Good Work

I’ve been thinking about work lately.
good work
good work
The idea of work has changed a great deal over the centuries, but more recently (relatively speaking) it has undergone a more dramatic change. In the beginning, we were created to work.
good work
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
We were made to do significant and meaningful work and we were made to do it well.
Mankind moved from the practice of each person or family creating all that they needed themselves to the practice of families gathering together in villages and having specific people working to make what was needed for everyone (the metal smith making tools for the hunters, the potter making jars to hold water, etc.). Yet now, in our modern age, we have moved even farther down this road. Now we have work that is solely for the purpose of earning money.
work for money
No longer do we consider whether a work is good in itself, nor do we consider whether an unnecessary work is done well. It has, in fact, become necessary that work is not done in a way that is good. How else would people continue to consume, and workers therefore continue to have work, if the products being made were not designed to wear out quickly?
There is still plenty of work that is both good in itself and that is good to do well: agricultural laborers, doctors, teachers, artists, and many others do work which they would do even if there were no pay to be had in it. Yet there is another whole category of work that has no significance and no importance. It was only created to allow the maximum number of people to be employed.
work for efficiency
Employing people is not an evil, of course.  It was an act of love that led from talk of reducing the “surplus population” to talk of reducing unemployment.  The danger is that this has led us to forget that unemployment is not an end in itself.  We want people, as C.S. Lewis put it, to be employed only as a means to their being fed – believing that it is better to feed them even for making bad things badly than for doing nothing.
Perhaps this view is correct, but it should not lead us into forced appreciation for work that is not good.
I, of course, have no comprehensive plan or brilliant strategy for ending this sort of endless cycle of meaningless jobs producing poor quality products that are consumed briefly and then discarded, requiring a new replacement product.  Yet perhaps it is something just to recognize the problem and the insanity of the idea of meaningless work.
Just as the Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing that he is a fallen man in a fallen world; so we shall do better if we remember at every moment what Good Work was and how impossible it has now become for the majority.  ~ C.S. Lewis
One of the areas in which I see this most clearly is in Christian art.  It is another topic for another essay to discuss whether or not there even IS such a thing as Christian art but, as Madeleine L’Engle said, if it is bad art, it is bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.  When art is done well it testifies to God, even if the artist does not know God.
good work
Provided he is an artist of integrity, he is a genuine servant of the glory which he does not recognize, and unknown to himself there is ‘something divine’ about his work. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
In the same way, work that is done well, even if the worker does not personally believe in God, testifies to the glory of God. It is not an insignificant instruction of Paul’s that whatever we do, we should work at it as if we were working for God rather than only for men.
Whatever we do, whether we are leading a meeting or scrubbing a toilet, whether we are painting the sunrise or designing a bookshelf that will be put together by a young father, we are to do good work.
We may have to earn our living by taking part in the production of objects which…would not be worth producing – the demand or ‘market’ for them having been simply engineered by advertisement. Beside the waters of Babylon – or the assembly belt – we shall still say inwardly, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.” ~ C.S. Lewis
In this way we will testify to the glory of God and will draw others to Him so that they, too, may bask in His presence.
What do you think? Should anything be done about work that is unnecessary or of poor quality? Can anything be done? What about your own job: would you still do it if you did not need the income to survive?

Art credits: photo of factory by Henno Jacques; Ford assembly line photo from Wiki Commons; The Water Lily Pond painting by Claude Monet

edited from the archives

Suffering Gladly for the Sake of Something Greater

suffering gladly
suffering gladly
My first inclination is to avoid suffering at any cost.
I cringe a little when I read Scripture passages about embracing suffering in order to reach a desired end:
we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance …
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory …
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ … to also suffer for his sake …
Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
One earthly shadow that has recently helped me to better understand this truth is childbirth.
I suffered labor pains willingly, even gladly, for the sake of birthing my babies. Even when it came time for the fourth baby, even when I knew what lay ahead of me, I suffered gladly for the sake of something much greater.
I have a suspicion that if I only knew what eternal glory was waiting for me I would bear my sufferings much more gladly.
 I claim I trust God’s love for me, trust that his end purpose for me is good and beautiful, beyond anything I could have asked or imagined, yet when it comes to his methods, I push back and fight, unwilling to be still and trust.
The fruit we are given is not always what we expect or want; it may even be bitter, but we are secure in knowing that it is given to us out of love. ~ Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me
It is easy for me to be attracted to the idea of becoming like Jesus, to the idea of the grace of God bringing me into eternal glory.
It is much harder for me to recognize that grace when it appears in my life as suffering.
In the depths of our confusion and anger, we ask: ‘How can this be God’s love? Where is God in this disaster?’ For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us to places we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ~ Kathleen Norris
My deep desire is to be able to trust in the reality of God’s providence and love enough that I will suffer willingly, even gladly, in order to gain the purpose for which God created me.

