Category: Vocation

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
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creativity-capitalism-money-crashCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

But what if the opposite is true? I offer the argument over at The Federalist.

Free economies introduce their own unique challenges for artists and consumers alike. We are justified in cringing at the array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots (though I will always prefer their ilk to your run-of-the-mill Commissar of the Arts). But the increases in economic empowerment that have led to these many marketing machines have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

In an article for New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson reinforces this very point, observing that the many apocalyptic prophecies about arts in the digital age have not quite manifested. “In the digital economy, it was supposed to be impossible to make money by making art,” he writes. “Instead, creative careers are thriving — but in complicated and unexpected ways.” (more…)

What is the purpose of money? Is it for our survival? For our status, significance, or success? Is it for the service of ourselves or for the service of others?

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, theologian Darrell Bock sets out to answer the question, drawing from the numerous treatments of money in the book of Luke — from the rich fool and Lazarus’ wealthy neighbor to Zacchaeus and the widow’s mite.

“Money is to be surrendered into stewardship,” he says, “because that is the way God has designed not just the resources that he gives us; that’s the way he’s designed our very lives.”

Money is ultimately about a stewardship of managing the creation in which God has placed us. It’s for others, and it’s for Him…It’s a stewardship that serves and leads to flourishing, and we are all stewards, every one of us. It’s a surrender to Christ. It’s a surrender to others. And it’s a surrender to the divine design. It’s a commitment not to serve the self, and it’s a commitment not to use other people as currency…

Yes, money does make the world go around, but we drive that bus. And it’s not the money that’s the agent of change; we are the agents of change. So how do we make money that matters? We don’t make money the old fashioned way, by earning it for ourselves. We make money useful the divine way, by stewarding it so that others can flourish and be developed, and by generating value for those who are around us.

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amazon-workIn the movie Annie Hall, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) tells an old joke about two elderly women having dinner at a Catskill mountain resort. One of them says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Alvy says that’s essentially how he feels about life: it’s full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. Many people seem to have a similar complaint after reading the recent New York Times exposé about Amazon.com: The company is a terrible place to work, and it’s almost impossible to get or keep a job there.

The article certainly makes Amazon sound like a brutal place to work. As one former employee says, “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.” In the third paragraph the Times claims,

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others.

Many people will read that and be horrified while others will shrug and say, “Sounds a lot like the company I work for.” There are also those who question the accuracy and fairness of the article (Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, also owns the Washington Post, a primary competitor of the New York Times). One current employee even explains in detail what the story gets wrong.

I don’t want to bash or defend Amazon. But I do think it is worth asking why, if the company is so horrible, are people beating down Amazon’s door to work there?
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Braekeleer_Ferdinand_de_A_Peasant_Family_Gathered_around_the_Kitchen_Table_Oil_on_Panel-largeWith the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal empowerment and vocational choice. This is a welcome development, and it can be seized for good in any number of ways. But it also comes with its own risks and temptations.

As with any surface-level “freedom,” unless we seek God first and neighbor second, our action will quickly be steered by pleasure, pride, pursuit of power, or plain old personal preference — leading to shackles that may be looser, but remain shackles nonetheless. Such illusions are nothing new, and lurk no matter what the sphere of our stewardship. But if modernity has wielded a tangible, visible blow to one area in particular, it’s that of the family.

Over the last few decades, marriage has increasingly been misunderstood, and our misaligned approaches to business, education, and politics haven’t helped. Rather than a basic starting point, a foundation of a flourishing society, the family has become just another optional perk in the worship of narrow self-fulfillment.

“Oh that? It’s not for me. Not now.”

As a result, marriage is increasingly seen as a mere contractual arrangement, a 50-50 partnership for the purposes of personal pleasure rather than duty and sacrifice. In turn, culture and family have “evolved” accordingly. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and those who do are doing so later and later and having fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Divorce is routine. The basic definition of marriage is constantly questioned. (more…)

In the latest video from Made to Flourish, Al Mohler reminds us that it’s our job as Christians to discover God’s original design for work and recover it for the glory of God:

To be human is not only to be an economic creature, but is to be a fabricator, a worker, the one who understands the stewardship of work, and understands we were made for it. Work is not a result of the fall. We were assigned work right there in Genesis 1:28.

