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Work Matters. And Show Beats Tell.

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Tom Nelson Vs. Wendell Berry Vs. Your Work Horizon

tumblr_mgv3pyVpx21qzyxjro1_1280-03222013Not so long ago I heard Tom Nelson speak about his book Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work at a Bethel University event. Reading his book confirmed what I noted after hearing him: that preachers often talk about work from an abstracted viewpoint that collects themes from the Bible for a positivistic spin on what many consider the nasty business of business. I’ve tried to understand this phenomenon and I’ve come to suspect it has to do with the horizon anyone brings to their work: if you work but are really on your way to seminary or some transcendent mission, your horizon is 3-5 years, give or take. But if you work and your work is your life work, you have a different set of questions that are not exactly urgent, but are incredibly important.

Those questions are not easily addressed by a set of principles or a preacherly communication event. It’s not that Nelson’s book is wrong. It presents solid thoughts that are good to remember during one’s workday, though the preachy voice is there, the one that happens when oral delivery lands on a page. This voice puts a light, happy, totally-enjoined and engaged touch on every human encounter—which is not how real-life relationships work. Perhaps that voice more than anything provides makes the topic feel trite. Maybe I tuned out because of that voice.

If you were asking questions about why work matters, you can do no better than to pick up nearly any story or other piece of writing from Wendell Berry. Berry doesn’t just tell why work and faith and life fit together. Berry’s fiction shows people enmeshed in lives of work. Yes: he shows older agrarian communities. But he doesn’t show them in the abstract. He shows people who have a basic dignity—an understood dignity, not given by a preacher or unearthed from long silence. Berry’s characters are often in their work for the long haul, and their work becomes part of their identity. That’s a very long horizon indeed. Through their work they understand that they are doing a thing that brings order to the earth.

In my mind bringing order to chaos is a thing our work can do that is closely related to the stuff God does. Bringing order to chaos is a good way to spend a day.


Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art via Old Chum

Written by kirkistan

March 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

5 Responses

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  1. It is great to run into people who agree with me that our work matters. There are so many people that I run into that don’t believe that what we do on a daily basis matters in God’s eyes, and too many times I see that belief lead them to a constant idleness that does not seem to do much for their faith. I believe that God leads us to certain positions in our lives, and even the in-between positions before we reach our calling are given to us for a purpose (even if the job is miserable).

    This was a very refreshing post to read, I appreciate it.


    March 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    • Thanks for reading! And I also love running into people who agree with me–though it doesn’t happen all that often. I think the daily stuff is the whole ball game. I do agree with you, though given a miserable job, I’d start talking to God about the misery.


      March 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      • Absolutely. I know that I have had a miserable job or two in the past, but when I brought it to God he taught me something about myself, and helped me grow as a person. Talking with Him made the job just a little bit more tolerable.


        March 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm

  2. Yes! I love it when it works like that.


    March 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

  3. […] new organizations are springing up all the time, like the Bethel Work with Purpose initiative and Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. I’ve written optimistically and pessimistically about the attempts because I wonder at the […]

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