Having spent last week in at a conference in San Diego, I was struck by how cool it was to come to my room each afternoon and find that someone had made my bed. This someone (I met her) was hard working, knew more languages than me, and was terribly polite – possibly even more polite than some of the conference speakers and attendees. I appreciated her acts of service, and wondered if she could live on what she was getting paid.
This morning I woke up and remembered that I’d need to make my own bed. Then, on the stairmaster, I heard about Ryan Howard’s five year contract extension to the tune of 25 million per year. He’s not providing a cure for cancer, or world hunger. He’s not healing people or playing an integral or even peripheral role in creating a more peaceful world. He gets all these dollars for playing baseball. Meanwhile, I recently met a rural Montana school teacher whose salary is less than 18 thousand a year, and know pastors who barely get by, while Goldman Sachs brokers and execs bet on the housing bubble and walk away with millions. It all feels so wrong somehow, don’t you agree?
These blatant examples of misguided values and ethics have me pondering how we navigate the culture pressures regarding money and employment so that we can live whole and meaningful lives, and as I ponder this I realize that we have very few conversation about what God says regarding work. Here are some thoughts:
1. Work is part of the reality of creation, not a result of the fall. From the very beginning, we see that God worked, and that we, created in his image, were given work as a gift. Trying to live a life void of work is foolish, and I perhaps think this includes the goal of amassing great wealth, whether by playing baseball or trading derivatives, in hopes of saying, “I have need of nothing….” Let’s make peace with the notion of work as a gift.
2. The best work is creative work. This doesn’t necessarily mean artistic work though that surely counts. It means that good work contributes to bringing order out of chaos. This could mean healing a body or mind (health care workers), keeping a city clean (waste management), creating beautiful and tasteful meals (food service), better ways to communicate (IT), helping children reach their potential (education), or cleaning diapers (moms, dads, at home) — there’s a great deal to do in this world that adds value by bringing order.
3. The dichotomy between blue and white collars isn’t God’s idea. It stems more from Greek narratives and the dualism of Plato, which roughly said: “soil bad”, “soul good”, and thus elevated philosophy over farming. The back lash to this, of course, came with Marx, and his elevation of the “worker”, but his ideas were reactionary, and always ended up with a reverse of Plato’s dualism, which is why when communism spreads, it’s the educated people that are imprisoned and executed. God’s way is to say that all this labor has value, and we should dignify one another by affirming and encouraging all gifts – house cleaners, maids, cooks, doctors, teachers, farmers, garbage collectors, soldiers, even pastors.
4. We enjoy our work best when we’ve discovered how we’re wired, and are operating in accordance with that wiring. This is what we mean by “calling”, and the good news is that everyone’s wired for something. I’d suggest that making millions, thousands, or hundreds, needs to be way at the back of the line among considerations when we’re making decision about where to invest the best hours of our day and the best days of our lives – instead the question should be: have I found my calling?
Please share some thoughts about calling and work: Are our cultural values skewed? How can we realign them? What has helped or hindered you as you seek to find your calling?