On Work and Charlie

disability

Let me tell you about Charlie.

I work in one of the busiest parts of the city of Boston. From tourists with money to spend to homeless without money, this area sees it all. There are the wealthy and the poor, the able and the lame, the seeing and the blind, the casual dresser and the sophisticated business woman.

And there is Charlie.

Charlie is completely wheelchair bound with a body that won’t do what he wants. He is dependent on people for all activities of daily living. His motorized wheelchair allows him to push some buttons and go short distances, but otherwise his chair and his body are prisons. A black bag across the back of the wheelchair holds his supplies for the day – water, a thermos of coffee, a small radio – he is in his own words a “purveyor of un-cool music.” Charlie is difficult to understand, but if you really listen he’s got a great sense of humor and a strong personality.

I first saw Charlie in a church we used to attend downtown. There he was, every Sunday at the end of the aisle. It was a later on that I realized he must live in the area because beginning with the first warm days of spring through the fall, in rain or shine, Charlie is outside. He is the eyes and ears of the area, taking in far more than anyone imagines.

The Charlies of our world make us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to interact or what to say. We feel guilty that we can’t do more and it is so easy to walk by. And Charlie can’t work. There is nothing he can do to be what our society deems as “productive.” Absolutely nothing. But he shows up, he is not despairing, he communicates as he is able and when people will listen.

So when I think about work, value, productivity, and cultural beliefs about work I can’t help but think about Charlie. When I think about a theology of work, Charlie looms ever-important.

Because if work is what gives us our only value than Charlie has no value. If work and salaries are what a society has held up as the only standard, than we must discard many in our world. More so, if this is all we have than we’ve nowhere to go but down hill.

In a sermon on work Tim Keller, a pastor at a large church in New York City says (and I paraphrase) this: When you understand the gospel, a gospel of grace you can rest from the need to find yourself in your work, rest from the need to have your sole identity and your soul’s identity be in your work. If you don’t, he warns, you will work yourself to death or become cynical. Our work is to be for God, for others, for our community. It is an expression of the energy and creativity of our Creator.

And it hit me yesterday as I saw Charlie – my work is for Charlie. Not directly, but indirectly. Being faithful to what God has given me, to where God has gifted me, honors the Charlies of our world; those who would give much to be whole, who would give anything to have Jesus come by their side and say “Pick up your mat and walk – go to work – go and do what you’ve never been able to do.” My work is part of the bigger story in our world – and that is God’s story. Not my story, not Charlie’s story, not your story.

Not only that, Charlie unknowingly serves as my teacher; a guide to what is really valuable in life and a representative of something bigger than I can really understand. And that is our personhood, the fact that we have value because we exist and are made by God. There is nothing else that truly gives us value. 

So today I work for God and for Charlie, and I’ll learn from God and from Charlie. Tomorrow I’ll struggle again – I know that. And in writing tomorrow I’ll work through some of the third culture kid struggle with 9-5 jobs and fitting into a western societal mold. But for today I pray I will honor the Charlies of our world by working where God has placed me.

I loved the comments from yesterday’s post – both on the blog and on the Facebook page. There was so much wisdom in them. Here are a few excerpts but head over to the post to read the full comments:

From Sharon: “I have always believed there is a dignity to work. As we seek to reflect God in all ways, we can’t ignore that our God is a creative, active God. Work is only “one” of the ways we are active. It can be drudgery or delight less by what the actual work is but more so what we bring to it.”

From Maureen: “We are told in Genesis essentially to work our garden, in spite of the weeds which will we will have to constantly remove—a highly repetetive and discouraging but necessary task. For most of us, working is in itself a pleasure, as long as we can imagine the final product coming: the fruit of our labor. When our work flows, when we see the light in a studen’ts eye, when a sick person recovers, we feel content and everything seems right with the world. When we hit snags, peope are unresponsive or deliberately obstructive, schedules stress or patients worsen, the weeds are winning, and work chokes our spirits.”

