Review: Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A response to the widespread lack of engagement in work, exploring the changes to our approach to our workplace, our work ethic, and our work life that foster joy in work that is more than a job, more than an occupation, but rather a calling.

Shundrawn Thomas is the president of a trillion dollar global investment firm, who has worked in many other settings before attaining his present position. He has found deep joy in his own work and is concerned about the statistics that show that the majority of workers are not engaged with their work.

Thomas contends that the discovery of joy in our work has little to do with the job we are in and everything to do with the person doing that work. He writes:

However, only one person determines your joy: you. If you want to truly experience joy in your work, you only have one person to deal with: yourself! You are the only person standing in the way of experiencing joy in your work.

He begins with our approach to our workplace. He starts with changing our attitudes, our perspective on our workplace that shapes our feelings and actions, that when content and positive, sustains us through our workday. He proposes that we need to alter our approach, including proactive preparation, prioritization of our time, and partnering well with others. He advocates for raising our aptitude, working with talented people, and involving discovery, development, and deployment. Finally, we can take steps to ensure achievement by avoiding distractions, and working together with resolution to achieve team goals.

He then turns to our work ethic, what motivates us to put in the effort for excellent work. He addresses the love of money and how money may both be a primary and yet inadequate motivator when we recognize the value of time, the satisfaction of work that aligns with our gifts and interests, the greater value of our health and sense of worth, and the sharing rather than amassing of wealth. We can work for the praise of people, but growth occurs not only through praise but also through criticism. The most satisfying work is not what is praised but is praiseworthy. We may work for respect but greater joy comes when we are motivated from within and concerned more about doing good work for the benefit of others and modest about our own self-importance.

Finally, he talks about the fruits of our work life. Work reveals purpose when we allow it to perfect us rather than looking for the perfect occupation, and give ourselves diligently to it. This means work requires effort, calling on all our physical, mental, and spiritual efforts, undeterred by setbacks. Work promotes growth through training, advanced degrees, certifications, workshops, and seminars as well as cultivation of professional relationships in which one regularly receives and welcomes feedback. Work develops our skills, particularly the four skills of listening, visualizing, collaborating, and leading that are critical for success. Work fosters relationships of trust, transparency across a network of personal connections. All this comes together in producing value as we set goals that answer the questions of which opportunities we will pursue, what problems we will solve, and who we will serve. Most of all, work may glorify God as we combine all these qualities in work offered to God in service of others. Work becomes calling in which our efforts answer to God’s bidding.

This is a book chock-full with principles that feels a bit like reading Proverbs. Each paragraph, sometimes each sentence is worth reflection. Thomas has written a book rich with “work wisdom.” It also reflects a conviction of the inherent goodness of work, that it is not a curse, but done rightly, with the right attitude, can afford deep satisfaction within the greater joy of glorifying God. He does offer many examples, and each chapter concludes with a summary of key insights, valuable because each chapter, though short, is so full of these insights. If one reads too rapidly, or feels one must implement at once all that Thomas advises, this could be daunting. Listening for the one insight that resonates right now and considering what changes this means for one’s work life may be more helpful. This book could be dynamite read together with colleagues sharing a commitment to live transformatively in their work place.

Most of all, this book rings true with over four decades of my own work experience. I’ve found that I can never depend on an organization or workplace to make work joyful. Joy has much more to do with the perspective, the work ethic, the investment I bring to my work, than what I find there. Surely, work places are never optimal, and sometimes far less than that. Sometimes this means changing employers or at least jobs. It is apparent from the book that Thomas himself did so. Years ago, an executive search consultant advised me not to relinquish responsibility for my career path to my employer or anyone else. Shundrawn Thomas would add that we not relinquish responsibility for our joy to others.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Ethics at Work

ethics at work

Ethics at WorkTheology of Work Project. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017.

Summary: A discussion guide outlining a Christian approach to ethical decision-making in the workplace based on three principles: commands, consequences, and character.

