“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” -John W. Gardner
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a successful business man and Highland Church member. We were talking about shared history and people that we both knew, and then we got on to the topic of vocation. And I asked my friend, does what we do on Sunday in worship connect to what you do in your job at all?
And my friend, being honest, said “No.”
Which is a shame…
In the day that Jesus was born, the wealthy Roman people had certain ideas about the universe. They Believed that the gods had made tiers or levels of people. Some were created to work in the trenches, some where created as peasants and tradespeople, and others were created for more “noble” tasks, like reading and thinking…Particularly thinking about philosophies that make thinking people more important than peasants and workers.
And into that world, Jesus is born. According to the Christian story, God enters the world, not through a school in Athens or a Senator’s tudor in Rome, but through a carpenter.
And Jesus spends 30 years learning how to make with his hands.
Idols and Work
The Jewish Scholar Nahum Sarma points out that the book of Genesis is doing so many things that we are unaware of. For example, in Genesis 4:19-22, Genesis lists off a number of random occupations and inventions. But this is more than just letting us know who invented the harp or camping. Back in the day that Genesis was written it was commonly assumed that the gods were the ones who came up with these ideas.
So the Egyptians thought that the god Thot invented the scales, and Osiris invented agriculture…but here right in the first few chapter of the Bible we read that God has given the gift of creation to people. And it appears that no matter how bad the world gets, God still wants to co-create with them.
The common way of viewing the world was that we were dependent on the gods for everything…but Genesis tacitly rejects this idea. Human history is not something we are passive in. It is something God wants to do with and through us.
One of the interesting things that I’ve learned about Christian culture over my last three decades is how much we fail to get this.
We don’t create culture, we consume it or parody it. And sometimes we say that we should engage it, but typically that just means we should “think about it” from a distance, or have a small group to talk about the movie/book/album and what ways we saw gospel undertones. Which is all well and good, but….
The one thing that I see missing today in most Christian circles is the one thing that the Scriptures are truing to give us.
A passion to create. Sometime new and fresh and innovative and good. Not just coping “American Idol” and calling it “Gifted” (an actual real thing that we did).
But the most toxic thing we did was turn our work from a way to worship to what we worship. In his book Wisdom Meets Passion, Dan Miller points out:
“The new generations want to change the world. Nothing is more frightening than the prospect of mediocrity. Yes, they may appear narcissistic-self-centered rather than other-focused.But they are looking for redemption, a cause that validates their very existence.’
Now that sounds good, but it’s actually one of the biggest problems we face as humans. Because if your work or cause is what validates your existence, you can be sure that you will only hurt your work or cause. It can’t bear that kind of weight.
There’s an old Latin saying “Coram Deo” that means before the Face of God. It basically means that everything we do is done in His presence, but it also means that God is working alongside us, and that one day our work will quality control tested by Him.
Not just preachers and bishops and priests, but retailers and artists and teachers. In fact, the word liturgy actually doesn’t mean worship the way you think it does. It really just means “The Work of the People” because you are working along side God, your work is worship.
And this actually helps to explain history a bit better. Because for thousands of years this is exactly what Jews and Christians have done. We have been a compelling force for good in the world. Ethopians monks created Cappacino’s (the word comes from the Capuchin monks), We created hospitals and medicine, and explored and discovered the universe God made (in fact, now that we are understanding the Mideval ages better, we realize that Christians weren’t anti-science, if anything the reverse was true!)
You know what’s interested about Genesis? It’s that the snake temptation in the garden was to consume, but God’s calling for Adam and Eve was to produce and cultivate. This is the Christian position toward culture, we can co-create with God with the realization that He will one day check our work. (I’ll write more about that next week)
But for now, here’s the thing that I think we must realize. The Scriptures are deeply invested in how and why we work. This is why as long as I live, I will work to help church be a place that helps everyone else re-imagine their own work in light of the Gospel.
Our work is not what we worship, but it very much should be a way we worship.
Before the Face of God we work. That’s liturgy.
The Work of the People.