What about you? What are your thoughts on your work being part of a bigger story? On your work being partly for the Charlies of our world? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/disability-rehabilitation-wheelchair-224130/

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On Work – What it Means, Why it Matters

work

“We live within two worlds, the covenantal cosmos of God and the pluralizing, secularizing, globalizing world of the 21st-century. How do we hold them together with any kind of coherence? All of us live within both worlds; we are called to live between these worlds. And in that there is a tension for all of us. Sometimes it seems that we are stretched beyond what we can bear– and sometimes, sometimes we find ways to hold onto our integrity and still live, with faith and hope and love?” from Dr. Steve Garber at Commencement Address – Covenant Seminary St. Louis

It’s Monday and though I want to be a world changer, I find myself once again in a place where I have to fight to keep my spirit alive, where I have to continually remind myself that there is more to life than this. When a war in Gaza is raging and Syria is put on the back burner I struggle to find lasting value where I sit, a window to my back that faces a grim city parking lot. I am cocooned in this space, while a bigger world is in pain. But I’m not growing into a butterfly in this cocoon – I’m smothering.

If you have followed Communicating Across Boundaries for a while this will not surprise you. It’s no secret that I find Mondays difficult. If you track my Monday posts, as one reader did, you see this struggle emerge through my writing. A “bench to bedside” struggle to translate my Sunday rest into my Monday work. What does it mean to live in my world as a person of faith? What does, or should work mean in this context?

Others have written well about a ‘theology of work.’ and I’m wrestling with this myself. What does it mean to have a theology of work? What does it mean to covenant with God around work? How can I see my work, but also the work of others as valuable, no matter what it is? Dorothy Sayers has written a 12-page essay called “Why Work?” I haven’t read all of it. Maybe it’s too long, maybe it’s too convicting. I don’t know but I haven’t read it. But I do know that when she wrote this essay she believed strongly that people were “dying because they don’t have the Biblical doctrine of work.” Tim Keller paraphrases Dorothy Sayers in a sermon on work by saying “Work is the gracious expression of creative energy in the service of others.”

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell is challenged by his sister to stop running, to pursue a higher goal, better things. Eric on the other hand believes that he’s been given a gift and that to not use this gift would dishonor God.

In a response made famous through this Oscar-winning movie, Eric looks at his sister Jenny and says“I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” 

I envy this response and I struggle as I think about this. Do I feel God’s pleasure when I work? Because I am struggling with this today I plan to focus on it in the next couple days in my writing. But for now – I want to ask you: What is work to you? Is it something you do so the rest of your life can happen? Do you have a vocation or is work drudgery? Do you count the seconds until the weekend or do you make the seconds at your job count? None of this is to cause guilt – I really want a discussion here because I struggle with this. Do you believe that work should be “the gracious expression of creative energy in service of others?” 

Do you, like Eric Liddell, feel “God’s pleasure” when you work? 

I look forward to today’s conversation!

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/office-keyboard-job-work-381228/

Buy Between Worlds today! Head to Amazon or Barnes & Noble for your copy! 

How Do I Live out Sunday Rest in my Monday Chaos?

With the sweet taste of communion bread still on my tongue I curse Monday morning. How can this be? How can I so quickly forget Sunday’s rest and grace as I step into the day after?

There is always a Monday after. It might not be the literal day, but there is always a Monday after. Whether it be a big event, a transformative experience, a high from a retreat – reality comes after with its sharp teeth and caustic tongue.

What use is Sunday if it doesn’t translate to Monday morning? 

If my calling ignores Mondays then it is of little use. If the clarity of Sunday cannot be applied to the muddy waters of Monday then how can I live effectively?

In a book called Finding Calcutta, the author Mary Poplin, takes a journey to Calcutta to work with Mother Theresa for two months. Through service she discovers a Christianity that she had never experienced before and her heart is changed. But her struggle comes with finding her own Calcutta once she is back in the United States. How can this experience be translated into her work? Her life? She is at a university, not in the slums; surrounded by grey cells and academics, not by nuns; committed to students and learning, not the poor and starving. Yet she was called to apply the same principles to her work that Mother Theresa applied in her calling by God to the poor. Mary was called to translate her Sunday moments into her Monday work.

Memorial plaque dedicated to Mother Teresa by ...

“Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are. . . . You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see.” –Mother Teresa

I don’t know much today – but I know I am called to translate Sunday into Monday – I am called to remember the sweet taste of communion bread, the body and the blood, as I move forward into the work of today. I am called to seek God in the details, to understand that nothing is beyond the redemptive work of God, to ‘find the sick, suffering, and lonely’ hidden behind grey government cubicles, to live out Sunday in this Monday.

How do you live out Sunday rest in your Monday chaos?

Happily Non-essential!