What does Sunday morning have to do with 8 to 5 Monday through Friday (or whatever our working hours may be)? For many Christians that lack of connection between our worship and our work eventually leads to questions either about the truth and reality of our faith, or the possibility of living Christianly in the workplace.

The Theology of Work Project, the developers of this discussion guide and numerous other related resources, are thoroughly committed to the idea that our faith and our work life may be seamlessly connected. On their “about” page, they describe the vision of the Project in these terms:

“The vision of the Theology of Work Project is that every Christian be equipped and committed for work as God intends. A Christian approach makes work more meaningful and productive, benefits society and the people we work with and for, gets us through the challenges we face on the job, draws people to Jesus, and brings glory to God.”

This guide is designed for Christians in the workplace interested in developing a Christian framework of ethical decision-making. It consists of 21 half-hour lessons grouped into seven sections. Each lesson provides short readings (one page or less) with a few biblical texts, interspersed with “Food for Thought” sections, and a concluding prayer. One thing I like is the “less is more” approach that seems to me realistic to accomplish in a half hour discussion over a lunch break or before work.

After exploring some different popular proposals on ethical decision-making, the guide develops a “three-legged” stool approach around the following:

  1. Commands: is there a relevant biblical command to obey or something to avoid.
  2. Consequences: how will the various parties involved be affected by the possible choices?
  3. Character: What kind of person do I want to be or become?

Under this last “leg”, the writers adopt three key aspects of the character of God which scripture calls us to live by, first proposed in Alexander Hill’s Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace (Hill was the former president of InterVarsity/USA). These are holiness, justice, and love, and need to balance each other.

The guide also introduces a case study developed through the different lessons. A Christian auto dealer (“Wayne”) sells a used car that is in good operating condition with no know defects. Just over a year and over 13,000 miles later, the owner contacts him about transmission problems and asks what he will do to fix it. Subsequent lessons apply the different principles and trace out “Wayne’s” process in reaching a decision about how he will deal with this customer.

While written specifically for use with workplace groups (there is even a section on “Wisdom for Using this Study in the Workplace”), I also think this could be highly useful in adult education courses in churches and with Christian groups in business schools, particularly for those who have already had work experience. I would also highly recommend supplementing the material in this book with resources from the Theology of Work Project website, which includes commentaries related to a theology of work from every book of scripture and a number of other articles on related topics.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Reflections on “The Future of Work”

IMG_1488934909019

Derek Thompson (far right) and panelists at “Future of Work” Photo (c) 2017, Robert C Trube

The other day, I ordered food at my favorite Panera without talking to a person. A kiosk allowed my to swipe “My Panera” card, greeted me by name on screen, displayed the menu by categories, allowed me to select items, check out and make a payment with my credit card. A receipt was emailed to me. It took people to prepare my food, but only one person was working checkout. Most people were using kiosks.

A few years ago, three or four people would have been doing what the kiosks did. My experience illustrated what several speakers at an event I helped host Tuesday evening were exploring. Work is changing, and automation in various forms is either changing our work, or requiring that we change jobs, if we can.

The event was called “The Future of Work.” Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic moderated a discussion with three academics, a development economist, a labor economist, and a marketing and information technology professor. It was a rich conversation that opened my eyes to some vitally important issues.

Thompson came to my attention a year ago when he wrote an article titled “A World Without Work.” It explored what happens when technology change and market forces put people out of work. And significantly for me, the article centered around time he spent in my home town of Youngstown, Ohio, a city that knows all too well the dislocations of the loss of jobs, shrinking from a high of 170,000 people when I was young to just over 60,000 at present. Talking personally with Derek, we talked about the “Youngstown diaspora” in my own city of Columbus, Ohio, which has a growing rather than shrinking population. We noted how so many who could leave Youngstown, because of education and other factors, did so, and how this changed the fabric of the city, and so many others like it.

Thompson, both in his talk, and in the article made the observation that “many people hate their jobs, but they are considerably more miserable doing nothing.” One of our panelists, reflecting his Christian beliefs (it was a religiously diverse group) noted that work came before the fall in Genesis. It reflects something of what humans made in the image of God are like. God worked, and it seems work, as well as rest, is important to being human. It was after the fall that work got laborious and frustrating, hence the tension we live in between not always liking our work, but hating not working more.

