22 September 2009

Revisiting Work Theology

I spent a lot of time reading, thinking and even teaching the integration of faith and work during my varsity days. Having completed my Masters, armed with hard-earned knowledge and skills, I reentered the work force with a passion for great work.

Instead I descended into a major crisis in my early years as a specialist. I was busy, but the work I was doing was nowhere near the kind of challenge and excitement I had envisioned for years. That in its own way was depressing. I got through those early years of meaning-less-ness by seeking and creating opportunities for my own growth... which I succeeded in doing. But in turn I became a victim of my own success. I became chronically overworked. Five years down the line, having tasted both extremes of too-little and too-much,... I'm glad to revisit work theology with new eyes.

I've started reading Matthew Fox's 'The Reinvention of Work - A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time', and I'm excited just by the introduction. If I could summarise his thesis/rationale for the book in my own words:

The institution of WORK can be defined as an individually unique expression of our inner beings, in co-creating with God, allowing us to connect with the world (environment and human) by virtue of serving it, hence making us conduits for blessing.

Even as Fox describes these themes, though he doesn't explicitly refer to it, I can see how he unpacks the creation narrative - man as steward-caretakes of creation, blessed to be fruitful, representative authorities of God to sustain the order and harmony of creation, and to fill it with the same functional beauty in which it was created.

Life and livelihood,
work and jobs ought to be a functional unity. 'To live well is to work well', Fox quotes Hilden. And 'jobs are to work as leaves are to trees' - subordinate but contributory. Lose the theology of work and jobs lose their meaning.

He then looks at the major crises of modern man as really the result of that, the corruption of our view of work:
1. Disintegration of work-job unity -- leads to meaningless work
2. Reduced create-ivity in the AUTOMATION of the industrial and post-industrial age -- spawning psychological ill-health, entertainment industry, environmental degradation and even unemployment
3. End of co-creating, conduiting blessing, and connection by service with regnant CONSUMERISM -- dulls our sensitivities to moral, political and spiritual issues, enslaves us and substitutes true living

The major environmental crisis and occupation-related health impact should wake us up to redefine work. If we in our industries are killing the planet and ourselves in the process, there must be something very wrong with the way we work. The need of the moment is to recover the spiritual and rediscover values of justice, compassion and a sense of beauty in work. Fox calls us to be prophets, who 'by definition - interfere' to call society back in this critical moment in history. It is a time of 'metanoia'.

As I write this I get the sense that 'reevaluating' and 'redefining' work is not enough. I don't think I'm even ready for that if I am so submerged in the work-job dualism and consumerist culture of the day that it is impossible to pull myself out of it, by my own bootstraps as the saying goes. The biblical picture of work seems to be a fantastical far-away ideal that is nowhere near practicable nor do we see it often embodied in any person or work-body. If we/I have never seen it in real life (imagery) or tasted the experience of it,.. how can we work towards it?


cksheng74 said...

Yap, great post! Thanks for that. Sometimes, I am wondering, information is moving so fast, so much and for example, I've hardly have more than minutes to read through each email - browse thru them and decide on it..so much so i wonder is the term "waiting for God" has become obsolete..it is a paradox

Didn't know you maintain so many blogs especially the medical blogs..

Anyway, I have linked your the tent blog to my blogrolls in my personal blog (cordsofhislove.blogspot.com/)

and your http://medic-aide-memoire.blogspot.com/ to my medical blog (emergencymedic.blogspot.com)

Bradley J. Moore said...

Hey, this sounds like a great book. I will pick it up. I too have struggled as an executive with the meaning and purpose of work, and how God's purpose fits into it. I agree that the conduit idea is central - we identify our gifts and use them to serve and benefit others. Except I also want to make a good living, too. I think it can all come together. The other thing we have in 21st century is this expectation that work is supposed to bring some level of meaning or happiness. I am not sure that was even a question or issue up until maybe 100 years ago. Difficult then to make direct connections between biblical and contemporary situations. I appreciate that you are thinking honestly about these things!! Stop by my Blog some time and say hi. www.shrinkingthecamel.com

yyyap said...

Great blog you've got Brad!
Will certainly visit you often to read.
I guess I could say my early years' focus was integrating work & faith; but now I'm learning to see work as the natural outworking of faith/obedience and not as two things.