Posts tagged with: meaning

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, August 8, 2014

mourn-work-woundI recently wrote about “wounding work,” a term Lester DeKoster assigns to work that, while meaningful and fruitful, is “cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing” in deep and profound ways. Take the recent reflections of a former Methodist minister, who, upon shifting from ministry into blue-collar work at a factory, struggled to find meaning and purpose.

“I am not challenged at all in this work,” he writes, “and I want something more.”

Although DeKoster helps us recognize that meaning and purpose do reside in such work, and that our day-to-day labor is not exempt from the sacrifice and obedience bound up in the Christian life, the pain for those of us in the midst of all this is likely to persist, even if for a season.

On this, Evan Koons continues the discussion over at the FLOW blog: “To stress that all work is about gift-giving, to marvel at its vast community of relationships, or allude to the suffering one share’s with Christ by remaining in said environments, doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant.”

What, then, are we to do amid such suffering? How ought we to respond, whether as wounded workers ourselves, or as those who simply serve and disciple alongside those who suffer? As Koons explains, there is no quick-and-easy cookie-cutter “solution,” spiritually, economically, or otherwise, and going down the paths to peace that Christ does provide will inevitably involve those same familiar features of our fallen world.

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gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

Ever since the cancellation of Discovery Channel’s hit show Dirty Jobs, former host Mike Rowe has been spreading his message more directly, challenging Americans on how they approach work and success.

As Jordan Ballor has already noted, much of Rowe’s critique centers on the current state of higher education. In a recent appearance on The Blaze, Rowe offers a bit more color on this, pointing to the growing disconnect between skills and needs and wondering what it says about our larger attitudes regarding work:

As Rowe explains:

College needed a PR campaign in the mid 70s. It did. We needed more people to actively use their brain. But like all PR campaigns, it went too far, and we started promoting college at the expense of all those vocations I mentioned that my grandpop did. And suddenly, those things become vocational consolation prizes. (more…)

Professor Oliver O'Donovan

In a recent event co-sponsored by Christian’s Library Press, professor Oliver O’Donovan engaged in a robust conversation with Matthew Lee Anderson and Ken Myers on the topic of the Gospel and public engagement. The audio is now available via Mars Hill Audio. Sign-up is required, but is both simple and free.

Anyone who has read O’Donovan is familiar with the weight and depth he brings to such matters. As was to be expected, this is a conversation filled with richness, nuance, and the types of rabbit trails that, to one’s great delight, end up not being rabbit trails after all.

The discussion is worth listening to in full, but O’Donovan’s kick-off discussion of “the secular” is of particular relevance to our discussions about economic, cultural, and political transformation. For O’Donovan, modernity has wielded a peculiar influence on the way Christians view “common life” in the “common world” — one that has led to a problematic approach to what we now think of as “the secular.”

It used to mean something quite different:

Historically, the word secular meant to do with the affairs of this world – i.e., it was the life of creation extended into history as distinct from the intervention into this world and the work in this world of redeeming it and saving it. So every Christian lived a secular life and a spiritual life, in that a Christian is engaged, has tasks, has a life to live within the common terms of a common world, and at the same time an awareness and response to the work of God in saving it. (more…)

Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe has made a career out of elevating down-and-dirty labor, constantly reminding us to never take for granted the hands of those who keep society moving. The show was recently cancelled, but Rowe continues to spread his message, most recently in the cover story of the latest issue of Guideposts magazine (HT).

The article is a moving tribute to Rowe’s grandfather (“Pop”), who was skilled at a variety of trades, from electric work to plumbing to welding to carpentry. “He could do pretty much anything,” Rowe writes.

Rowe would tag along with his grandfather on various projects, watching him work and repair things with ease. “Pop was a magician, and his talents a great mystery,” Rowe writes. “As his would-be apprentice, I mimicked his every move.”

Yet without Pop’s “mechanical gene,” Rowe often felt inadequate and incapable. After one Saturday spent building a patio, he let his frustration show: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, August 30, 2013

To kick off the Labor Day weekend, Peggy Noonan offers some timely thoughts on the meaning of work:

ED-AR202_noonan_G_20130829153004Joblessness is a personal crisis because work is a spiritual event. A job isn’t only a means to a paycheck, it’s more. “To work is to pray,” the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.

In return for performing your duties, whatever they are, you receive money that you can use freely and in accordance with your highest desire. A job allows you the satisfaction of supporting yourself or your family, or starting a family. Work allows you to renew your life, which is part of the renewing of civilization.

Work gives us purpose, stability, integration, shared mission. And so to be unable to work—unable to find or hold a job—is a kind of catastrophe for a human being. (more…)

bored at workOver at The Gospel Coalition, Elise Amyx of IFWE offers encouragement to those who may feel their work is useless:

Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God’s work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem means we can’t always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can’t easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.

Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn’t receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn’t change the reality that his effort contributed to that product…

… It’s important to remember that the value of our work may never be fully realized in our lifetime. In medieval times, it could take hundreds of years to build a single cathedral. The laborer laying the cornerstone might never live to see the top of the steeple. (more…)

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

The real estate crisis led to plenty of finger-pointing and blame-shifting, but for Phoenix real estate developer Walter Crutchfield, it led to self-examination and spiritual reflection.

“The real estate crash brought me to a place of stepping back and evaluating,” Crutchfield says. “I could see where I lost sight of the individual intrinsic value of work, of individuals, of community…Rather than asking ‘is the demand reasonable?,’ we just serviced it, and now we had a chance to think about what we had done.”

In yet another marvelous video from Nathan Clarke and Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, Crutchfield shares his journey from seeing work as aimless toil to being driven by the prospect of value creation:

Crutchfield concludes that work “pleases God,” and that through its fundamental function of serving others, it “declares the glory of God…just because it is.” For Crutchfield, this basic realization transformed his entire approach to doing business, leading him to focus on creating “real value,” rather than simply going through the motions. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Row of cubiclesAs already discussed, Matthew Lee Anderson’s recent Christianity Today cover story on “radical Christianity” has been making waves. This week at The High Calling, Marcus Goodyear offers a healthy critique of one of Anderson’s key subjects, David Platt, aligning quite closely with Anderson’s analysis about the ultimate challenges such movements face when it comes to long-term cultural cultivation.

Focusing on Platt’s latest book, Follow Me, Goodyear notes that, despite Platt’s admirable efforts to get Christians “off their seats,” he often “emphasizes the great commission so much, it overshadows all other teachings of the Bible.”

Pointing to John Stott’s book, Christian Mission in the Modern World, Goodyear argues that we mustn’t neglect the rest:

[Platt’s] kind of thinking can lead us to forget that God is “the Creator who in the beginning gave man a ‘cultural mandate’ to subdue and rule the earth, who has instituted governing authorities as his ‘ministers’ to order society and maintain justice.”

According to Stott, Christians must take the original cultural mandate in Genesis as seriously as the great commission. Our approach to missions must view social justice and vocational good as more than a means to evangelism. We are called to share our faith. There is no question about that. But we are also called to more than words. We are called to work in the world today just as we were before the Fall.

Indeed, there is an unfortunate tendency in evangelicalism to prioritize short-term evangelism over long-term cultural engagement, whether in business, the arts, or even the family. Yet in addition to the negative impacts such an approach is bound to have on both our cultural impact and our evangelism, it all begins with a fundamental distortion of how we view our daily work in and of itself. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Wednesday, March 20, 2013

factory workers, monotonyDiscussions about faith-work integration are on the rise, with an ever-increasing number of related books, sermons, and blog posts (ahem) appearing with every passing day.

Over at Faith, Work & Culture, Jeff Haanen poses a challenging question to the movement, asking, “Is the faith and work movement just for white guys?” (HT):

Just a cursory glance around the faith and work landscape, and you’ll find a bunch of middle class white men (with the occasional woman or Asian). So what’s going on here? Does integrating your faith and work only matter for white professionals and not African-Americans or Latinos? (For the sake of this post, you’ll have to excuse some generalizations.)

After offering a brief history of 20th-century American prosperity and the widespread self-actualization that followed, Haanen offers his hypothesis:

Twentieth century America did not bless all ethnic groups evenly with wealth and comfort. African Americans lived under the thumb of institutionalized racism even years after the civil rights movement, and struggled for years to acquire the kind of jobs, and thus material comfort, that their white counterparts did. Today, it’s mostly Latinos who occupy the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder; they make even less than blacks per capita across age groups.

All that to say this: while white guys were wondering about their purpose in life, blacks and Latinos were just trying to survive. When I was a pastor of a Latino congregation, it wasn’t terribly surprising that questions of existential despair or vocational fit never arose. Dignity and providing for the family trumped “fulfilling the cultural mandate.” Getting a job and paying rent was a bit higher on the hierarchy of needs.

Haanen’s point about disparate shifts in the makeup and distribution of work is an important one. The minimum-wage McDonald’s worker will likely face a host of spiritual challenges distinct from those faced by the white-collar executive. Likewise, the differences in time and comfort outside of that work will play no small part in defining that struggle. As Haanen also indicates, “intangible” factors like racism are bound to transform these struggles further, even among workers in the same job type and industry.

But having recognized all of this, it’s also important to recognize that just because a worker hasn’t the time, resources, or energy for armchair theologizing on “vocational fit,” it doesn’t mean that meaning, purpose, and transcendent activity isn’t taking place amid the strenuous circumstances. Whether or not we are actively thinking and talking about “cultural mandate,” the basic dignity of our work and the basic activity of serving society and providing for one’s family is an integral part of fulfilling that mandate. At a certain level, “needs-based” work has a forceful way of tempering our individualistic inclinations, and at that level, I think we need to seriously reconsider how closely we’re aligning “vocation” with our own personal preferences or our end-game goals. Does God not also call us to that initial job or task that begins a longer trajectory filled with other more “fulfilling” things? (more…)