What is Work For?

John Van Sloten penned some thoughts the other day on work, and particularly, the question of working for the common good. He finds that unsatisfactory. In contrast he wants to turn in another discussion

What I’m saying is that all of our good works must be born out of a more gracious starting point, from a place where we intimately know and experience the person of God. This can take place on the job, through those amazing, just-right, this-is-what-I’m-made-for, caught-up-in-the-flow vocational moments.

For want of a better term, this seems to be something of an aesthetic vision, an anchoring our work in worship as it were. However, that seems to be confusing what is meant by “work.” Why should it be restricted to the commercial, pay-for-effort variety? And should it be framed  in terms of co-working with God? Wouldn’t a better biblical metaphor be that of gifts? Some gifts are great and glorious (in worldly eyes), some not; some gifts are used well, some in mediocre fashion, etc.

And as to this business of working for the common good — isn’t that what Paul tells us to do (Gal 6:10)? It’s not a big thing, it’s looking, asking, helping. It’s my words, my hands, my effort that somehow in that, my neighbor sees something of God’s goodness peeking through.

Insourcing and the Spirit

David Gruesel brings an interesting comparison between the return of insourcing and our spiritual life.

What Foster and Willard (and others) have helped us to realize is that our bodies can cooperate in our spiritual development, or be a hindrance to it. Renewed interest in spiritual disciplines like fasting, daily prayer and service has helped reconnect our bodies to our beliefs in the same way that insourcing has helped GE reconnect manufacturing know how with its design and marketing expertise.

While I have little to say about embodiment, particularly in the time of Advent, nonetheless, I think we may be missing  the point of the return of manufacturing. What is returning is the knowledge gained by practice. It’s not only that one can make the product faster but that the firm also adds an internal capacity of understanding the nature of the problems. I would suggest that the Christian analog to this is the work of mission.

The congregation (and individuals) often out-source their mission and discipleship. some one else does, not me, as it were. The way to grow in Christian life is to engage in the work of discipleship and mission. And that means more than my devotion to spiritual disciplines and my private growth. I learn by doing, by engaging this world, by the practice of listening and doing.

It’s not a program, it’s a process. It’s social; it’s congregational. Like a Body.

Blame the Culture War?

Think Christian points to a Capital Commentary from Michael Gerson, and asks, “How can Christians rise above political polarization? ”

The appropriate Gerson comment is this:

“(partisanship) turns near every political disagreement into a culture war debate, making social compromise far more difficult. “

That’s the issue, it would seem. How do you unwind the cultural war?

No matter how much Matthew Anderson wants to play it down, the point of the cultural war was to weight political decisions with values, such that the usual pragmatic concerns, those that split the difference, could not be acted on. This weighing of political discussion with values, where nominal decisions become freighted with (eternal) significance is the product out of any number of religious disputes. It is peculiarly the creature of American church conflict and its myriad of self-differentiating sects, and of American culture’s natural bent towards an individualism. So the same tactics, the same type of over-the-top invective so useful for (religious) product differentiation, becomes the stuff of the every political task.

But in one sense we are at the end of the cultural wars. The great clarification, the sorting in the Protestant church and in the political sphere, both sides have seized their appropriate ground. So as long as you keep going to the cultural war well, you end up with the same stalemate.

The stalemate is a trap. It’s very frustration, it’s deadlocking encourages participants to the path of power, to basically forcing the issue by might. For Christians that is a trap since it trades short term success for long term disability in the public sphere. (Win and the losers resent, lose and the winners discount your belief. Lose-lose either way).

Gerson gets the point that maybe we need to move sideways. Talk about Africa, say. As part of that, one must necessarily also die to self. We need a new vision of what it means to serve God in this world other than that conventionally political one which the cultural wars have brought us.

Hospitality and Grace

In the  third of a series Glenn Goodfellow considers the cost of exclusion when it comes to gays in the church. The article then asks

If someone in your family was gay, how would you want your church to nurture their faith?

Were some one in my family gay? I would start with hospitality. I would want to set the table and make sure that he or she is always welcome. Always.

At church, I would make sure there is always a place at the potluck. I would sing together. Pray together. And because I’m not ordained, I would break off the bread and give it and say, “this is Christ’s body broken for you.”

A model that shuts people out or hardens hearts is not the stuff of Grace. Rather, we need the wisdom to let tares and wheat grow; to nurture the wheat, in full confidence that at the Last Day, goodness and delight win, and the weeds fall away.

Listening to the Day of Silence

In Why Christians should support the Day of Silence, Neil de Koning starts the conversation

How should Christians respond to April 20’s Day of Silence, a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools?

The focus on bullying is something of a distraction, at least in the high school where I coach. The kids who will participate will be the gays and kids from same-sex households, but also their straight friends. Day of Silence is less about bullying than about solidarity and standing with your friends. And that, I would think,  is where Christian reflection might best begin.

It starts with presence. After all, you really cannot do anything until you’re there with them, alongside them and in the halls. And if we aren’t already in the school (and many Reformed Christians are not) then any response on Day of Silence will be at arm’s length. It will seem contrived. Or worse there will be some sort of counter narrative, one that creates gaps rather than bridge them (e.g. Day of Dialogue from Focus on the Family)

And then there is hospitality. Day of Silence is an invitation to create a welcoming space. The t-shirt and duct tape will be an act of identity, a force of our gaze. As such it is clearly political (i.e. “some folks don’t like us; tough”), and also has that edge of dare: do you, will you accept me? For me, the question will be how do I accept this gift of self-identification?

I think what I will reflect on most will be how these are kids who are deeply, deeply loved.

Witness while you work

Brian Atkinson asks

What are appropriate ways to share your faith at work?

He suggests four ways: know your audience, know your Gospel, know how to love, and know who needs  to repent.

I can think of another.

The missing biblical  aspect is simply to know your job. We are known (and trusted) by how we live publicly, that is what gives warrant to our convictions and testimony. They know us first, trust us, then listen to us.

As to the Coppedge case, it appears that he had been outspoken in ways that created distance between himself and his colleagues (e.g. rename the holiday party a Christmas party, vocal in defense of Prop 8). It’s this aspect that others should follow, this aspect of advocating derivative Christian positions as it were, that creates the distance and has others not trusting, not wiling to listen. In a workplace, task focus is important.  The workplace is a community, and in that community we witness differently than we do in other aspects of our lives.