of thought process on a topic. Your instructors and classmates will be reading your reflection journals, so you are writing for an audience rather than as a personal journal. As a gift to them, please re-read your entries a few times before posting them to be sure that they are relevant and readable.

Because of the need for editing and potential posting problems, it is always a good idea to compose your reflection journal in a Word file or other document and save it to your own computer as you create it, and then to cut and paste it into the discussion forum for your journal. This allows you to have a copy of the journal should something happen in the process of posting it.

Self- Disclosure in Professional Contexts

This class does not call for absolute vulnerability in self-disclosure, but rather thoughtful engagement with your own experiences as a source of learning material. The value of reflecting on your own experience is that such narratives are more likely to become a resource rather than a roadblock in your professional life. Another value is that you may learn ways to talk about formative experiences as you might in ordination or certification processes, sermons, teaching sessions, care conversations, and other professional occurrences. The disadvantage of writing about your own experiences is that you will likely need to be able to process psychologically and spiritually the memories and feelings that come from writing and talking about your own experiences.

You will not receive a better grade just because you have disclosed more information or deeper feelings than your classmates. We invite you to be thoughtful about how your personal disclosure and disclosure of the experiences of your living mentors contributes to the learning of the class. Alternatives to this would be disclosures for the sake of self-healing, attention-seeking, entertainment, or gossip. While there may be places and times for extended personal storytelling in these modes, for the purposes of this class we are not generally engaged in this kind of sharing of personal narratives. Each person is responsible for his or her level of self-disclosure. There will be no pressure to disclose more or less, either in online journals or with class colleagues in person.


Personal disclosures and conversations occurring in online discussions and class conversation are not to be discussed outside of the community of learners in your section without agreement and permission of the involved parties. This is professional rather than absolute confidentiality: limits to this confidentiality include Colorado reporting laws and practices with regards to disclosure of abuse or potential harm to self or others. Due to the personal nature of some of the topics of this course, there may be times when you need to seek consultation outside of class to address emotions and reactions that have been generated in you by the experience. You, of course, have the right to seek the support of your informal circles of relationship and trust in processing issues and ideas that arise in the class that have been challenging to you. However, in doing so you cannot report what has been said by other people in the class to persons outside of the class. These conversations should be limited to discussions of your reactions and emotions to the conversation, unless you are discussing the incident in a professional consultative conversation where the practices of confidentiality are legally held (i.e. therapist, physician).

In this particular class it is especially important to treat the stories of living mentors with great respect and to offer them as much confidentiality as possible. Good practice requires that you change the name and identifying details of your mentor when talking about them in your reflection journal, unless you have been given express permission to share their stories with the group. Because professional and denominational circles can be quite small, holding these stories with confidentiality can be of special importance given that members of your group may one day be in professional relationship with the mentor you have selected.

Feelings and Emotions

Given the emotional content of reflecting on formative experiences, there may be moments when we react strongly to each other. When this happens we need to first do an internal check-in with ourselves to process our reactions, before we post our responses. Next, we need to judge whether a response would enhance group learning, or whether it is solely for the purpose of processing our own feelings. If the former is the case, we need to respond with an “I” statement that identifies our feelings, not a “you” statement, particularly one that implies a global assessment of the other person. This internal processing is especially important in blogging responses to each other in an online format because responses are more likely to come across as critical when we can’t communicate compassion through our body language or tone of voice.

Language Framework

Please use inclusive language in your writing for this class. Inclusive language attempts to respect all forms of sexual, gender, and sexual orientation diversity and to avoid terms that have been used to diminish the humanity of oppressed persons. Using inclusive language is a learning process for many students, and we will work together to move toward greater inclusivity and respect in our language.

Course Texts

1. Choose an autobiography, spiritual memoir, or oral history of a person who has chronicled their vocational journey over a significant portion of their life. You might choose this person, your “historical partner,” because you have admired them, because you know little about them and want to know more, or because their life shares important commitments or identity features with your own. Mostly, it should be someone you are willing to spend ten weeks getting to know better. The Veterans of Hope Project (housed at Iliff) has many oral histories recorded that you can use for this element of the course. Or, you can read a published autobiography or spiritual memoir of a person from whom you hope to learn. At the end of the syllabus is a list of suggested texts and oral histories, or you can propose one to your instructor.

2. The second conversation partner, your “mentor,” is a living person with whom you have a relationship and who is willing to have three to five in-depth conversations with you over the next few months. This should be a person who has sustained a sense of vocation and integrity in their work over time and who is someone that you respect and hope to learn from. They don’t have to be older than you, nor do they have to be in a professional position that you hope to attain. Rather, they are a mentor to you in that they seem to live their life with purpose, commitment, balance and other things you value. Once you have identified a prospective mentor, contact them and see if they are willing to have three to five, hour-long conversations with you in which you will talk about their formative years, their calling into their life’s work, moments of struggle and contradiction, endings and shifts in their vocational journey, and how they have sustained themselves. These conversations would be best in person, but can also happen by phone or Skype if you are unable to be in the same place. You will want to let them know that you can keep their name and identifying details confidential (your instructor will know them), but that you will need to share the wisdom they have given you with your classmates and professor in a password protected online conversation. If they are willing to work with you, schedule your first conversation.

3. We will have a short common reading posted on Canvas for each week of the course.

Course Requirements

1. Participation: Including attendance in class for the residential version or participation in the discussion forums and other online activities in the online version of the class.  Completing the weekly common readings, your interviews with your living mentor, and your reading of your historical partner's spiritual memoir or autobiography also allows for your full participation and contribution to the class. Engaging in your chosen spiritual practice throughout the quarter allows you to participate in the discussions and learning related to spiritual practices. See Participation for more information.

2. Reflection Journals: There are eight reflection journal entries, 3-4 paragraphs each, due weeks 2-9 of the course.  These draw on your interactions with your historical partner and your mentor interviews and become one of the texts for the course for your instructor and classmates. Reflection Journal Guidelines.

3. Final Project: The final project is an image, song, poem, or other representation of your vocational journey.  See Final Project for more information.

Degree Learning Goals

Sep 10, 2018MonNeafsey Reading "Introduction"due by 04:00PM
Sep 15, 2018SatChoose a Historical Partnerdue by 05:00AM
Sep 15, 2018SatDeclare your Spiritual Practicedue by 05:00AM
Sep 17, 2018MonDaloz Readingdue by 04:00PM
Sep 22, 2018SatReflection Journal #1due by 05:00AM
Sep 22, 2018SatChoose a living mentordue by 05:00AM
Sep 24, 2018MonBrown Taylor Readingdue by 04:00PM
Sep 29, 2018SatReflection Journal #2due by 05:00AM
Oct 01, 2018MonMahan Readingdue by 04:00PM
Oct 06, 2018SatReflection Journal #3due by 05:00AM
Oct 08, 2018MonBunderson Thompson Readingdue by 04:00PM
Oct 13, 2018SatReflection Journal #4due by 05:00AM
Oct 15, 2018MonWeems Readingdue by 04:00PM
Oct 20, 2018SatReflection Journal #5due by 05:00AM
Oct 22, 2018MonBrookfield Readingdue by 04:00PM
Oct 27, 2018SatReflection Journal #6due by 05:00AM
Oct 29, 2018MonNeafsey Reading "Discernment"due by 04:00PM
Nov 03, 2018SatReflection Journal #7due by 05:00AM
Nov 05, 2018MonSustaining Vocation Readingsdue by 05:00PM
Nov 10, 2018SatReflection Journal #8due by 06:00AM
Nov 12, 2018MonFinal Projectdue by 05:00PM