Earlier this year, former President Barack Obama hosted a limited-run documentary series on Netflix called Working: What We Do All Day. In it, Obama visits three different workplaces in search — according to press material — of what it means to have a good job. The project represents a direct play on the famous 1974 book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by American historian Studs Terkel. In Working, if you don’t already know, Turkel documents an oral history about all kinds of workers about how or where they find meaning in their jobs. 

Into this conversation comes Lived Vocation: Stories of Faith at Work. The book contains no direct reference to these other touchpoints — though at least one endorser notes the similarities to Turkel — so perhaps only coincidence is at play as the book landed earlier this year, just about the same time as the Obama project and just about 50 years after Turkel’s. Whether or not Lived Vocation forms a kind of homage, it undoubtedly riffs on the Working concept. 

Think about it like this: Turkle from a Christian viewpoint rather than a generic quest for meaning.  Author Timothy K. Snyder curates part of his own academic research into a collection of worker stories exploring, in his words, “what difference the Christian faith makes in the midst of everyday life.” And much like its mainstream predecessor, Lived Vocation follows workers into various geographical and professional settings. Because Snyder is himself an academic and the book comes from an academic publisher, the scope of the research is a bit more defined — for example, the interviews come from connections to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and decidedly avoid clergy and ministry professions.  

The stories are far from unfiltered, as Snyder gives plenty of context and paraphrasing. But the accounts do read honestly, and the fact that they don’t all fit what you might call church answers helps them ring true. In fact, that becomes a major part of the project’s takeaways for Snyder: that individual Christian experiences matter for how people conceive of God, and they form people behind the scope of typical theological categories.  

Of Snyder’s discoveries, the most profound seems to be tapping into something Bonhoeffer suggests in Life Together, namely the concept that learning to listen to others is integral to learning to listen to God. 


Review by Aaron Cline Hanbury.