Work & The American Workplace

I’ve been thinking through the idea of a theology of work this week, and reading some interesting stuff on it. Work in the Spirit by Miroslav Volf is a dense attempt at a theology of work. Volf is brilliant in this book & I’ve not given it the time it deserves. I’ve also been reading again in Norm Wirzba’s book Living the Sabbath. He’s got a wonderful chapter in there on work.

I’m reminded that our work is meant to serve the new creation somehow – that our VOCATION as human beings must transcend our CAREER. But the careerism of our culture is very powerful & deceiving. Careerism is a false god that we worship to keep ourselves distracted from the fact that much of the way we work is essentially slavery. When work becomes careerism, its divine dimension is cut off, and God’s intention for work is forever distorted and twisted. The end result is that work becomes much more like slavery than freedom.

God is a worker. God has created us for work and we hold work in common with God. Work was meant for freedom, not for slavery. Work, as Wirzba points out, is a point of contact between us and God, it’s supposed to be a place of connection, meaning, and spirituality.

As a pastor I’m reminded of how often I have conversations with people about their jobs. It is a tricky thing to try and attach some kind of New Creation meaning to some of the jobs we have chosen (or which have chosen us). And when we work at a soul-killing job day in and day out, it does real damage. If we go to work thinking, “I’ve just got to get through this day,” we are training ourselves to live our whole lives this way. Pretty soon we’ll be thinking “I’ve just got to get through this life,” and that the real meaningful part of existence comes later. This devalues all of life. Work was meant for so much more than that.

How does your work fit with the new creation? Does it fit? Does it need to change in order to fit? Or do you just need to stop choosing slavery over freedom. You are free to work. You are free to work – in America – at just about anything you’d like to work at. You are not a slave, you are free! A life that is career focused is a life that is self-focused. A life that is work focused has to potential to be world-focused – if only we can draw a line between the work we do, and the New Creation. Learning to draw the line is a process and it doesn’t come without some struggle, but it must come.

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