The panel explored the implications this raises in a world where technology might both put people out of work, and possibly mean others will work less. What will we do with the disparities of income between those who profit tremendously from either making the technology or using it to entertain–and the others who don’t? They explored the idea of the “universal basic income”– a guaranteed level of income for all whether they have employment or not. Most were pretty ambivalent or even opposed to this idea–kind of like society rather than parents supporting us while we live in our basement playing video games.

Another question that was discussed was what will we do should we need to work less to earn sufficient income on which to live? Will we just consume? Or will we find other ways to work, perhaps to create things, or to serve others? Or will we work and earn more than we need, simply because work is what we do? There is a question of what a life well-lived looks like should remunerative work be less of a necessity.

One of the clearest things to come out of the night is that many jobs face automation. Thompson had us consider clerical workers, for example the grocery clerk who grabs an item, scans an item, bags an item, and repeats. There might be some good that comes out of eliminating hard, repetitive, and tedious work. But automation is spreading far beyond this. We are talking about computers driving cars and trucks on one hand, and computers doing radiological diagnostics on the other. It is either people in the service economy doing very relational things with other humans, or people in the knowledge industry, those who create, maintain, or utilize the technology, who will be the last to be automated. Computers do not compose great music or write great books–or invent iPads!

Even if new technology creates as many jobs as it eliminates (about which I am uncertain), the people who lose a livelihood are in great pain. Such things raise questions about what kinds of inner resources do we cultivate against such possibilities, and also what kind of society will we be when change causes such dislocation and pain. Will we be a zero sum society with winners and losers, or will we find ways to stand with those who suffer–to make our neighbor’s pain our own and get through it together?

It seems to me that we cannot afford either a mentality of entitlement for ourselves or indifference to our neighbors. Our families, our schools and our religious institutions alike need to form people to embrace change rather than to hate it or cling to the familiar past. Perhaps it is the bedrock of belief that enables us to cope with the changes in our environment. It is a danger that some of our panelists discussed, that we make work, especially in a particular career, that bedrock. Yet, in a time of great change, this is shaky ground at best. Do we not need something else that gives us the wherewithal to grow and change, grieve and embrace, and discover an abiding joy that sustains us through the changes of life, including changes in how we work? The truth is, none of us knows what the future holds. For some, the answer is in the cliche’ of “knowing Who holds the future.” Whether you buy that or not, the changing world of work poses the question of “what grounds my life?”

[Derek Thompson, in addition to his editorial post at The Atlantic, is the author of the recently published Hit Makers, reviewed here.]

Review: Acedia and Its Discontents

AcediaAcedia and Its Discontents, R. J. Snell. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015.

Summary: This is an exploration of the vice usually known as sloth, often thought of as laziness. The author argues that acedia is a contempt of all relationships and a destructive embrace of autonomous unchecked freedom rather than the love of God and the good work to which God calls us.

R. J. Snell has given us a both literate and theologically acute exposition of the nature of acedia, the vice commonly known as sloth but in fact is anything but what we would consider laziness. He argues that what was once considered a vice to be overcome has been transformed into an obsession with a kind of radical freedom jettisoning relationship with God, others, and creation in pursuit of an “empire of desire.” In the extreme, acedia takes the form of Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian who detests all except the exercise of his own will.

Snell begins his argument about subverting this “empire” by dealing with our nature, as creatures “from the dirt” and “for the dirt.” We are made by God from the earth and made for it, as gifts to that creation. We are called to work that respects the integrity things, to respect the integrity of the emergent properties of the earth’s systems (or building soil), and works in the proper direction, filling the temple of God.

