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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Nelson

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

Why Work Matters—And Why Few Pastors Can Understand This

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Here’s a Dancing Boston Traffic Cop Who Digs His Job

Yesterday at a Bethel University “Work Matters Gathering” I heard Tom Nelson speak on why work matters, which also happens to be the title of his new book (Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work). Nelson’s book would seem to invite working people back into the conversation about how faith fits with everyday life. Several things I appreciated about the talk (I’ve not yet read the book, but it is on order) include the theological and historical underpinnings he identified. In particular: the central role of work in the Genesis creation story, the recognition that work is bigger than just getting paid—it has to do with how we contribute to the world, and that at several points in faith history we’ve had a far richer understanding (and praxis) of work than we do here and now in the US of A.

I was also pleased he cited Wendell Berry a good half-dozen times.

There’s much more to say about all that.

But one thing I wonder about: Mr. Nelson discovered that all of the people in his congregation actually spent most of their time at work, not at church. People who work—which is most of us—have known this for forever. People who work and have faith have largely been on their own to sort out how to build meaning into their lives of work and faith.

Pastors are just starting to realize it. I doubt many will realize it in any meaningful way. Here’s why: to equip people for works of service out in the world is to simultaneously detract from building the organization we commonly picture as a successful not-for-profit church. I honestly don’t mean this in a mean-spirited way: it’s just that the religious staff is incented to pull people in, not send them out as thoughtful ambassadors (that is, not just parroting religious words and proselytizing with pat answers but deeply engaged in transformational work).

Personally, I think there is a connection between people who love what they do and the creating/redeeming stuff God wants to accomplish in the world. And I’m starting to think people who love what they do can be far more potent than a year’s worth of sermons delivered to roomfuls of devotees. Not they these are mutually exclusive, though my experience is they typically are.

By the way: is the dancing traffic cop a kind of pastor in his own circular pulpit?


Image credit: thebostonglobe

Written by kirkistan

March 1, 2013 at 9:40 am

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