Work, work, work

Tonight, I’m reading Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. ( By the way, I was sorely disappointed to discover while tracking down that link that I’m reading the original publication and not the 2011 update…. I’ll need to get our librarians to order the new version).

Bryant Myers’ core thesis is that poverty is a result of corrupted relationships between God, self, others, and creation. As a result he sees the gospel as beneficial for not only individuals but also systems. Those two sentences definitely don’t do his work justice, but they give enough background for tonight’s post.

Myers’ thoughts on the way that work has been corrupted by the fall stuck out to me with these three points being my top take aways:

  1. “Instead of a way of using our gifts for ourselves and others, work has been corrupted. It can be toilsome and frustrating.”  I see this played out on both sides of the fence all around me. I know people who slog to work in the morning and can’t wait until they get out in the evening. Their job is a means by which to pay the bills, but while sustaining a material life, the job seems to be sucking the life out of them. Then, I know people who can’t seem to leave work; they’re passionate and see great value in what they do. Certainly I would not go so far as to say that they never get frustrated in their work, and I would not advocate a life’s habit of never leaving work, but for some of these individuals going beyond the 40 hour work weeks seems sustainable because their work is life giving. I think all of this sticks out to me because I’ve wrestled much lately with what the next thirty years of my life will look like. On the one hand, I want to serve God, yield to where He wants me. On the other hand, I wonder why he keeps coaxing me towards administrative tasks, which I often find more life draining than giving. I think it’s worth bearing in mind that God originally created work to by wholesome and a good.
  2. “Work has idolatry whereby one makes a name for oneself. For the poor, this distorted work is often not available and the poor are vilified as ‘not productive.” I’m only two classes into the semester, and already I’ve talked with students about how things are not always as they seem and about various ways of perceiving the world We (middle class Americans) are often quick to judge people as lazy without investigating systemic injustices that are complicating the matter. As a class, we’ve also touched briefly on how the middle class standard is not necessarily deserving of the near perfect label often assigned to it. And, these discussions get complicated because indeed there are people who are lazy, and indeed some elements of the American dream are good. But, in this world of work and achievement, surface answers are not sufficient. I’m glad that so far the students are engaging with those complications the best they know how.
  3. “The product of work is seen as human property, no longer belonging to God. Claims of ownership are privatized and made an absolute, ignoring the claim of God on all things in creation or the transcendent responsibility each has for the well-being of the larger community. Worse, those who create wealth use that wealth to influence the laws and the economic, political, and cultural system to protect their advantage.” I think this insight gets at the heart of one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered as I’ve prepared to teach this course. Pre-prep time, I would have had the knee jerk reaction of screaming communism or at least socialism in response to the phrase “transcendent responsibility each has for the well-being of the larger community.” However, my reaction is now different. Don’t misread this as me saying that I’m supportive of communism or socialism, but I do think far too little discussion is taking place about our individualistic culture and its me, myself, and I mindset. We lose much in the sense of responsibility to community. I’m quite good at vehemently denouncing greedy CEOs who took their companies down in flames, but I’m not nearly as good at looking at the balance in my checkbook and deciding how much of it goes to me and how much of it is freed up to be used by God to enhance the lives of others.

There’s no fancy conclusion to wrap all of these thoughts up. The topic is messy, and my brain is fatigued, so that is all for now. At the danger of getting ridiculously addicted, I’m going to go watch my first ever episode of Downton Abbey, so I can wind the day down.