Category: On Call in Culture

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to SuccessWhen discussing economics, we frequently encounter the zero-sum fallacy: the notion that the economic pie is fixed, that there is always a winner and a loser, and that, for someone to grow rich, another must become poor.

Yet in a market wherein rule of law, contracts, and property rights are properly established, the pie will surely grow. We are not static balls of flesh nestled comfortably in a static universe. We are spiritual beings made in the image of a creative God, and mutual trade and exchange help accelerate our efforts to create and collaborate alongside our neighbors. As Jay Richards notes, the uniqueness of the human person feeds into how economic value is actually determined.

But although we typically discuss the errors of such thinking in matters of basic material exchange, we should note that such a fallacy can just as easily filter into our broader social and spiritual activities in the workplace. Such limited thinking can trap us in a sort of self-centered tunnel vision, whether with our clients, co-workers, or competitors, leading us to assume that success cannot come if we allow any wiggle room for generosity, whether in basic service, various collaborations, or even end-game negotiations.

In an article for The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith touches on these themes by highlighting a new book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, wherein organizational psychological Adam Grant seeks to challenge such zero-sum thinking, arguing that by having a fuller, more healthy perspective of mutual gain, we can move forward together toward a more productive, more fulfilling economic and social environment. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Wednesday, May 1, 2013

busseat“Is there a distinctively ‘Christian’ way to be a bus driver?”

Justin Taylor offers an insightful, varied response, asking six questions to sketch things out. Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster adds another to the list.

In response to the last question — “Is there a distinctively Christian way to think about the particulars of each vocation?” — Taylor offers this:

My sense is that the more intellectual and aesthetically oriented the vocation, the more work has already been done on a distinctively Christian approach. This is, in my part, because the contrast will be more wide-ranging and apparent and because the Bible seems to have more to say directly about these areas. I’m thinking, for example, of areas like philosophy, education, and politics. (For some examples, see Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” or the books in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.) The same would be true for aesthetics, as in music, fine arts, and design. It can be more difficult to see in areas oriented toward manual labor. But there is still much work that can be done in these areas. One of the problems is that intellectuals and philosophers are more inclined to know and study areas they are more interested in, and therefore other vocations become neglected in terms of analysis.

Taylor goes on to give a nod to the influence of Abraham Kuyper on such matters, and indeed, as Kuyper notes throughout Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, part of the difference in such “work being done” is due to the distinct differences in the work itself.

The basic techniques of bus driving, for example — steering, using appropriate turn signals, following your route, etc. — will naturally have a broader common consensus to build from, while the basic techniques of more “intellectual and aesthetically oriented” work will require distinctly Christian choices about basic technique. Perhaps one reason we’re more inclined to “know and study” spiritual matters in more intellectually oriented vocations is that they require more spiritual knowing and studying up front.

Now, I say “up front” because, for the Christian, manual labor is bound to drift into the subjective and the spiritual at some point, as trusty as the Big Blue Book of Bus Driver Knowledge might be for ordinary day-to-day activities. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, April 25, 2013
Elsa Walsh and her daughter - Courtesy of Elsa Walsh

Elsa Walsh and her daughter – Courtesy of Elsa Walsh

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Elsa Walsh offers some healthy reflections on motherhood and career, hitting at some of the key themes I pointed to in my recent post on family and vocation.

She begins by discussing her own college-aged feminism, saying, “I wanted to be independent and self-supporting. I wanted love, but I wanted to be free.” With marriage and children, however, her views on freedom, family, and success would eventually change. “I’ve come to question many of the truths I once held dear,” she writes. “The woman I wanted to be at 22 is not the woman I wanted to be at 38 — not even close — and she is certainly not who I am now at 55.”

Tying things to the current discussion about women and career — driven largely by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s popular book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead — Walsh notes that, much like the revolutionary feminism of the 1970s, there’s something narrow and unsatisfying in the way that womanhood and career are currently being discussed:

Every few years, America rightly plunges into a public and heated discussion about women and feminism, work and family. The latest round has been stoked by Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer, who have become symbols and participants in the argument over what women want. Yet, I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top.

Parenthood and family are much more central to our lives than this conversation lets on. The debate has become twisted and simplistic, as if we’re merely trying to figure out how women can become more like men. Instead, let’s ask: How can women have full lives, not just one squeezed around a career?