Showing the World the Sacrificial Love of Jesus

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
love
I’ve been thinking and praying quite a bit lately about love.
About deep, sacrificial love.
About the sort of love that shows Jesus to the world all around.
We have a rare opportunity right now, as we continue to live through this global pandemic, to show love in a way that makes Jesus irresistible.
This appears to me the kind of situation Jesus might have been talking about when he told his disciples that the world would know they follow Jesus by the way they love.
A situation in which the rest of the world is closing in, protecting itself, shutting others out.
A situation in which it is physically dangerous to open up, help those around us, welcome others in.
Jesus gave this command very near the day he would give up his physical life because of love.
We, the Church, could be showing the world how different the love of Jesus is.
Most of us are, instead, behaving exactly the same way as the world.
Sometimes worse.
Quarreling rather than submitting. Fighting rather than helping. Becoming the problem rather than acting as the peacemakers.
We are losing a tremendous opportunity to show the world the sacrificial love of Christ.
My friends, I am going to take a risk and use, as an example of this, a topic that I have stayed away from before now.
What is the outward sign of caring for those around us that the non-Christian world most clings to?
love our world
Masks.
But do masks even work?
It doesn’t matter. Most people outside the church think they do.
But I should be free to choose for myself.
We are free. And our freedom should always choose love that puts the other first.
Of course there are valid reasons for not wearing masks; I don’t mean to imply that all contexts and all circumstances are the same. I only mean for us all, myself included, to ask the Holy Spirit to help us examine our hearts behind the choices that we make.
The sacrificial love of Jesus puts caring for the needs of others, even if it is only the perception of caring for others, before the physical comfort and safety of ourselves.
Dear friends, these words of mine may not do any good. They may only stir up anger. But before you lash out at me or anyone else, consider what it means to call yourself by the name of Jesus.
We, the Church, are the body of Christ. Whether or not masks or vaccines or anything else works is really beside the point.
What do people outside of Jesus perceive to be the main way to care for others throughout a pandemic?
What do they see us doing?

love like Jesus

Art credit: Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Albert Edelfelt

The Danger in Killing Time

Here we are again, at the start of another school year.
School time
School time
School time
School time
Most of the schools in our area began last week.
We actually launched into school four weeks ago, but that is another story.
In our home, this is the time when the lazy days of summer come to a close and the busier school days begin to ramp up.
It is the time when we look toward the year ahead, consider which activities we want to participate in, think about how busy we want to be.
That is, when we are at our best we take in all of these considerations. Too often we merely fall into all the activities because our kids want to do them, because they sound fun, because a friend is already doing them.
Even if you do not have children at home, it is often easier to thoughtlessly agree to the busyness than to take time to reflect on what would be the wisest use of time.
Easier in the short term, that is.
odd time
killing time
valuing time
Time is an odd notion.
We even speak of time in an odd way.
One saying that comes to mind is “killing time.”
Such a sinister phrase.
The time you are killing is, of course, your own time, and we are given precious little of it as it is.
It seems that our default, the default of a great many people in this world, is to simply get through our lives, killing time, living on the surface of things.
It takes such enormous effort to break through the outer crust and into the very depth and marrow of life. We wonder whether it is worth it.
So many of us
are so bad at hearing each other and seeing each other that it is little wonder that one life seems enough to them or more than enough: seeing so little in this world, they think that there is little to see and that they have seen most of it already so that the rest probably is not worth seeing anyway and there is nothing new under the sun. ~ Frederick Buechner in The Hungering Dark
Yet with only a small amount of effort, we can break through the surface of things into the beauty and joy that lies just below the outer crust of indifference.
With only a small amount of waking up, of paying attention, we can open our eyes to the wonder and variety that lies in the people and places all around us. Especially in the people and places most dear to us.
We often look for ways to make the days go by faster, wishing the years to pass quickly in order to move on to some other phase of life, while we completely miss all the joy, beauty, and wonder in which God has placed us.
This missing out on all that God has waiting for us is the danger in our busyness, the danger in merely falling carelessly into all the activities rather than choosing deliberately and wisely.
You often hear the advice that if you keep busy, it will be over before you know it, and the tragedy of it is that it is true. ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: World Time by rizeli53; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck

