Eric Yelsma is the founder and owner of Detroit Denim, a company founded on the idea of building the highest quality craft blue jeans, made 100% in the United States. I got the chance to hang out with Eric and his team one afternoon and hear a bit of his story about how he started his business. As Eric talked about his love for blue jeans, the craftsmanship of the jeans they create, and the spirit of the company that he is trying to build I could not help but see God’s hand all over it. Eric creates his products with high excellence only using products and materials that are made in the United States. He emphasizes a “spirit of abundance” in the workplace, encouraging his team to act with generosity towards those around him. As we talked about his faith and his work, one employee even chimed in stating that she sees the influence of his faith on their company every day and quickly started bragging on Eric’s character and the work environment he’s created.
Eric makes blue jeans because God has called him to make blue jeans.
But here’s what’s interesting; when initially talking about all the things that he is passionate about in his business and the journey into it, he struggled connecting his faith and God’s calling to his small factory in Detroit. After all, he never heard God tell him to make blue jeans.
So Eric runs a blue jean company and does it by making the best product possible, does it with generosity, runs his company with integrity, treats his employees well, and only uses products that come from places where the workers are paid fairly... but he initially has trouble seeing God’s calling in it. As Christians when we talk about God’s calling, we tend to immediately start separating the sacred and the secular. We think of God’s calling as some mystical act in which God audibly speaks to some calling them out to become pastors, priests or missionaries, yet when we think of the ordinary jobs we think of something far more normal. We rarely think of the assembly-line workers, the stay-at-home moms, and the baristas as experiencing God’s calling. But what if we did?
Martin Luther said:
“The maid who sweeps here kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays - not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Maybe you are like Eric was. Maybe you have never thought what you did had anything to do with your belief in Jesus. Maybe the daily commute, the making copies, the trips to refill your coffee, and getting your TPS reports in time has never seemed much like a calling to you. Maybe you spend the majority of your time trying to keep your house clean and your kids fed all the while never once considering it your Christian duty.
We don’t decide our vocations, we discover them.
The word vocation literally means “calling.” This word needs some re-claiming; it needs to be taken back to help remind us that the things that seem so ordinary and every day are much more sacred then we have imagined. And the sacred things that we so often call “spiritual” are much more ordinary than we have imagined. God has called everyone. And he has done it by placing you in workplaces, in families, in neighborhoods, in schools and uniquely creating you with your own gifts, abilities, passions, and skills.
From the time we are little we are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And then you enter college and are bombarded with pressure to get your career path worked out. But if we are really talking about calling, we don’t really decide our vocation, do we? It’s not that deciding your career path is bad, but how often do we end up exactly where we planned on being when we were 18? If vocation literally means “calling”, we are not the ones doing the work. We are not the ones doing the calling. We are just discovering it.
You may not have realized that being a student is your vocation, but if you are in school, you are called to be a student. You may have not realized that the responsibility to take care of your kids is a calling form God, but if you have kids, it is. You may not realize that making copies, cleaning bathrooms, and typing into a spreadsheet could be a calling, but if that’s where God place you it is. God has called you to the places he has put you in right now, and he also will call you to other places throughout your life. Places in which he has given you unique relationships and unique opportunities to use your gifts, passions, and skills to make a big deal of Jesus.
Also, Eric shot an awesome video with us seeing God's calling in his work as a blue jean designer; if you haven't seen it, it's pretty awesome.