Posts tagged with: work

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…)

Exodus36As economic prosperity has increased, and as the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven, manual labor has been increasingly cast down in the popular imagination.

When our youth navigate and graduate from high school, they receive pressure from all directions to excel in particular areas and attend a four-year college, typically in pursuit of “white-collar” work. The trades, on the other hand — including brickmasons, plumbers, butchers, and carpenters — are not high on the minds of many, whether parents, pastors, teachers, or politicians.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen offer a challenge to this trend and the supporting stereotypes, arguing that the church has a particular precedent to build on when it comes to the ways we approach “work with the hands.”

Not only does a thriving economy and society need craftspeople, but the Bible elevates these occupations as filled with worth and dignity. Craftspeople are image-bearers, they argue, reflecting “the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new”:

Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness. (more…)

Given the dynamics of the information age and ever-accelerating globalization, humanity faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges when it comes to creating, collaborating, and consuming alongside those from vastly different contexts.

Although Pentecost Sunday has already past, Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong wrote some related reflections on this very question, particularly as it relates to Christian vocation. As Yong notes, “location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers — religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential.”

Globalization has been a blessing for many, yet for Christians, it raises the question of what role the Gospel plays as we engage with and bear witness to our brothers and sisters across the world. As Yong asks: “How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?”

The answer, he continues, can be found at Pentecost:

A look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated. (more…)

Jamie Bérubé

Jamie Bérubé

In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:

The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.

At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?

Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”

Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)

studying3In “Scholastica II,” a convocation address delivered to Amsterdam’s Free University in 1900 (now translated under the title, Scholarship), Abraham Kuyper explores the ultimate goal of “genuine study,” asking, “Is it to seek or find?”

Alluding to academics who search for the sake of searching, Kuyper concludes that “seeking should be in the service of finding” and that “the ultimate purpose of seeking is finding.”

“The shepherd who had lost his sheep did not rejoice in searching for it but in finding it,” Kuyper continues. “It was then that he called together his friends and neighbors and exclaimed: ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep.'”

Yet prior to this, he spends a good deal of time focusing on the search itself, arguing that our prospects for discovery are grim if we fail to love the discovery process. Although there are certainly those who prefer to dig for the sake of digging, with little thought about what or whether they’ll discover, there are also plenty who fail to love searching at all, digging only out of necessity or a quest for eventual money and power.

Christians must learn to balance both, Kuyper argues. But it all begins with loving the hunt:

You have heard of the recreational activity of the hunt. What is it that drives all those gentlemen who normally live a life of ease…to spend hours upon hours chasing across the fields and crawling through the woods? Is it to catch a hare for dinner or a partridge for supper? Apparently not, because any poultry shop can supply the most pampered palate with a wide assortment of game; and to have game on the menu for a whole week no doubt costs far less than a whole day of hunting with dogs and loaders. No, what matters for the true lover of the chase is not to taste or eat game, but to hunt. His passion is for the activity of hunting as such. Eating game is a bonus, but the thrill he is looking for is the actual chase. (more…)

allisgift1 - Copy (2)“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World

In Episode 1 of For the Life of the World, a new series from the Acton Institute, Evan Koons discovers the concept of oikonomia, or, “God’s plan for his whole household of creation,” realizing that the more specific areas and “modes of operation” that God has designed us to work within (families, businesses, governments, institutions) are meant to harmonize with each other.

To illustrate the idea, Koons compares God’s economy to music. Pointing to a xylophone, he notes that a xylophone has its own particular mode of operation — its own rules, its own economy. It works differently than, say, a ukulele or a trombone or an upright bass. Yet played together in proper harmony, each of these instruments coordinate their unique patterns and modes of operation to create something unified yet varied, rich and beautiful.

But Koons doesn’t stop here, eventually moving on to ask the even bigger question: “What is the actual song, anyway?”

The answer, we learn, is gift. We were created to be gift-givers, “crafted in God’s own image, with his own breath, crowned with glory and honor.” And “in that same abundance,” Koons continues, “he blessed us, and he said go, explore my world. Unwrap the gift of my creation. Bless the world with your own gifts.” (more…)

motherhoodOur discussions about faith-work integration often focus on paid labor, yet there is plenty of value, meaning, and fulfillment in other areas where the market may assign little to no direct dollars and cents. I’ve written about this previously as it pertains to fatherhood, but given the forthcoming holiday, the work of mothers is surely worthy of some pause and praise.