The Real Is the Thing You Would Never Have Guessed

One of the great scourges of our time and place is the idea that what is real is predictable and governable.
not real
The real is what we can wrap our minds around and wrestle into submission.
The real can be measured and understood.
The real is able to be repaired and manipulated.
not real
I would assert (along with most Christian theologians) that, in fact, the opposite is true.
The real is the thing you would never have guessed.
real
Almost everyone would agree (there are always a few truly dedicated relativist philosophers who might not concur) that birth is real. The process by which humans procreate is a thing that is real.
C. S. Lewis asks us to consider this way of creating new life, writing that it is
a very curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger. A process you would never have guessed.
This is never more true than when considering the first reality to exist.
The same God who is terrible to gaze upon is also good.
The same God who couldn’t allow Moses to look upon His face lest Moses die submitted Himself to a humiliating death out of love for us.
The same God who is the King of heaven and earth became poor for our benefit.
Mr. Beaver, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, says of Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He’ll be coming and going. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.”
God is not safe, but He is good.
The real is the thing you would never  have guessed.
This is important to remember when life is out of control, when circumstances are spiraling downwards.
When life seems more than we can bear, safety is not what we need.
A “wild, terrifying, powerful” goodness is what we want and what we need.
He is somehow perfectly self-consistent and yet altogether unpredictable … (able) to love in ways that nobody could have guessed. ~ Jonathan Rogers in The World According to Narnia
There is nothing predictable or safe about God. But He is good.
And in the end, omnipotence turns out to be the same thing as infinite love. Who would have guessed it? ~ Jonathan Rogers

What Does Jesus Think Is Most Important?

We are the Church.
You and me.
Trinity Lutheran
Notre Dame rose window inside
Whatever our stage of life or economic status, whatever bits of theology on which we might differ, whatever our politics or race, we are the Church.
When the world wants to know about Jesus, to know what He thought was most important, they look to us.
What did Jesus think was important?
Well, He said that loving God with all of your being was the most important thing of all, followed by loving others. In fact, the Bible teaches that one of the main ways you love God is by loving others.
Jesus thought that this loving others business was so important, in fact, that He named it as the main way that the world would know we follow Him.
Would the world know that today’s church follows Jesus?
Church light
Arched ceiling
If you knew you were going to die in the next day, what would you pray for? Trivialities and side issues, or would you pray for whatever was paramount in your heart?
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples and head toward the cross, what did He pray for? What did He think was most essential?
He prayed for His followers to love each other. He prayed for unity. He prayed that His followers would be one in the same way that He and the Father were one.
We are the Church.
You and me.
Is that what the world sees?
Dome St Peters
Michelangelo
Jesus is no longer on this earth. His Spirit is inside of each of us, but we the Church are now His body to bring God’s kingdom to this world.
Are we acting like a body or is the hand slapping the head in the face? Is the right foot kicking the left leg?
Jesus pleaded with God to make us one. Why? So that we could be happier and have easier lives while treating each other more kindly?
So that the world would know God’s love.
This is how those in the world can know that God loves them – by the way that we love each other.
What does the world see when it looks at the Church?
That question makes me want to weep.
What does the world see when it looks at you?
Whatever has come before, I implore you now. Love each other. Be unified.
Invite someone from another faith tradition to go along with you the next time you head out to serve the hungry and the orphans.
Find someone who grew up in another culture or another part of the country or even just a different side of town, and take them out to lunch. Listen to them. Ask questions.
After a particularly nasty election and its aftermath, invite someone who voted for the other candidate over to your home for a meal.
Altar
St Peter altar
We are the Church.
You and me.
I entreat you to show the world what Jesus valued. Astound the little piece of your world with your love for other Jesus followers nearby.
Our world needs some astonishment. And it is up to us.

