By Drew Tucker. Fortress Press, 2022. 175 pages. $21.99/paperback; $19.99/eBook.
Pastor Drew Tucker is not a Quaker, though his new book, 4D Formation: Exploring Vocation in Community, has been favorably compared to Friend Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. This is for good reason. Tucker calls all people, including Friends, into faithfulness to that “which is eternal” in us (as the Quaker advice goes) and that which truly wishes to labor meaningfully and joyfully, using our spiritual gifts. Especially relevant to Friends is Tucker’s encouragement to readers to reach out to discern and support the spiritual gifts of those with whom we are in community.
While 4D Formation is an easy read, with an admirable lack of jargon or heavy theological concepts, Friends may be challenged to consider how we each live into our spiritual gifts as part of the life of the meeting. Indeed, I find myself challenged with many questions as I reflect on what it means to find vocation in the context of the Religious Society of Friends. For instance, is our paid work always our vocation? We might easily say no, of course not. But who really has the option of a vocation?
Friends are reminded that not all work is vocation; as Tucker puts it, “Forced labor is not holy work but the oppressive result of greed and prejudice.” As a Quaker public minister and assistant clerk of my meeting, I was challenged by this. I usually am not paid for my work but freely choose to give my labor to Friends for no or very little compensation or material support.
But how then does the full-time public minister survive in the long run when one does need financial support and also rest from labor? What becomes of those who cannot do one type of work for sustenance and another for the cause of holiness? Is it not oppressive to labor without support as well as oppressive to be forced to labor for support? How does the largely middle-class Quaker community make sense of the lives and voices of working-class people who labor for basic sustenance? And the questions continue: how do we make room for people who are not middle-class to serve on Quaker committees, as clerks, and in other roles necessary for the life of the meeting?
These are very common existential questions being asked by many Friends today as our meetings shrink, as we reconsider how to use the resources we have, and as we hear prophetic calls from many meeting members that have long been ignored: those of Friends of Color, working-class Friends, LGBTQ+ Friends, youth, and families with young children. Urgent calls for justice in our meetings are all around us, and we might well ask how our ideas of vocation have contributed to their prophetic lament.
4D Formation encourages us to see this all with clear eyes and hear our own questions in response with open ears and hearts. Tucker tells us to go deep in our discovery of ourselves and our community, and that “[d]iscovery, intentional and otherwise, is that catalyst for vocational exploration.” While we are encouraged to look deep into ourselves, we are reminded to consider our context and that of those with whom we are committed to labor.
Often speaking to the concerns of the marginalized, Tucker reminds us that discovery is not always an innocent process, as in the “discovery” of land colonized by White settlers, and that “[d]iscovery of something does not entitle us to possession.” When we discover our call, it has to be a call that the community can hold with us and support, not just recognize the need for, as a colonizer might see the need for land. So often it has been hard to even recognize what we are giving to one another, as well as put our resources toward support of our common and personal needs. Yet this is the process of being a community of Friends with vocations in service to the holy.
Tucker reminds us that “[v]ocation isn’t random. It comes from somewhere and it appears through effort.” In the context of a meeting, that effort is corporate discernment.
4D Formation is a provocative book that leaves the reader with useful queries and some structure for exploring important questions. It will be useful to committees concerned with corporate spiritual formation and to meetings considering how to use their resources in new ways to support bold, new initiatives in public ministry and the life and governance of the meeting.
Windy Cooler, a member of Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting, describes herself as a practical theologian, public minister, good Quaker pirate, and cultural worker. She is currently the convener of Testimonies to Mercy, a seven-part traveling retreat series, as well as Life and Power, a discernment project on abuse. Along with her spouse, she is coeditor of Friends Journal’s News section.