Hurricane Sandy has taken the news captive. Judging by the amount of attention and panic this hurricane has caused I’m waiting for it to be called either a right or a left wing conspiracy, designed specifically to take the focus away from the looming election onto the weather.

This storm has again reminded me that Americans know more about the weather than they do their neighbors. It’s a sad commentary as it is weather crises that often bring neighbors together.

As for me – while the hurricane is raging blowing leaves outside, I am happily sipping a homemade pumpkin latte on my couch and waiting for pumpkin, cranberry scones to finish baking. I am not in my usual Monday morning cubicle going through emails and arranging and rearranging my week.

I got the text saying I would not have work yesterday afternoon. “Did you hear the Governor called a State of Emergency? All non-essential workers are to stay home” I knew immediately that it meant me! I’m not essential.

In a world that fights to be known, to be valued, to be essential, I get to be non!

I’ve never been so happy to be non-essential. Because of a storm, I am non-essential.

It struck me as ironic. It is a human trait to want to be known, needed, useful. We seek out affirmation in a myriad of ways. Yet on a Monday morning in the middle of a rushed world, to be called non-essential was a gift.

Being non-essential means I get to bake scones and write blogs; make soup and read; talk to my mom and catch up with my kids. Being non-essential means I can do the things that are so much more gratifying and long-term important than what I do on a regular schedule.

Being non-essential means I get to leave the necessary and catch up with the important — the stuff that lasts.

For if I’m honest what I do in my job will probably not last to the next decade, let alone the next century. But all this other stuff? That’s what really feels important to me.

I’ve never felt more essential then when deemed non…..

How about you? Have you had a time when you’ve been able to leave the necessary and focus on the important? Would love to hear through the comments.

Control+Alt+Delete and God Loveth Adverbs

I sit down at my desk and my fingers automatically reach for the keyboard. I know the keys by heart. In less than a second a screen comes to life. Control+Alt+Delete has done it again. Those three keys have started my day.

It’s my first task and today it gets me. Today I feel I will suffocate in the mundane.The dishes that pile up; clean, full of food, empty, dirty. The laundry that was just done the other day; now dirty and beginning to smell. The emails that seem so trivial; check on this,analyze that, don’t forget the other. The mundane crowds my world.

And I who long to do the sacred, to reflect the heavenly, feel madness in the mundane. I feel grumpy and irreverent. On my short commute I called two people idiots (under my breath, but idiots all the same). I gave someone the Boston stink eye“She gave it to me first!” I silently rationalized. I chose a different way to walk to work, just because I saw a mundane someone I knew and didn’t want a mundane conversation; a “Hi how are you doesn’t Monday suck?” conversation.

The dictionary confirms that I am caught in the mundane. The “Relating to, characteristic of, or concerned with commonplaces; ordinary.” 

Can I have faith that the mundane matters? 

Faith that the mundane matters in this building made of concrete, steel and glass? Faith that control+alt+delete is more than turning on my computer; that the mere act is faithful? That getting up and showering, moving forward when I don’t want to can somehow be turned around, redeemed?

Truth is most of life is lived in the ordinary. I have heard that the Puritans had a saying “God Loveth Adverbs”. In a chapter title by the same name, Philip Yancey in his book Rumors, explores the meaning of this saying. He says it implies “that God cares more about the spirit in which we live than the concrete results”  He goes on to say:

“whether cleaning house or preaching sermons, shoeing horses or translating the Bible….any human activity may constitute an offering to God.”

It is a profound chapter and I’m reminded of it this morning. If God loveth adverbs, then surely control+alt+delete is not out of the bounds of his redemptive power. All these tasks are part of the whole.

Through control+alt+delete I am connected to a breast cancer survivor who is passionate about serving her community by bringing awareness of the disease and availability of early screening; through control+alt+delete I learn of a colleague who isn’t well; through control+alt+delete I am connected to the world both inside and beyond my building, a world that is loved so deeply by God.

And how much of this is God molding me daily to show His character even in the mundane? To learn that the person I just called an idiot is a man, made in the image of God; to understand more of what can come about through ordinary conversations with the woman I avoided.

Surely if God loveth the adverb than he loveth control+alt+delete. As the screen flickers, as if nodding an inanimate head in agreement, I sigh a silent prayer – that the God who delights in showing how the ordinary can connect to the extraordinary will delight in redeeming my Monday mundane. 