Instead of living in these ways, the choice of acedia is a choice of boredom where nothing is esteemed of beauty and goodness and wonder. We hate our God-given tasks and the place and the people we are set in the midst of, except where these fulfill our desires. Instead of seeing the beauty of all things, the world becomes “bleached out” objects. In an excursus on contraception, Snell explores the bleached out character of sex without fertility. As one considers the growing incidence of sexual assault and sexual objectification, one begins to see the point of acedia as an empire of desire.

Resistance to this empire comes through the embrace of sabbath, a rhythm of work and rest and feasting that is the acceptance of the gift of God. And it comes in the embrace of smallness, the ordinary, everyday acts of faithfulness. Monks struggling with acedia dealt with it through the work of the cell–prayer, and the rhythms of monastic life. It is in living out our particular tasks in our particular place that we are shaped in a life of virtue. So it was with Jesus, learning under a carpenter and practicing that work until the final years of his mission.

As I read Snell’s account of acedia it seems the case he makes seems extreme except for the fact that what I think he unearths is a fundamental orientation that we may often mask by social conventions where we might consider ourselves more virtuous than we are. And the resistance he proposes seems at once so ordinary, and yet so contrary to our modern life. Keep sabbath, embrace the ordinary, accept God-given limits as real freedom. Not what we often want to hear, and yet the doorway to truth, goodness, beauty, and the bracing love of life for which we most deeply long.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Work and Gender

bringing_home_the_bacon“Dad brings home the bacon and mom fries it up.”

That pretty much summarized how work and gender functioned in my family growing up in Youngstown. It was typical of many, though not true of all, and it became less the case over the years as many families felt it increasingly necessary to have both adults in wage-earning jobs.

Many of the blue-collar jobs of that time were thought to be too strenuous and dangerous for women, although then as now, one of the principle dangers was the men themselves as there was almost no protection against sexual harassment. Yet as time went by courageous or simply financially motivated women broke through in many of these male preserves.

My wife talks of employment options for women being fairly limited in terms of what was talked about in schools: secretaries, sales clerks, nurses, teachers, telephone operators being some of the leading ones. Men went to work in the mills, in machine shops, and if more educated, in management and more technical jobs. But for many families, when children came along, mom stayed home either by mutual choice, or sometimes, the husband’s choice. There was the expectation, sometimes resented, in many households that when the man came home, dinner would be on the table.

Work around the house tended to be divided up by gender, at least at our house. The guys primarily did the outside jobs — yard care, painting and maintenance, work on the cars, and some of the inside tasks like plumbing and carpentry. Most of the indoor work — cooking, cleaning, laundry was women’s work. Laundry was a job. My mom used to wash the clothes with a ringer washer by laundry tubs where they were rinsed and wrung out. I’ve heard of several women whose arms got mangled in those wringers. Then the clothes were hung on lines–we had them in our basement for cooler weather.

I think as kids we were fortunate to have a parent at home. It was a gift to be able to talk with mom about a bad day at school, or being made fun of, and then have someone get after you to do your homework! Only in later years did it begin to occur to us that it didn’t have to be mom. My dad worked hard, and he was decent with the people who worked with him, but he never was all that good in making any more than we needed to get by. Somehow, I suspect that mom would have been shrewder and better at this if she had the chance.

Some say World War II was the watershed opening the doors of women into the workforce. Both of our moms worked during the war–my mom as a telephone operator, and my wife’s mom as an aircraft inspector (she was still single at the time). But neither continued to work when family came along and my recollection was that most moms in the neighborhood were at home–if they weren’t volunteering at the school PTA.

Is it better today? In some ways certainly as many positions, even in the military have opened to women and progress has been made toward equal pay. There are still gaps, and the truth is that women still seem to bear the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities. Part of it is that I think we still, to some degree, question the manhood of men who aren’t “bringing home the bacon” and many employers still don’t give men who want to spend time caring for their kids much help with this.

I haven’t even talked about single parents. That’s not my experience but I can only imagine the challenges of being sole provider AND caring for one’s children. I’m amazed at those who do it so well.

One thing I know is that most people, men and women, worked hard in working class Youngstown. They bought houses, raised kids, and in some ways, built a city. We might see gender roles differently today and open opportunities for work for women and parenting for men that once weren’t considered. But nothing can take away from what our parents’ generation did.

