By Craig Joseph
I’ve been thinking lately – as I grumble at my dusk or come alive at play rehearsals – about the differences between an “occupation” and a “vocation.” This is not the place for my mental meanderings, but one pertinent thought: I believe that much of our contemporary unhappiness stems from the conflating of these two terms. Though it is not unheard of, many of us expect our occupation – that which occupies our time and earns us money – to satisfy in the same way that a vocation – something we are uniquely wired or “called” to do, something we can’t NOT do – might. As such, we arrange our lives and identities around our occupation, never asking how our vocation may be something quite different, something which our occupation should provide time, energy and money for us to pursue. A hunch: much of the stress, fatigue, anger and depression we experience in modern life stems from not pursuing our vocations while killing ourselves at our occupations.
These thoughts in mind, I watched Kicking It – the first film on our list I’d not seen before – which became, for me, a parable about the metamorphoses that can occur in us when we pursue something that give us purpose and meaning – a vocation or calling. (Too lofty for the film? Too bad. I wasn’t about to write another post about a movie that made me weep openly six or seven different times.)
All of life just “clicks” when a purposeful endeavor is being pursued. Craig, able to exercise his athletic giftings, surrounded by US teammates and coaches who don’t take his crap, slowly gains the presence of mind to grapple with his anger issues, eventually reconciling with estranged family and getting off the streets. Nanjev, a young Afghani unaccustomed to interacting with unshrouded women, attains a confidence that inspires his first brush with romance. The Spanish team – arguably the most rag tag at the tournament – are visibly transformed by their single win, and how their coach, Saul, advocates for them is one of the most powerful examples I’ve seen of how doing what you are meant to do enlarges and ennobles a person. And there’s good argument made for how a few people pursuing their vocation can inspire wider change as we watch the winning Russian team leverage their personal victory into societal reform back home.
We also see some stories that don’t work out. I was saddened, in the epilogue, to hear that Simon, the strapping, seemingly confident captain of the Irish team, relapsed into drug addiction and death upon returning home. I can’t help wondering if the removal of purpose after the World Cup was too much to bear. And I’m intrigued by Alex, the Kenyan, forced to grapple with the thought that he’s not as great a soccer player as he imagines. He makes me ponder how we come to know what exactly our vocation is or isn’t.
And this is the highest praise I can give this movie: it takes people unlike me – folks who I might be tempted to marginalize and ignore – and invites me to see our common humanity. And how we all might just be seeking the same thing – to live lives that give us value and purpose and meaning.