Category: Faith and work

“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons

When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”

But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?

In For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, they call this space the Economy of Wonder, and over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons has been leaning on heavyweights like Peter Kreeft and Hans Urs von Balthasar to remind us of its importance. In a society where everything is weighed and rewarded and justified according to its pragmatic use, how do we relish in God’s divine mystery? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
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mother-and-child-1922-1I have plenty of hesitations about heeding various calls to “work-life balance,” mostly because they tend to dismiss or downplay the reality that “work” is often a lot less work than “life.”

Parents of young children have a keen sense of all this, of course. Indeed, it’s the reason so many of us would prefer to retreat to the “workplace” when the dirty diapers and toddler tantrums begin to beckon.

Thus, if we really hope to “balance” these things out — devoting our time, treasure, and energy where and when it’s due — we’d do well to begin with an honest examination of the stakes and sacrifices, acknowledging the full realm of work and the distinct features and responsibilities of working here vs. there.

In a recent post at The Federalist, Rachel Lu offers precisely this as it relates to motherhood, noting that motherhood is far different (indeed, far more) than “a full-time job” or “the most important job in the world.” For Lu, motherhood is not a “job” at all, but rather a “vocation” and a “way of life,” one that demands a unique form of love and sacrifice that transcends the demands and drivers of the typical workplace. (more…)

lanterns1Given the many warnings about the “crisis of Christianity,” the inevitable rise of secularization, and the decline of our public witness (etc.), it may not be all that surprising that the most popular verse of 2014 focuses on the key tension the underlies it all.

According to data compiled by YouVersion, the popular Bible app, that verse is none other than Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This peculiar position has confounded Christians since the beginning, and serves as the primary focus in Acton’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to live and engage and create and exchange in our current state of exile? Beyond simply getting a free ticket to heaven, what is our salvation actually for in the here and now?

We can respond to this in a variety of ways, and as Evan Koons notes early on in the series, the more common tendency is to resort to three faulty strategies: fortification (“hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, whatevs”).

Each stems from its own set of errors, but all tie in some way to an undue divorce or clumsy conflation of the “sacred” and the “secular.” We embrace one to the detriment of the other, falling prey to our own humanistic imaginations, and in the end, leaning on the very “ways of the world” we are seeking to avoid. We hide; we coerce; we blend in. We embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method.

Yet God has called us to a more mysterious obedience: to hear and heed his voice, to conform to his will and purposes, and in turn, to serve and spread the love of God in all areas. To seek the good of our neighbors, the flourishing of our cities, and the prospering of the nations across all spheres and through all “modes of operation”: our work, families, education, creativity, political involvement, and so on. (more…)

This post is part of a symposium on vocation between the Patheos Faith and Work Channel and the Patheos Evangelical Channel, and originally appeared at the Oikonomia blog, a resource from the Acton Institute on faith, work, and economics.


3218139011_6c328939cb_bWe’ve seen a renewed focus among Christians on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, leading to lots of reflection on how we might “find God in the workplace.” As a result, Christians are becoming ever more attentive to things like vocation and calling, looking for transcendent purpose and value in the world of work, beyond simply funding missionaries or evangelizing co-workers.

Yet for those of us who find ourselves in seasons or careers that seem at odds with our vocation, such revelation can only add to our frustration. “If God has placed a calling on my life in the realm of business, what am I doing here?” we ask. We read or hear stories from stock brokers, garbage collectors, artists, and academics who feel “called by God” to their particular stations, yet when we look our own position, we feel and seenothing of significance. What gives?

If these are questions you’re wrestling with, God may indeed be in the process of moving you on to something else; if so, the process of uncovering those next steps will involve plenty of prayer, counsel, discernment, prudence, and wisdom (a topic for another day). But he may be calling you to simply endure and continue right where you are. In either case, the question remains: How can we persevere in the here and now? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
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“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” –Proverbs 3:9

In his latest video, Dan Stevers highlights the importance of giving God our first and our best, focusing mostly on the story of Cain and Abel. “The concept of firstfruits extends to every aspect of our lives,” he writes. “God doesn’t accept leftovers; God must be first.”

The video contains excerpts from Robert Morris’ popular book, The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living, which is a stirring exploration of the power of generosity. In the book itself, Morris begins the first chapter by explaining that the “principle of firstfruits” is really the key to understanding Christian stewardship as a whole:

The principle of the firstfruits is very, very powerful. I have heard it said that any first thing given is never lost, and any first thing not given is always lost. In other words, what we give to God, we don’t lose because God redeems it for us. But what we withhold from God, we will lose. Jesus echoed this principle when He said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25, NIV).

The first belongs to God. We find this principle all through God’s Word. We can give God the first of our time. We can give Him the first of our finances. That’s what tithing really is—giving our first to God. It’s saying, “God, I’m going to give you first and trust You to redeem the rest”…The first portion is the redemptive portion. In other words, when the first portion is given to God, the rest is redeemed.

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Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.