What did you see in your experiences growing up of work and gender? 

Review: Leisure and Spirituality

Leisure and SpiritualityLeisure and Spirituality by Paul Heintzman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

Summary: This book explores the connection between leisure and spirituality from a Christian perspective, considering contemporary and classical concepts of leisure, the perspective on leisure we may gain from the Bible, and the author’s own synthesis and critique of leisure concepts, biblical material and contemporary research.

Leisure and spirituality. For some, the only relation between these two words is that of an oxymoron. And that may be our problem. Gordon Dahl, one of the early writers on leisure and play noted that most people, “tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.” Paul Heintzman, a leisure studies professor at the University of Ottawa, has given us a measured, clear and thoughtful assessment of the contemporary, classical, and biblical material related to these ideas along with findings from contemporary research in this field.

The book begins by exploring concepts of leisure and their contemporary expressions, outlining seven conceptions: leisure as a state of being, leisure as non-work activity, leisure as free time, leisure as a symbol of social class, leisure as a state of mind (flow experiences for example), feminist conceptions of leisure, and holistic leisure. He explores the history of the leisure concept which he sees expressed both in Greek and monastic Christian circles as contemplation, a state of being; and leisure as activity, the primary conception of leisure in the Reformation and Renaissance, conceiving of work as primary and leisure as restorative.

Heintzman turns to the biblical material beginning with the commands around sabbath and its support of an egalitarian view of life, a rhythm of work and rest, and qualitative renewal and celebration. He explores the use of “rest” in the Bible and finds again a qualitative emphasis on the enjoyment of peace, abundance, and freedom, centered around a secure relationship with God in Christ. He then considers other related words, most notably the use of schole’ in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 46:10, rendering it, as Josef Pieper did, “have leisure and know that I am God.” which certainly supports a contemplative notion of leisure. He also notes in Israel’s festivals a more active expression of leisure. He follows this with an exploration of work in the Bible and its relation to leisure.

In the concluding chapters of the book, he applies the biblical material to a critique of the different concepts of leisure, arguing for a holistic view that combines contemplative and active conceptions of leisure. He contends for an identity view with regard to a work-leisure ethic in which work and leisure are not fragmented into separate aspects of a life but experienced simultaneously by whole persons, where we “rest in our work”. He then turns to eight processes that have been found in research to enhance spirituality, considers how these help in coping with stress, and concludes with arguing for the mean found in the book of Ecclesiastes between hedonistic pleasure seeking and compulsive workaholism–the enjoyment of the goodness of our lives in rhythms of work and rest.

This is an important work in several ways. I did quite a bit of reading on the theology of work in the 1980s, covering the ground Heintzman covers. What I discovered, and Heintzman confirms in his literature review, is that little has been written in this area since then and so this book explores work, rest and leisure for a new generation. In addition, Heintzman gives us a thorough and clear overview of conceptions of leisure including those of Veblen on the leisure class, and feminist perspectives, that might not be as commonly considered. What I found most valuable, however, was the latter part of the book where Heintzman gives his own critique and synthesis of all this material. The eight practices he advocates out of his research may be helpful for those who engage in spiritual direction or retreat planning as well as those leading recreation programs, particularly in Christian settings. Many of us still struggle with reconciling the ideas of leisure and spirituality. After reading Heintzman’s book, these are a bit less of an oxymoron for me.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Vocational Blind Spot

Blind spot test

Blind spot test

At the conference I am attending on the academic vocation, we talked today about a blind spot that occurs in many faith communities. In many of these we look at vocation only in terms of religious vocations or applying to those involved in spiritual ministries.

What is striking is that many of the academics I know see their work as a spiritual calling but often fail to hear any affirmation of this either in their institutions or in their faith communities. And it is not just academics. I’ve know people in the world of business, law, medicine and other fields who see their work as integral to being faithful to a spiritual calling. Sometimes they have been highly successful and impactful in this work. Sadly, in many cases the only affirmation they receive in faith communities is for how much money they contribute, but not for the work they do.

