zooming out

Or, Join Me in Big-Picture Abstract-Land, Where I Always Have One Foot Anyway.

This week’s blog series about work has been my final project for a class, in lieu of a research paper. I had a few research ideas, but I felt restless about settling down to dig deep into one (which is really unusual for me), and I wanted so much to talk about this down-to-earth subject in a more down-to-earth way. As a bunch of individual posts, they’re fine, but as a series and as a final project I still feel a bit of a need to defend my scattershot approach and connect them all here.

Most basically, I wanted to throw out some ideas in hopes of starting a conversation, from one angle or another, about the meaning of work for Christians. Work is one of those subjects that can reveal on the ground what we really believe about things like money, time, community, inequality, the value of culture, the value of humans, what we should and shouldn’t make sacrifices for as individuals and as societies. Whether we’re talking labor politics, employing a lawnmowing kid or a church staff member, choosing whether to accept extra hours or promotions at our own jobs, debating the value of a college degree, making a meal for a new mother, or contemplating retirement, we take all sorts of our own values, needs, and desires into account along with cultural realities and assumptions. But work is such a pervasive part of life, our attitudes about it so inherited and enmeshed, we rarely take a step back to look at those premises: what is an acceptable amount of vacation time, after all? What do I mean when I say “the satisfaction of a job well done?” What makes my own time worth the amount I’m paid for it? Why do we pay people like childcare and hospice workers – the people to whom we entrust our most precious and vulnerable loved ones – so very little for such exhausting and thankless work?

Personally, I suppose that in many ways the fascination goes back to my slightly defensive post about my own vocation to the Christian life. I still think that dithering about vocation with regards to career is mostly just a refuge for people overwhelmed by the privilege of having plenty of choices, causing them to miss the “Love God, Love your Neighbor” forest for the tiresome “But Who am I Really?” tree. But as much as I don’t want to take myself too seriously, I am still someone who does have all of these choices in things big (where to live) and small (which chocolate to buy), and I find I must take the choices seriously. My own life is so insistently intertwined with the rest of the world’s, the one choice that seems closed to me is indifference.

What I mean to say is that, amidst a larger unanswered question about the significance of my having money, choices, family, health where others don’t, the question of how to leverage these for love and for justice remains. Often I think I should become a subsistence farmer and stay, literally and figuratively, out of other people’s business. Other times I think I should go into politics or business and get myself allllllllll up in other people’s lives. Most of the time I think what I wrote in that post – that it’s important to live simply and love others and listen for the voice of God wherever I find myself. Perhaps some extraordinary call will come to me someday. Or perhaps I have already, unknowingly, done the most significant act of good I’ll ever do, something small that will have an undetectable butterfly effect of earth-shattering or earth-saving proportions.

In the meantime, I think my questions about work tend to distill down into a question that is at the heart of our understandings of justice and love, with regards to any issue: What is enough? With how much should one be content, rather than greedy; for how much should one be hopeful, even demanding, rather than complacent?

How many choices are enough? How much money is enough? How much leisure is enough? When is a job purposeful enough? And deep in my well-intentioned, needy beating heart: When have I done enough?

I think that God is enough. Really, I do, however silly and naive that may sound. I believe that God works miracles big and small, making profundity out of housework, making feasts out of loaves, making humble and generous believers out of Scrooges. And I believe that through Jesus Christ, God comforts the dead and the mourning, and makes all things new.

Yet God sees fit to make requirements of us. To do justice, paying employees a fair wage, removing ex-felons’ barriers to work, making possible the celebration of Sabbath for all. To love mercy, giving without question and assuming the best of even our enemies.

And to walk humbly. To take our Sabbath rest and learn again that we are not so important. To give thanks for what we have when we wish that it were more. To give thanks for what others have when it doesn’t seem fair. To work in the kitchen when we’d rather be up front, and to give our sermon or song when it would be easier to hide from criticism. Whatever our work is, day by day, to offer our best to God and be held by the knowledge that God treasures even gifts that seem small –

That is enough.

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