On Work – What it Means, Why it Matters


“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/

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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.

Holding Our Breath

The text message came around two o’clock in the afternoon. I was in the middle of training a group of community health workers and had just put on a video for them to analyze. I glanced at my phone and saw the silent, red, flashing signal, a sign that I had a missed alert. “I got the job!” The words, though silent, shouted at me with a mixture of complete joy and gratefulness.

My husband has been unemployed since the beginning of October. A restructuring took place and, through no fault of his own, he was out of a job. A job that had not only provided bread and butter (or dal and roti) but connections and relationships that he held dear. “It’s not you”, the typical words used by a human resources team to reassure, did nothing to reassure. Unemployment in a society that values people based on what they do is not easy.

With that one text, I felt like we could come up for air. Like we had been swimming hand-in-hand, underwater in an ocean, trying to press on against possible suffocation, and with the message, someone tapped us on the shoulder signalling we could come up and catch our breath.

When you lose a job you do what you have to do. You send out your résumé and search online job data bases, you send emails to former colleagues and friends alerting them of the need, you quickly respond to vague requests asking about your qualifications, anxious to get the conversation started. You interview, and then you interview again, and then again, and you wait. At some point there is a realization that you are the only one in a hurry, those who interviewed you are not. They are going through due process, searching for the person who they feel will fit the job through skill set and personality. You don’t realize that you are holding your breath until suddenly you don’t have to hold it anymore. The words “We would like to offer you the position” are sweet music from an orchestra that has been silent.

Unemployment isn’t the only thing that causes one to hold their breath. The person waiting for the results of a biopsy or the mom waiting to hear that their child is safe after news has come of a tragedy; the family waiting for their son who has been in active duty in an army somewhere in the world – more scenarios than can be listed. Those times in life when we hold our breath, when life is on hold as we await an outcome so we can come up for air, are times we don’t forget.

Because even as Cliff and I were holding our breath, we periodically realized that we weren’t drowning. Though everything seemed to point to drowning as an option, we didn’t drown. Someone kept us from drowning. Someone held us with hope letting us know that this wasn’t the end. So we kept on, not ready or willing to give in.

Right now I’m breathing easily, my pulse is normal, and the subconscious anxiety gone. But the feelings of being held so we were not allowed to drown will continue to be reminders of a God who gives breath, a God who gives life, and a God who gives jobs.

Ending the Week on Frosties and Socrates

Happy Birthday Dad! I’m celebrating your birthday by drinking a frosty and reading Socrates!

This was the message from our daughter, Stefanie, to her dad on August 31st, his birthday. The easy and the difficult, the fun and profound, the secular and sacred all combined. What a great statement on life from a college freshman.

While frosties represent all that is easy, delicious and non thought requiring, Socrates represents all that is difficult, often hard to swallow and requires analysis and thought. Combining the two strikes me as the best of balance. That’s why the weekend is a gift. It is often the time where, even in the worst of weeks, we give ourselves permission to relax. We give ourselves permission to lay aside heavy thoughts, feelings and issues, knowing they will have to be picked up and faced come Sunday evening or at the latest, Monday morning.

Whenever there is something difficult to contemplate it helps to know that it can go down with something smooth – like a frosty. The beloved Disney musical version of Mary Poppins knew a little about this and the words to the song “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down! In the most delightful way!” speak clearly to the importance of medicine but a recognition that there is a way to make the medicine in life go down a little easier.

I used to think it was denial when I wanted to put aside the hard and focus only on the easy. And certainly, if it was a steady diet of ease, ignoring what needs to be faced, I would begin to worry. But no one in the world I live in has a life of ease. Rather there’s a lot of ups and downs, unknowns and hard stuff all mixed in with those days where life feels a little bit perfect. Setting aside the hard for a time or mixing it up with a frosty is balance and will smooth out those hard-earned wrinkles on the forehead.

So pick up a frosty and Socrates, or a latte and Lamentations, or a Pepsi and Plato…whatever you need to face that which is difficult and takes thought and analysis, and enjoy the weekend ahead as God intended.