It’s not limited to academics and professionals. I’ve know plumbers and carpenters and electricians and many others who view their work as being “for God.” They seek to do quality work, deal honestly, and serve their customers.

One of our speakers asked the question of what it would mean if we wouldn’t simply feature the people in ministries or religious vocations or trumpet the big donors, but also celebrate the engineers and plumbers, lawyers and electricians, and all the others who are conscientiously offering the gifts of their work to God.

The apostle Paul wrote an early group of Christians saying, “And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). My sense is that “whatever” encompasses anything not specifically prohibited by the scriptures.

What would it mean if we broadened our sense of calling to encompass “whatever”? What if we honored the intrinsic value of the work people do, and not just what it is “good for”? What if we started affirming the 40 or more hours a week people spent in their workplaces as mattering to God, and not just the few hours they gave to church activity?

What if?

On Liminal Space

One of the ways to impress friends (and maybe gain some sympathy if they understand you) is to say that you are in a “liminal space” in your life right now. I’ve come across this idea more and more in the past few years and particularly this week at the conference I am attending. A liminal space is the undefined boundary between two clearly defined spaces. The threshold to my house (the front stoop and entryway) is a liminal space between outdoors and the indoor living areas of my house.

In many instances, this term is used to describe a life transition. Pregnancy is a liminal space between just being a couple and being parents–between something that was familiar and something that will be totally new. It can be the space between losing a job and getting another one. It can be things like “mid-life”, that odd period somewhere in your forties where you realize you are no longer “young”, where you see changes in your body, and you are asking questions again of what’s it all about?

This is actually a good term for something my wife and I have been experiencing. This is the year we enter our seventh decade, complete with Golden Buckeye cards, courtesy of the State of Ohio. A number of our high school and college friends have already retired. While I’m not there yet, we’ve noticed some interesting changes and new questions we are asking.

For one thing, we are becoming far more ruthless in deaccumulating. I was cleaning out a desk we are preparing to sell and discovered old notebooks from seminary and college that I haven’t looked at in 30 to 40 years. And for the first time, I had the courage to say–I don’t need to keep this. I also recently got rid of several boxes of books I realized I either would never read or never look at again. And I feel like we are just getting started.

In my work I’ve found myself moving from simply thinking about my own goals and career development to nurturing these in younger colleagues. While I still have challenging assignments and great ministry opportunities among the students and faculty with whom I work I am thinking more and more about encouraging and empowering others and handing off to a new generation of people in our organization. I’m really not intimidated by that–I want what we are doing to outlast my working years. I find myself thinking more about not simply ending work at some point but wanting to finish well–something older workers don’t always do. In particular, I don’t want to be the old crank!

I’ve found we’ve begun pursuing more avidly interests we just couldn’t consider during the peak years of work and being parents. And so we go painting, take photographs, write blogs and sing music. We’ve learned you can audit courses for free at Ohio public universities when you are sixty and are thinking about this. Health permitting, we expect to have a life after work and it is interesting to begin cultivating what that might be and asking what that will look like.

One thing about liminal spaces is that one is going from high def to low def. I really don’t know what life after work entirely will be like. One of the things we learned today is that it is very tempting to rush the answers to these questions rather than to spend some time lingering with the questions, which often leads to greater self-understanding and better answers. Low def is uncomfortable yet it can be a place for growth.

One would think we’d have life figured out by this point. Wrong! We’ve never been to this part of life before, other than watching parents and older friends go through it. In my faith, we talk about growing in Christ-likeness, or as I like to speak of it, growing into our “size Jesus” clothes (thank you for that image, Andrea!). I’m so glad I still have opportunities to learn and grow, even if it means new questions and uncertainties. It seems to me the only alternative is stagnation, and to me that would be to die before I’m dead! Liminal space seem far better.

 

 

God at Play?