Art credit: Photos of various cathedrals by Kirk Sewell

edited from the archives … yet sadly not any less relevant at all.

Do Not Despair in the Darkness

Sometimes I cannot see a way out.
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Sometimes the darkness is simply too great; I cannot fathom that there could be any way through to the light.
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I, or ones I love, have been enveloped in this kind of murkiness before. Some of those I love feel lost in it right now.
I would venture to suppose that you could say the same.
It is tempting to despair when faced with this kind of desperateness.
It is tempting to believe there is no way out.
It is tempting to decide there is no rescue coming.
The earliest Mothers and Fathers of our faith have taught that this is, indeed, a temptation.
The early monks recognized in despair
“the most vicious and self-defeating temptation of all, that of losing trust in God’s providence and love.” ~ Katherine Norris
When we are in the middle of the deepest darkness, Satan is right there with us, whispering in our ears, “There is no hope. God is not here. He does not care. There is no rescue to be had.”
I have heard the whisper.
I have been tempted to believe it.
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Hold on to hope, dear one, even if you can only manage the tiniest shred of it.
Your diminished imagination cannot begin to comprehend the vastness of possibilities God has at His fingertips.
“I must never, at any moment, presume to say that there is no way out for God because I cannot see any. For it is despair and presumption to confuse one’s pittance of imagination with the possibility over which God disposes.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
God’s way through the darkness will most likely not be the one you imagine.
His way will most likely not be the easiest, the most comfortable, the most pleasant.
It will, however, be the best.
His way through will be the best for you, for those you love, for those around you.
He promised.
So do not despair. Do not give in to the temptation to give up your trust in God’s providence and love.
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He loves you. He is working.
He will bring you through the darkness, He will give you glimpses of the light along the way, and the light will be that much more beautiful for having once been hidden from your view.
The Light is, after all, only hidden. Never absent. Never that.
He is with you always, to the very end of the age.

Art Credits: statue is Grief by Daniel Kornbau; all other photos are my own

These Are Gift — A Poem

IMG_5271
Logs piled high with fire bright
to keep away pain of deep freeze snow night;
Brilliant sun rises on even a dark day
reminding that peace our despair will allay;
Fears that are faced with soft laughter
and voices loud that flit high toward rafter;
These are gift
Hand offered up to tightly hold
while heart searches hard to discover it is bold;
One timid smile offered slow
on a troubled day that conspires to bring heart low;
Tiny dimpled fingers tightly wrap
around a thumb with paper skin deep in nap;
These are gift
One who spoke earth and star
is found wrapped in small by those traveling far;
He who is Creator’s song
takes on all our discord, killed for our wrong;
Promise of freedom from fear,
of healing our broken, of wiped away tear;
These are gift
for which we give thanks

