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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus and work, Part II

Economists these days are noticing there are two basic types of work:
1) the kind that can be done anywhere and have no regression of quality
2) the kind that requires a physical presence.
I like to think of it in terms of my friends who are electrical engineers and those who are electricians. In planning and designing electrical systems, all you need is a computer, and that computer can be anywhere, anyplace, and even anytime. But if a wire breaks, you need someone to show up right here, right now.

Work,as understood throughout most of the Bible, consisted of the "physical presence" kind. Even the high-end managerial jobs of Peter and James, or Abraham all involved their presence in the boat or on the range. Abraham had no way to remote in the feeding and pasture schedules for the upcoming week. Peter had to be on the boat to tell the guys where to fish. Consequently, with this underlying assumption about work running throughout the Bible, the Christian Church has built up a rather convoluted understanding of work, and one that for many people is simply outdated in a wireless world.

The Christian Church (most famously in Jean Calvin and his secular propagandist Max Weber--but all Christian traditions hold similar views of work) understands work as that which God gave us to take care of God's creation. That's all work is meant to do in the Bible. Anything else will just kill you. Because of this understanding of work (i.e., taking care of God's creation), it generally receives pretty positive responses throughout history. (I am willing to admit that the Adam and Eve story is a bit ambiguous about work, but the Christian tradition has long since smoothed the edges off that one!)

So, in that vein of thought, how does working at the call center for Iphone problems take care of God's creation? More to the point, especially for work done by those outside of the Christian tradition, how do we respect our God in the work we do? The usual response to such a question is to make it individual and personal. So helping a person with an Iphone problem is what God wants us to to...help people, and in this case, help them with their phone. But is that all work is about? Helping people?

Those of you who know me know I have no great love of work. In the movie "Some Come Running," Dean Martin, a gambler, says "My Dad gambled every day. He called it farming. I prefer to do mine indoors." That has always struck me as a reasonable position. Consequently, as a gambler, I have no great love of work.

But when I do work, do I work to help people? As a teacher, pastor, writer, I guess I suppose I want my students, parishioners, and readers to be helped...but is that why I write or talk or teach? No...for me, work is about trying to understand my world, to get at what God is trying to do, or how this story shows God's vision for us; or, even, how your problems can illuminate solutions to mine.

I think that is where Jesus was going with his understanding of work. Work is part of who we are, and how we discern who we are and what we do in the world. In some ways Jesus was working all the time, and in that regard, his death was not some "sacrifice" for our sins, but rather the culmination of a job well done.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Work and Jesus

One of the funniest things I've ever had happen in one of my classes was when I was making an argument that Jesus, looking from a purely pragmatic standpoint, really didn't do anything. I admitted he healed some folks, talked a lot, and made sure people got fed, but as far as we know he never really did anything. Did he cook? Build? (Some people assume Jesus was a carpenter because his Dad was one, but that's just an assumption. He could have also been a priest in the temple, as he seems to be in the Gospel of John, but that's just an assumption too.) But the gospels don't say Jesus did much of what we think of as "work."

Anyhow, one of my students (from Liberia, and this is not a trivial detail), went into some kind of stupor at the suggestion that Jesus didn't do anything. He was beyond flabergasted. I've had people look at me before as if I'm from another planet, but his look at me went intergalatic. I think, he said "You are crazy." (Which is probably also the truest thing a student has ever said of me.)

As you, loyal and gentle reader realize, I was playing off the idea of what constitutes "work" in our current society. "Work" has to have some kind of end-product, especially if remuneration requires billable hours. If there is nothing to show for, how is work done? So we strive to show our work (sort of like 7th grade math class) so that people know we "did" something. Since Jesus never wanted to show his work, and there is little record of him doing so, it is quite possible that he "did" nothing. That is my point.

And of course my Liberian student grew up in a world where you never had to show your work in order to prove you did something. Therefore, he could not understand in any appreciable way what I was hinting at, although he got the point better than some of my USA educated students. If "work" is defined only by what you produce that is verifiable or empirical or observable, then work can only kill you. But if "work" is defined in another way...well, you may just survive it. I think that's the work Jesus was trying to do.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.