Posts tagged with: work

Working For Our Neighbor“If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor.” –Martin Luther

Christian’s Library Press has now released Working for Our Neighbor, Gene Veith’s Lutheran primer on vocation, economics, and ordinary life. The book joins Acton’s growing series of tradition-specific, faith-work primers, which also includes Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed perspectives.

Veith, who describes Martin Luther as “the great theologian of vocation,” believes Luther’s approach is distinct in approaching vocation as a manifestation of “the spiritual and the physical, transcendence and incarnation, ascent and descent, faith and love, love of God and love of neighbor.” Luther’s theology “shows the interconnections of faith, work, and economics not just theoretically, but practically,” Veith writes, “and discloses how the ordinary, seemingly secular activities of everyday life are essential dimensions of Christian spirituality.”

Beginning with a hearty critique of Max Weber’s classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Veith argues that the Reformation’s influence on capitalism has long been mischaracterized and misunderstood. Although Weber properly identified a variety of psychological and cultural factors, his analysis of the theological and spiritual connections fell remarkably short. (more…)

“The twin tracks of work and wage do not meet, and cannot be scientifically related. They are bridged by morality, not by mathematics.” -Lester DeKoster

executiveLow-wage workers continue to picket and protest around the country, demanding an increased minimum wage, improved access to benefits, and better working conditions. The political rhetoric has followed accordingly, with Bernie Sanders calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and Hillary Clinton arguing for $12 (due to differing magic potions, no doubt). Simultaneously, widespread angst over “excessive” executive compensation continues to fester.

But alas, prices are not play things, and we do society no favors by trying to distort market signals according to our own arbitrary whims (whether $12, $15, $100, or otherwise). Given the history and trajectory of the American economy, we ought not be stuck in the mire of such minimum-mindedness, seeking to control and micro-manage our way to peace and prosperity through top-down mechanistic means. The path to prosperity is one of creation and contribution, planted with seeds of service and opportunity, where new wealth is a natural byproduct of access to the pond.

Yet throughout all this, “market signals” are simply signals, the discernment of which requires human conscience before and after and throughout. When we think about the intersection of work and wages, “listening to the market” is not where it stops, as critics of the free market wrongly assume. The baseline of actual prices in a complex economy is where things begin, and the Christian wage-setter must be careful and attentive to how things ought to proceed.

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores these “twin tracks” of work and wage, noting that the proper bridge will not be built by arbitrary government edict, but by the art of “executive stewardship,” driven by God-given responsibility and God-directed conscience. “Work and wage draw together at the point where conscience functions,” he writes, “that is to say, work and wage tracks coalesce in persons making executive decisions.” When we inhibit the freedom of the human conscience, an inhibition of the economic order is sure to follow.

DeKoster devotes an entire chapter to this topic, an excerpt of which is available at the Oikonomia blog. Those who set wages have an “awesome obligation,” DeKoster writes, and their conscience must balance a host of factors, all pushing toward a variety of goals, including (1) the best product, (2) the best working conditions, (3) the best wage for everyone involved, and (4) “reflecting the best efforts at every job, to be sold at the lowest price compatible with the requirements.” In balancing all of this, the executive also heeds transcendent signals, whether through ethics or spiritual discernment. (more…)

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)

Marco Rubio has inspired plenty of chin-stroking over his recent remarks about welders earning more than philosophers.

“We need more welders and less philosophers,” he concluded in a recent debate.

The fact-checkers proceeded to fact-check, with many quickly declaring falsehood (e.g. 1, 2). Yet the series of subsequent quibbles over who actually makes how much continue to side-step the bigger issue. Though the liberal arts are indeed important and ought not be viewed simply in terms of “vocational training,” mainstream American culture is certainly fond of pretending as much.

The individualistic  dream-stoking rhetoric, inflated expectations, and subsequent angst have become all too nightmarish a cliche among my generation, joined by ever-increasing attempts to secure more government goodies to keep the machine humming along. Surely there are many who approach the liberal arts with a healthy perspective, but at the same time, the jokes about the barista going for his third Master’s degree aren’t exactly jokes.

Rather than approaching each individual as a creative person with unique gifts and educational aspirations, we continue to pretend that one vocational or educational track ought to apply to all. At the same time, rather than approaching the so-called “job market” as an ecosystem of creativity and collaboration, filled with countless human needs waiting to be met, we revert to thinking only of ourselves, self-constructing our preferred vocational destinies while we move through the college assembly line. (more…)

bernie-sanders-photo1In last Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders stayed true to his famed aversion to capitalism, proclaiming the fanciful virtues of “democratic socialism.” Yet when prodded by Anderson Cooper — who asked, “you don’t consider yourself a capitalist?” — Sanders responded not by attacking free markets, but by targeting a more popular target of discontent: Wall Street and the banks.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” Sanders asked. “No, I don’t.”

One could be forgiven for not understanding what Sanders means by “casino capitalism.” Is it crony capitalism, in which legislative favors are secured by the rich and powerful (which conservatives also disdain)? Is it bailouts for the big banks (which, again, conservatives also disdain)? Is it basic trade and exchange on a large, complex scale, and if so, at what size does it become problematic? Does he despise the stock exchange itself? Too loud with all its blinky lights and bells? (more…)

DeKoster-3-dimensions-of-workLester DeKoster’s short book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, sets forth a profound thesis and solid theological framework for how we think about work.

Although the faith and work movement has delivered a host of books and resources on the topic, DeKoster’s book stands out for its bite and balance. It is remarkably concise, and yet sets forth a holistic vision that considers the multiple implications of the Christian life.

The book was recently re-issued, along with the new afterword by Greg Forster. In it, Forster outlines DeKoster’s underlying framework, which “invites us to view work as a complex, three-dimensional reality.” Each of these dimensions is summarized as follows (quoted directly from Forster).

1. Objective-Subjective

One dimension of our work is defined by the distinction between objective and subjective. No matter how pious your feelings about it are, it still matters to God whether your work is actually having a beneficial effect on other people. At the same time, human dignity and the shaping of the self for God can only be lived out if we do our work with the right sense of identity and motives. We see this dimension most clearly in DeKoster’s twofold understanding of God’s presence in our work—that we love God in our work by serving our neighbor (objectively) and shaping ourselves (subjectively).

(more…)

Work-New1Originally written in 1982, Lester DeKoster’s small book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, has had a tremendous impact on the hearts and minds of many, reorienting our attitudes and amplifying our visions about all that, at first, might seem mundane. More recently, the book’s core thesis was put on display in Acton’s film series, For the Life of the Worldparticularly in the episode on creative service.

Christian’s Library Press has now re-issued the book, complete with new cover art and a hearty new afterword by Greg Forster.

In the afterword, Forster revisits the book in light of the broader faith and work movement, noting DeKoster’s keen awareness of the struggles and hardships we often experience at work, and the hope of Christ in the midst of such struggles.

Although the book applies to every occupation and vocation — from the Wall Street executive to the independent artist to the stay-at-home mother — one of DeKoster’s primary audiences in his own life was blue-collar workers, who he routinely taught in night classes at Calvin College. “His message of hope to them is an outstanding model for our movement today,” Forster writes.

Indeed, DeKoster realized that without a proper understanding of God’s ultimate purposes, we will find ourselves trapped in a “wilderness of work,” lost and without meaning. But when we understand God’s grand design for all things, everything changes. (more…)