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In the latest video from For the Life of the World, Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft expounds on the Economy of Wonder and how it intersects with our stewardship of God’s house.

Hipster head-bobbing is permitted:

There’s beauty everywhere. We just don’t see it…Life is a mystery to be lived continuously, not a problem to be solved suddenly…

In this life, we are so full and foolish that we appreciate only a few of these things, since we have more and more slaves that we have to take care of, and therefore we have less and less time every generation — less and less leisure. Our slaves are not made of flesh and blood anymore, thank God, but they’re made of steel and plastic and computer chips. We are happiest when we play with endlessly fascinating simple things, like the sea or sticks and stones, instead of with expensive computer games that bore us so quickly that we require new ones every month. This is an image of the human condition.

…Everything that exists has some truth, some goodness, and some beauty. Everything is divine revelation. We are creators because we are created in the image of the Creator. We are artists because God is, and it’s because we dimly know this that we weep with both joy and sorrow when we meet someone pulls up the curtain an inch — the curtain that separates the heavenly vision from the earthly.

…How do we use this to save the world? How do you appreciate beauty? You just love it. How do you appreciate goodness? You just love it. How do you find the truth? You love it. Seek and you shall find. Truth, goodness, and beauty. You just do it. It’s like, “How do you love? How do you pray? How do you live?” Just do it.

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“Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money. Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.” –Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef

Faithful in All God's HouseStewardship as a term is tossed around rather widely and routinely, and even (or especially) in church settings, its presumed definition is often surprisingly narrow. Though often used in reference to tithing, fundraising, or financial management (and rightly so), we mustn’t forget that at a more basic level, stewardship is simply about our management of God’s house. All of his house.

“God makes man the master of his temporal household,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef in Faithful in All God’s House. “Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer…The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will.”

As Evan Koons learns in Episode 1 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, our various earthly economies— or the “modes of operation that God has designed us to work within” — include our families, jobs, governments, schools, charities, and institutions. Each area has its own distinct role, its own distinct “sound,” its own mode of operation. But each was meant to played in harmony with others. God calls us to be stewards across all of life, and assuming that responsibility begins with expanding our imaginations.

Over at Oikonomia, the Acton Institute’s new blog at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, the first chapter of Faithful in All God’s House is offered in full, helping lay a basic foundation on how we might consider the reach of these things. (more…)

Blog author: ken.larson
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
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I’m not one of those folks who are glued to the tube, but some things on television grab and hold my attention. One is Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey, that just began its fifth season in the United States this past Sunday night. I was one of millions watching according to trade journal reports. As a promotion to the new season the producers created a supplemental trailer so to speak – oldsters might call it a “double bill” – titled Manners of Downton Abbey. You can see it online here.

The manners as depicted in portrayals of either Victorian or Edwardian England do clash quite abruptly with what most of us encounter and or display in our lives today. In the Manners Special we are allowed to view and listen to the various actors and actresses in the show as they comment with gestures and expressions that coincide with the major contradictions in the behavior they present on screen and the one they live in their private lives. Expressions like stiff formality, odd set of rules, no slouching, sitting up straight, wearing gloves at the dinner table, tend to characterize the dialogue.

Our tour guide for this show is a guy the producers hired at the start to make sure that the actors accurately portray their parts. Alastair Bruce is an “expert on British Royal Ceremony” and has a resume and Royal Order of the British Empire to prove it.

Nearly eight minutes into the Manners Special I heard Mr. Bruce say something that knocked me back. In describing the dining room etiquette he puts things in context with,

They say Grace at the beginning [of the meal] and that makes it the Lord’s table and all the detail and sumptuous display and the manners reflects the struggle they all have to achieve a similarly perfect moral approach to life. An immaculate presentation was a statement of moral correctness to all.

Granted, we do not – I don’t recall, ever – see the Crowley’s or for that matter anyone else actually say Grace in these Downton Abbey episodes. After all, this is public television, not Duck Dynasty. But it is comforting to know that Mr. Bruce has grounded intentions. Something to think about the next time you sit down with the family or have guests for dinner.

23692407_BG1To end the 2014 on an incredibly dehumanizing note, CBS aired an episode of Undercover Boss that stirred up protests from all walks of life. Undercover Boss is usually a wonderful program that allows CEOs to see what is happening on the ground in their companies and reward hard workers accordingly. However, this particular episode profiled Doug Guller, the CEO of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, who fired a bartender after she decided not to dehumanize herself by wearing a T-shirt instead of a bikini top on television and “rewarded” another employee for her loyalty by promising to pay for her breast enlargement surgery. (See videos below.)

The episode was so bad that Cosmopolitan released as scathing review saying, “what’s also crazy is that CBS aired all this as if it were good fun and zany reality TV, not horribly misogynistic workplace discrimination.” Writers like Rebecca Rose observed that Guller “has always been totally tone deaf about the sexism he enthusiastically promotes and frankly seems to enjoy having offending people with his business practices.”
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