edited from the archives

I Don’t Care

acedia

I sometimes get a restless feeling.
acedia
A feeling that makes me want to take a trip, move to a new place, find a different job.
A feeling that tempts me to believe that my current place and work don’t really matter, that nothing I do is important, that continuing on with my life as it is seems utterly unappealing.
I’ve had this feeling off and on throughout most of my life, yet it was only recently that I discovered this feeling has a name:
Acedia.
Naming a thing has power.
Acedia.
It is the feeling that what you are doing does not matter, is utterly unimportant, and that you would rather be anywhere else doing anything else.
acedia
It is the feeling that causes us to feel bored and impatient with all of the “drudgery” of whatever role we have in our lives.
Doing the dishes after one more meal, sitting through one more meeting, driving the kids to one more practice, coming home to your spouse one more time,
these are all practices that can cause acedia in our hearts.
acedia
We live in a consumer culture, one that advises us to keep our options open so that we are free to seize the new and improved edition when it comes out.
It prompts us to see obligations to family, friends, and colleagues as impediments to that freedom … Whatever the place of our commitment — a monastic cell, a faith community, a job, a marriage — well, we are better off just walking away … But soon we discover that no place will satisfy us, and no one person, no group of friends, can meet our needs. The oppressive boredom we had hoped to escape is lodged firmly within us … ~ Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me
Acedia is a condition of the heart that has long been recognized by the Christian spiritual tradition as a temptation to be resisted.
It shows itself in a boredom with the mundane, repetitive tasks of life, in not caring about anything in our hectic schedules, in a listlessness and a desire to give up and move on to something else, anything else.
What is it like, this failure in the art of life? It is the failure which manifests itself in a loss of interest in really important things … But if … your feelings and sensibilities are withering, if your relationships with people near to you are becoming more and more superficial, if you are losing touch even with yourself, it is Acedia which has claimed you for its own.” ~ Robertson Davies in The Deadliest of the Sins
The problem is, of course, that acedia is a disorder of the heart rather than a disordering of any outward circumstances. That restless, listless feeling can and does come with any work, any community, any place.
Let me pause and say that acedia is different from depression or despair. I like the way Kathleen Norris puts it: “For despair, participation in the divine nature through grace is perceived as appealing, but impossible; for acedia, the prospect is possible, but unappealing.”
Un-pause.
What, then, is the solution? If a change will not dislodge acedia from our hearts, what will?
Again we turn to our heritage, our earlier Fathers and Mothers of our faith, for help.
Their counsel lies in the spiritual practices of prayer and endurance.
Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century monk and theologian, urged, “Endurance cures listlessness, and so does everything done with much care and fear of God … Set a measure for yourself in everything that you do, and don’t turn from it until you’ve reached that goal.” But also, “pray intelligently and with fervor, so that the spirit of listlessness will flee.”
Several of the desert Mothers and Fathers instructed their students to perform the humblest of tasks with full attention and no fussing over the whys and wherefores.
It seems too simple, to merely carry on with your current task in your current place with your current people.
Yet I can attest to the wisdom of their counsel from my own experience. The times I have responded to acedia with change, the feeling continues to hound me. The times I have responded with endurance, the temptation eventually flees.
Perseverance is the essential condition for conquering the temptation of acedia.
The monks and mystics of my faith all teach that persevering in a spiritual discipline, especially when it seems futile, is the key to growth. ~ Kathleen Norris
The consequence of not enduring? A gradual withering of desires and passion and interest in anything at all, as well as an enslavement to your own self.
There is no longer any room for an abandonment … to the other or for the joy of gift; what remains is sadness or bitterness within the one who distances himself from the community and who, being separated from others, finds himself likewise separated from God. ~ Jean-Charles Nault, OSB in Acedia: Enemy of Spiritual Joy
In my own life, I have found a great power in being able to name this feeling that comes upon me now and then. It gives me courage to hold on, knowing that if I will only continue to pray and endure, this temptation, like all others, will eventually flee.
I pray that this gives you courage as well.
I end with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Take these words and use them when you have trouble finding your own. Peace be on you.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
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Art credits: book images are from Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak

Seeing Every Piece of Me as a Gift

I often have difficulty understanding what I am feeling.
emotions
emotions
emotions
emotions
That may seem strange, but I’ve always found it difficult to name my emotions and understand them.
emotions
emotions
emotions
emotions
Part of the trouble is that I generally have a fairly even-keeled sort of temperament. I don’t tend to sink into the depths of despair, but I don’t experience the dizzying heights of joy either.
There are benefits and drawbacks to every personality.
Another part of the trouble is that I mistrust the transience of emotions. Because emotions change quickly, because they don’t always tell what is true about something, I dismiss them as completely irrelevant. I am impatient with them.
I was recently reminded, however, that the One who created the sunset is the same One who created us as emotional beings.
Yes, some of us have bigger emotions than others, just as some of us have darker hair than others, but we all experience a range of emotions.
I was gently reminded by the Spirit that when I dismiss my feelings, I am dismissing a piece of God’s creation. I am throwing a piece of who God created me to be back in His face and telling Him that I do not think it is good.
My deep desire is to glorify God with everything that is in me. This means glorifying Him with the way I care for my emotional self.
I have neglected this part of me for so long.
This is hard.
I must be patient, bringing my emotions before God and asking His Holy Spirit to guide me in discernment and wisdom in caring for this gift that He has given me. I must ask Him to help to see it as a gift.
If there is a piece of you, mind or heart or body or soul, that you have tended to neglect (and probably we all have something), will you bring that fragment of you before God and ask Him how to better tend it, ask Him to knit it back into your whole?
This is part of the way in which we become whole people, capable of becoming who God created us to be, capable of glorifying our Lord with all that we are.