My wife stays at home full-time with our three small children, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard others ask her, “So what do you do all day?” If we are at risk of diminishing the full meaning and potential of our service in the workplace, surely we ought to be careful that we don’t do the same in the home.

The economy of love  is different from the economy of creative service, to be sure, but the work therein is no less important, and we do damage to each if we fail to see both their distinctiveness and interconnectedness on the path to human flourishing. Though both parents play significant roles in that process, throughout history mothers in particular have played a unique role in the early-life shaping and shepherding of children. Modernity is adding new dynamics to all this, but the work remains, and such work is worth celebrating.

To demonstrate the nature and value of all this, Chris Marlink recently shared a lengthy excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With World, in which Chesterton expounds on the “gigantic” function of a mother’s work in human life.

Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. (more…)

800px-Hartmann_Maschinenhalle_1868_(01)In a marvelous speech on the origins of economic freedom (and its subsequent fruits), Deirdre McCloskey aptly crystallizes the deeper implications of her work on bourgeois virtues and bourgeois dignity.

For example, though many doubted that those in once-socialistic India would come to see markets favorably, eventually those attitudes changed, and with it came prosperity. As McCloskey explains:

The leading Bollywood films changed their heroes from the 1950s to the 1980s from bureaucrats to businesspeople, and their villains from factory owners to policemen, in parallel with a similar shift in the ratio of praise for market-tested improvement and supply in the editorial pages of The Times of India… Did the change from hatred to admiration of market-tested improvement and supply make possible the Singh Reforms after 1991? Without some change in ideology Singh would not in a democracy have been able to liberalize the Indian economy…

…After 1991 and Singh much of the culture didn’t change, and probably won’t change much in future. Economic growth does not need to make people European. Unlike the British, Indians in 2030 will probably still give offerings to Lakshmi and the  son of Gauri, as they did in 1947 and 1991. Unlike the Germans, they will still play cricket, rather well. So it’s not deep “culture.” It’s sociology, rhetoric, ethics, how people talk about each other. (more…)

In a video selected as the winner of a contest sponsored by The High Calling, Dylan Weston, a ranch hand and wrangler from Pennsylvania, shares how his work glorifies God and adds value to others.

This is a great example of how we as Christians might begin to view our role in the bigger picture, particularly as it applies to the economies of creative service and wonder. Dylan does not view his service as a mere means to personal fulfillment or material ends, and neither does he view it in conflict with his efforts to make time and space to simply behold God’s creation. (more…)

doc-mgmt-paper-mountainMore than at any time in the last hundred years, Christians (at least in those in America) are beginning to recognize that, as Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger say, “our jobs are an arena in which God will work in us and through us to make us more like Jesus and to glorify himself.”

Yet it’s often easier to recognize this truth in the abstract while failing to understand how it could be true for our own jobs. Say, for example, that you work in accounts receivable for a company that makes bathroom faucets. How could that type of work truly make a difference in the world?

Art Carden explains why this type of work matters – and can matter more than a career as a relief worker:

Cleanliness, while not necessarily next to Godliness, is at least a few more steps removed from filth and the associated disease transmission. One quick and easy way to improve the lives of the people around you is to make sure you wash your hands carefully after using the restroom. By helping the faucet company run a leaner operation, you can help them expand and improve their faucet offerings. This in turn helps people wash their hands carefully. This in turn reduces disease transmission. Reduced disease transmission means less tragedy and higher productivity. It might not seem like much, but congratulations: by helping Amalgamated Faucet produce more, better, and cheaper faucets, you’re reducing the probability that someone, somewhere gets sick.

As Carden concludes, “If you want to help poor people, don’t follow your heart. Follow your comparative advantage.” If that advice doesn’t have the same appeal as “follow your passion” it’s likely either because we lack imagination or because what we really want is not to help the world but to receive praise and recognition.

Working in accounts receivable you likely won’t receive humanitarian achievement awards or even be recognized at your church. You likely will also never know how your contributions contributed to the greater good of humanity. But Christians can trust that God knows how our contributions serve others and that he will use our efforts for his purposes. God can and will work in us and through us to make the world a better place, whether we’re digging wells in Africa or pushing paper in Omaha. To help change the world we don’t have to be able to see how it all fits together, we just have to do the work that God sets before us.