Untitled But the work we do now is affected by sin in every way we can imagine. The things we build will not last. It is labor. But work is still meaningful. Even as the image of God was not obliterated in the fall, though it was corrupted in all of its parts, so work is also corrupted. But that means that we are to understand our task as Christians, to recover as much as possible of what it would mean to be an economic creature before a holy and loving and just and righteous God.

“Let’s embrace all work with the understanding that we are making contributions that carry eternal significance,” says Anne Bradley. “The only way we can live this out is if we have a framework for understanding why our work is so important to God.”

That framework includes freedom, fulfillment, and flourishing. To help understand this framework, the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has put together three short videos that illustrate each point.

Freedom: “We need an environment that provides us the freedom to pursue our callings, thrive in our work, and that reflects the inherent dignity of every person,” says Greg Ayers.

Fulfillment: God is pleased and we are more fulfilled when we work hard everyday at whatever task he has set before us.
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communion-on-moonToday marks the 46th anniversary of the day we landed on the moon, and as we look back on that monumental moment, it’s worth remembering the efforts taken by one astronaut to pause and recognize his creator.

Prior to the lift-off of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin spoke with his pastor about finding the “right symbol for the first lunar landing.” After some discussion, they agreed it was a communion service, and the scripture passage he’d use would be John 15:5:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

“We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets,” Aldrin wrote. “…I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing Himself there too, as man reached out into the universe.” (more…)

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

leaders_edition_-_flow letters to exiles1The Acton Institute’s seven-part film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, was created for a wide-ranging Christian audience, whether Baptist or Catholic, Orthodox or Presbyterian. As Andy Crouch says in his review, “this series is marvelously catholic, in the small-c sense,” appealing across political and theological divides while still proclaiming a specific vision of creativity, beauty, and service in the Christian life.

But while the series is highly enjoyable for any viewer, it is particularly suited to more intimate explorations, whether in a college classroom or a church small group. Churches, colleges, discussion groups, and dinner parties have already been using it in this capacity. But now, in order to further empower such explorations, a special Leader’s Edition is now available.

Designed to equip leaders with tools and resources to navigate discussion and education around the themes of the series, the Leader’s Edition includes everything anyone would need to bring this resource to your community, whether to small-group discussions or even sermon bumpers or illustrations.

The Leader’s Edition includes the following:

  • DVD and Blu-ray — All 7 episodes of the film series are included in both formats.
  • Field Guide — This companion Field Guide jump-starts group and individual investigation and includes additional content to enhance the film experience.
  • Extras Disk — The extras disk includes many never-before-released digital resources including:
    • Digital Field Guide broken down into 7 episodes
    • One-page discussion guides for each episode
    • Digital files to help church promote a church-wide campaign or a screening event on social media or produce mailers, post cards, banners, flyers, bulletin inserts, PowerPoint slides, and radio spots.
    • Modular components — Each episode has 5-6 modular components (e.g. All Is Gift). We have lifted these out and put them on the extras disk to be used as teasers, event promoters, and/or sermon illustrations.

Watch the trailer below, and order your copy today(more…)

“We view autism as one of our key competitive advantages,” says Tom D’Eri of Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida, which employs 43 employees, 35 of which are on the autism spectrum. “Our employees follow processes, they’re really excited to be here, [and] they have a great eye for detail.”

Hear more of their story here:

Among adults with autism, the unemployment rate is around 90%, and yet, if you were to ask D’Eri, whose brother has autism, the market is simply not recognizing the enormous potential and unique gifts these people possess. “Typically people with autism are really good at structured tasks, following processes, and attention to detail,” he says. “So we saw that there are really important skills that people with autism have that make them, in some cases, the best employees you could have.” (more…)