It helps to take a longer view of a woman’s life. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

tworoadsOver at Fare Forward, Cole Carnesecca provides some great insights into how we should think about calling, offering some similar sentiments to those expressed in my recent post on family and vocation. “Whatever else you may think you are called to,” Carnesecca writes, “if you have a spouse and children, you are called to your family.”

Focusing on the troubled marriages of Methodism founder John Wesley and Chinese evangelist John Sung, Carnesecca explains how a misaligned and over-spiritualized concept of calling can lead us to neglect our basic responsibilities:

We often can over-spiritualize [calling], defining it as a single God-ordained path or the type of thing that comes to the missionary or pastor but not to the lay member. Or we under-spiritualize it, thinking of it as more and no less than a “career.” Both of these approaches miss two crucial points about calling.

I like to describe calling (in my other life as a youth pastor) as the meeting point of opportunity and obligation—what we are capable of doing and what we are responsible for. I mean this to apply to more “everyday” forms of calling— the way that God leads and guides individuals into life choices and experiences—and not the more “Damascus Road” forms of calling that are less difficult to understand. But for any form of calling, both opportunity and obligation must be taken into account and both can be misunderstood.

Indeed, through an orientation of ultimate obedience to God — “thy will be done” — it seems impossible to separate the two. God will not call us to areas that will involve a breaching of basic obligations and responsibilities, whether to the family or otherwise. Likewise, he will not call us to something like family if it will mean the destruction of our God-ordained purpose in this life. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, April 19, 2013

I recently argued that although vocation is important, there is a certain something that goes before and beyond it. As Lester DeKoster puts it, “The meaning we seek has to be in work itself.”

Over at Think Christian, John Van Sloten puts forth something similar, focusing on our efforts to work for the common good— something not altogether separate from vocation:

There’s a lot of talk in faith/work circles about the idea of working for the common good – for the good of your neighbor, city, company, classmate, family member, environment and world.

It’s a good idea and an integral part of a balanced vocational worldview. But I think it falls short. And it’s not all that work is meant to be. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way.

Sometimes working for the common good is an impediment to what is work’s primary purpose: a real-time knowing and experience of God. Sometimes working for the common good becomes a works-based means of vocational salvation. And life with God becomes something that’s based on what we do for God as opposed to who we are before Him…

…Work must first be a gratitude-based response to a grace-filled encounter with our co-working God. It must be a place where we experience the presence of, are swept away by the creativity of, are enthralled by the beauty of, are humbled by the service of and are blown away by the mind of … God. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, April 16, 2013

dad-baby-bjorn1With the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting material prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal reflection and vocation-seeking. This is a welcome development, to be sure, but as I’ve written recently, it also has its risks. Unless we continue to seek God first and neighbor second, such reflection can quickly descend into self-absorbed and unproductive naval-gazing.

Thus far, I’ve limited my discussion to the ways in which privilege and prosperity can impact our views about work outside of the home, but we needn’t forget the side effects that modernity might foster in an area that often consumes the rest of our daily lives: the family.

Just as most of our ancestors had few choices about where they glorified God in business (toiling for the feudal landowner), they also had few choices when it came to raising families (who they married, how many children they had, etc.). Whether due to lack of contraception, more practical material/financial concerns, or any number of other factors, for most families, children were simply a given.

Today, much like in our approaches to job-seeking, child-bearing has come to involve a significant degree of choice, and the overriding choice of the day seems definitive. As Jonathan Last points out in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, birthrates in the Western world are in a free fall, with more and more adults opting for fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Last offers plenty of nuances as to why this is happening, pointing to a “complex constellation of factors, operating independently, with both foreseeable and unintended consequences.” But on the whole, he concludes that “there is something about modernity itself that tends toward fewer children.” (more…)

albert-mohler1In a recent post on leadership and stewardship, Albert Mohler argues that although “Christians are rightly and necessarily concerned about leadership,” we often exhibit a tendency to “aim no higher than secular standards and visions of leadership.”