A Tree Grows in Kenya

‘Tis the season of wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift cards. It is a season marked by 450 Billion dollars in spending, rum infused eggnog, and massive returns the day after Christmas. It is a season of glittering lights that bring a sense of magic, and deep depression as demonstrated by the increased number of therapy visits during holiday seasons.

This is Christmas. Advent is a different story altogether. Advent is expectation and longing, hope and joy. In the spirit of Advent I want to highlight a way to give that may not reflect the material things of Christmas but reflects Advent beautifully.

It’s bigger than a breadbasket, costs less money than a gift card, and is longer lasting and more valuable than a diamond ring. It is half a world away, but you see one every day. It is simultaneously exotic and practical. It is giving at it’s best. It’s a tree in Kenya!

In my post In Praise of Green Space I contrasted the beautiful green space of London with the absence of green space in Cairo or Karachi. I highlighted my brother Ed’s work at Care of Creation and his love and promotion of green space.  It is in the country of Kenya where the work of Care of Creation began, through the vision of a man name Craig Sorley and my brother, Ed Brown. Sorley is an environmentalist and was featured in Time Magazine in 2008 as a hero of the environment. Both Craig and Ed have an urgent and compelling message, that of caring for our earth, our world. They believe there is a direct call to care for creation  based on God’s clear love of creation as evidenced in the Bible.  Once people catch a vision of caring for the earth, the call is for direct action around planting trees, harvesting water, and farming land. You can read a far better description of the work of Care of Creation here but I want to highlight the planting trees part of the action.

Staff at tree planting workshop

Ten trees can be given for only $12.50. So little for so much. $12.50 for a legacy of trees, a solution to what is described by Care of Creation as “rampant deforestation, leading to droughts, floods, soil erosion and increased human poverty and hardship, as well as loss of habitat for animals and birds.” And planting trees is part of the solution to what has become a huge problem.

A tree grows in Kenya – a tree grows and a forest is rebuilt. A tree grows and land is replenished. A tree grows and a family has an occupation. A tree grows and a world is changed.

So this Advent season, if you want to do something a little different, remember that a tree grows in Kenya.

Here is information on how to give trees this Advent season: PLANT TREES IN KENYA. Remember: 10 trees for $12.50! You can even add a gift card! For some remarkable pictures take a look here.

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“Does it Even Matter?”

These were the words I asked my husband as we ended the week on Friday and moved into the weekend. Does my job even matter? Am I doing anything that has eternal value? Is it just a waste? I was questioning everything I was doing.

Cliff paused before he answered …. we are a family that rarely pauses. And then he said “Think about it, most people do jobs that are pretty mundane in the big scheme of things. But somehow, like Brother Lawrence, it really does matter.”

Brother Lawrence was a man who lived in the 1600’s. He had a profound experience with God at a young age (18 years) and ended up working in a kitchen in a monastery for most of his life. If we are honest, most of us would be shaking our heads over this job, saying “If only you had done better in high school you could have done something that really mattered”. That wasn’t the attitude of Brother Lawrence. He saw God in every act of service. He saw God in everything he did, whether serving tables or washing dishes. Brother Lawrence wanted to live “as constantly in His presence“. In the noise of a busy kitchen with pans banging and people bustling, he said this: “The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.” Because of this, he was often sought out by people for his wisdom and his ability to guide people in truth.

Does it matter? When the alarm clock rings at quarter to six and we get up to complete the mundane tasks of life, groggy and wishing for more warmth, light, and sleep?

Does it matter? When we move forward in a job that, eternally speaking, seems to make no difference?

Does it matter?  That most of us, no matter how much we would like, won’t change some of the wrongs we see, even though we pray desperately and seek to live faithfully?

Does it matter? That our impact may be small and struggling? That our greatest ability is a drop in the bucket of life?

As I move from a Friday contemplation to a Monday reality, I know somehow in the big scheme of things, it matters. How we interact, whether in our homes or at our jobs, it matters.  How we treat other co-workers, whether we do our jobs with gratefulness or complaint, whether we just wait for the day we can retire or make every day count, it matters. Electricians, garbage collectors, waiters, mortgage processors, mail folks, advocates, case workers, kitchen staff, and baristas…..it all somehow matters. Because no matter what “it” is, we can, as Brother Lawrence says “make it our business to persevere in His holy presence”. 

I drove away from my mind everything capable of spoiling the sense of the presence of God…. I just make it my business to persevere in His holy presence… My soul has had an habitual, silent, secret conversation with God.