“Work that’s unrelated to want.” That’s how our pastor defined “play” in a message on “the Christian at play.” This sparked some thinking about what it was that God was doing in the “work” of creation. If this definition is accurate, God was in fact at play, because there was no want or necessity in God’s creation. God didn’t create because God “had to.” All this was done simply for God’s pleasure. In the old King James Version, Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

One gets a sense of God at play in making the creation. He says, “let’s do so and so” and it springs into existence, and then at the end of each day, he looks at this and says, “that was goo-ood!” (Bob’s paraphrase!). When he creates fish, he creates a bazillion different kinds. He doesn’t just make green, but an infinite variety of greens. And he gives human beings eyes that can distinguish those shades.

Was God at work or play in creation? Genesis 2:2 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” It sounds like God is in fact working, But then I notice the rest part. Was God wiped out from doing all this stuff? I don’t think so. Genesis says he “had finished”. One senses that God is admiring and delighting in what God had done–savoring the delight of making and the things made. Was God at work or play in creation? I think the answer is “yes”.

Rich’s definition explores the paradox that often play involves this intense investment of energy that we might be tempted to call work. Likewise, aren’t there times when the work we do that is related to want ceases to be labor and seems to be play? I often describe the joy I have in setting foot on the campus where I work as “feeling like a kid in a candy shop who just received his allowance”!

Sometimes, people think that work was “the curse” or part of the curse of the fall of Adam and Eve. I’ve often taught that work existed prior to the fall (see Genesis 2:15) and that work simply became toilsome and a necessity in consequence of the fall (see Genesis 3:17-19). What the message makes me think about is that there was a connection between work and play that was damaged along with the connections between God, people, and the creation. Work becomes this survival necessity that is often laborious but sometimes still has glimmers of play. Play gets relegated to a “carve out” in our days, or something we live for on the weekends. Sometimes it becomes an obsession and we literally work at our play.

Perhaps then, “playing together”, which is something Rich suggests should be part of the life of our community, is a way of celebrating “the new creation”, the ways Jesus is restoring all the connections severed in the garden. Playing together isn’t just a bonding, fellowship activity (nice churchy words!). It looks forward to the fulfillment of new creation–the new heaven and earth that exceeds our wildest dreams of all that is good and true and beautiful. Maybe Euchre Tournaments really are a taste of heaven!

This blog also appears at our church’s blog page: Going Deeper.

Review: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you think might happen if you could persuade those who follow Christ to give 40 to 60 hours of their best time to the advance of God’s purposes in the world? That is what Timothy Keller wants to do in his book Every Good Endeavor. The subtitle of his book is “Connecting Your Work to God’s Work” and what he wants to do is help us understand how work is integral to what it means to be made in the image of God. Work is not “the curse”, although human rebellion against God manifests itself in work that can be difficult, conflictual or even futile. Yet the work of Christ is to bring “new creation” even into our work. That, in a nutshell, is the outline of the book.

What makes this such a helpful book is the combination of theology carefully developed from the biblical text interlaced with wonderful illustrations of these truths from both the worlds of literature and the arts (I loved his examples of Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” and of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme),and from the business and professional world.

Among the chapters in this book, I found several I particularly appreciated. His exploration of “work as cultivation” explored the idea of work’s intrinsic value as a culture-making activity. So often, I’ve been in circles that treat work as an evil necessity that must be gotten out of the way to get to more “spiritual” pursuits. Keller demonstrates how this is a Greek, rather than Christian ideal. He also explores how work reveals our idols, whether we come from traditional, modern, or post-modern settings. Finally, I found his chapter “A New Power for Work” to be encouraging both for it recognition of the work of God’s Spirit empowering our work and igniting our passion, and the important place of rest or sabbath, in our life rhythms of work and rest.

The book is co-authored with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, director of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York’s Center for Faith and Work. The book concludes with a description of this center’s work in the field of marketplace discipleship that could be a model for other churches committed to releasing the energies and gifting of their people in the area of life to which they probably give more of their waking hours than any other, their work.

View all my reviews

Related posts:

A Love Supreme

Unfinished Work