Instead, Mohler argues, the Christian is called to “convictional leadership,” something defined by fundamental Biblical beliefs that are “transformed into corporate action,” rather than a general deference to the status quo of secularist thinking:

Out in the secular world, the horizon of leadership is often no more distant than the next quarterly report or board meeting. For the Christian leader, the horizon and frame of reference for leadership is infinitely greater. We know that our leadership is set within the context of eternity. What we do matters now, of course, but what we do matters for eternity, precisely because we serve an eternal God and we lead those human beings for whom he has an eternal purpose.

In the past, I’ve described this as a tension between “earthbound thinking” and a more transcendent economic order, one in which we are driven by active obedience to God, empowered and directed by the wisdom of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Even for Christians, it can be easy to acknowledge God’s overall message even while pursuing our own humanistic methods to pursue it — embracing his message of salvation, redemption, love, grace, and mercy, even as we look to our own earthbound plans and schemes for ways to “implement” God’s will. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, April 4, 2013

fast-food-worker1Most of us have spent at least a little time working in jobs we weren’t thrilled about. For me, it peaked with McDonald’s (no offense, Ronald).

For Trevin Wax, it was Cracker Barrel:

I never wanted to work at Cracker Barrel. I had business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.

But none of that mattered when the most pressing question was, How will you provide for your wife and son this week? Like many before and after me, I did whatever was necessary.

In the past, I’ve referred to such work as “needs-based” — an adjective that would seem highly redundant to most of our ancestors, not to mention plenty of today’s poor. Our now-widespread discussions and contemplations about vocation and personal calling are somewhat new, and we should be careful to recognize why exactly we have the reactions we do about working at reliable, air-conditioned joints like Cracker Barrel.

Each new wave of economic progress and individual empowerment has brought more opportunity to look upward and onward, beyond meeting our own needs and toward something bigger and brighter and so on. This is a marvelous thing, but with such opportunity and privilege also comes a temptation to look inward when it’s convenient — to rejoice in ourselves when we succeed and get grumpy when we wind up sniffing grease at Cracker Barrel.

Wax, however, looks back on his experience as much more than a pay-the-bills moment. Rather, the 18 months he spent at Cracker Barrel serves as “a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to us during a difficult, sometimes frustrating, season of life.” Pointing out that “there are hidden blessings in unwelcome work,” Wax proceeds to offer four reminders for those who find themselves in work situations that don’t seem to fit the mission. (more…)

The High Calling recently posted a helpful video about creativity in the workplace, drawing insights from innovation consultant Barry Saunders.

Saunders notes that, despite our tendency to think of creativity only in terms of artistic expression, creativity is simply about “building ideas.” Pointing to Genesis, he observes that God gave us a clear directive to “go create things,” offering us a “foundational understanding of what we were meant to do and how we were meant to spend our days.”

But getting creative in the workplace can be tough, as Saunders duly notes. Each of us will face unique struggles in bringing our whole selves to the work we do. When it comes to creativity, it means tapping our imaginations, but more fundamentally, it involves aligning those imaginations to the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Building ideas for our own purposes is one thing, but this next step of obedience and alignment will prove challenging even for the most forward-thinking and out-of-the-box entrepreneurs.

Through this understanding, creativity is ultimately about innovating our way toward better stewardship and sacrifice, submitting our imaginations to the divine and unleashing them toward the service of others. How can we innovate better ways of managing, molding, and growing what God has given us? “All is on loan,” as Lester DeKoster says, so how do we multiply the talents? (more…)

In a new video from Biola University, Dallas Willard explains how “business is a primary arrangement, on God’s part, for people to love one another and serve one another.” (HT)

Willard goes on to explain how God does not wait for Christians to use business as a means for serving the needs of the world:

If God wasn’t in business it wouldn’t even be there. It has this natural tendency to reach out to the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor all around the world. That’s in the nature of business…It’s like most of God’s operations, they are running beyond the conscious motives of the people who are doing it.

Business is a primary moving force of the love of God in human history, and it doesn’t wait until Christians get a bright idea about it…It’s just there. That’s God. That’s the kingdom of God at work…We have to recognize that God is always out front of the church and he’s working in many ways.

Yet even though God doesn’t wait for us to perform his work, this needn’t lead us to throw up our hands. Rather, such truth should inspire us to be more active and discerning in the larger economy. Through the work he’s already doing, God is openly inviting us to participate.  (more…)