Archive for August, 2007

misc

Attention Music Lovers: Allow me to point you to two very important links.

Link #1: http://acl.mp3.com/feature/soundandjury/?band=HOMER-HICCOLM-AND-THE-ROCKETBOYS

If you click on the link above, you will have the opportunity (dare-I-say, “privilege”) of voting for my dear brother’s band in a contest to play at the world-famous Austin City Limits festival. Homer Hiccolm & the Rocketboys have made it to Round 3 of the contest, thanks in part to many of your votes.  But they have through Thursday, August 30, to be in the top 5 vote-getting bands, after which they’ll perform for live judges in Austin!  So, your job is pretty simple if you ask me: Vote once per day per e-mail today, tomorrow, and Thursday.  I thank you.  Homer Hiccolm thanks you.  God is watching.

Link #2: http://www.myspace.com/rocketboys

Even if you’re not a “mySpacer,” you’ll want to click over to Homer Hiccolm’s page and check out the creative and hilarious short videos they are posting each day this week through Thursday.  Each video features a different member of the band, a Broadway-esque song-and-dance routine (seriously!), and a shameless plea to vote for them in the ACL contest.  I’m so convinced you’ll enjoy these videos, that if you don’t, I’ll refund 100% of the time it took you to click over and watch them.  That’s my promise to you, my faithful readers.

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It occurs to me that many of you don’t know that come Friday evening, we’ll be on a plane to Tanzania, Africa, for 2 weeks!  We’ll be visiting our good friends in Moshi who have been searching out God activity in TZ for over a year now.  This is both of our first time in Africa, an adventure I lovingly call, “Operation: Diarrhea Avoidance.”

Needless to say, WiFi and hi-speed access are sparse around Africa, so I’m sure my blogging frequency over the next 2 weeks will follow suit. But I’ll be sure to check in if I can with a “we got here safely,” “I’m sick as a dog,” or a photo or two (not of the latter).

Prayers are, of course, appreciated.

(now, go vote!)

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Toward a Theology of Work: “I Quit” — Part 3

On Thursday, I quit my job.

At lunch with my supervisor yesterday, I told him that my last day would be September 21. My reasons were these: I have discovered over the last 13 months that I am not “wired” for the 9-5, office-type job. I am not wired for a job in which my creativity and passions are not allowed to flow freely. Ultimately, though, I believe the reason for my itchiness in my current job has been the disconnect between this “job” and my ultimate vocation and calling. I have had the nagging belief that though my current job hasn’t been without its joys and blissful moments, my continual feeling was that something more existed “out there.”

Why do many of us feel ultimately unfulfilled in our places of work?

I wonder (and this is just me thinking out loud) if it could be because we have believed that our primary identity is in what we do, believing that our work will bring the ultimate satisfaction in our lives. For many of us, our primary activity is our work. Then where does Genesis 3 play into the equation? In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve broke covenant with God and ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a result of this would be “toil,” or work. OK, so why then would we continue to place our primary identity and so much time and energy into our toil, which is a result of man’s sinfulness?

On the flipside, the Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God, who, at his very nature, is Creator. Maybe a more contemporary way to put it is this: God is the chief animator. He is forming life where previously, there was not any. He is putting the world in motion. He is writing and editing his wonderful master story in which his dream for His creation is enacted and made real. Like Ezekiel in the desert, God is breathing life into dry bones, all to His glory.

Could it be that created in the Animator’s image, our primary vocation is as creators, life-breathers? Not all of us write and edit animated television series, draw graphic novels, or pen great American novels. Some of us sit for hours on a hurting neighbor’s front porch. Others of us give our tenants a fair rent for the apartments we manage. Still others teach kids how to make and fly kites on a windy day. Truth is, we can’t help but create. The question must be, then, in what ways is God wanting to use the talents and skills HE has developed in me to join his creative purpose in the world, and why am I not jumping in with feet flailing?

I can think of 2 main reasons why this is so.

1) Most of us have believed a lie. We have drunk the Kool-Aid that our consumption-minded, productivity-oriented, money-saturated culture has offered us: If happiness and abundance are what you’re after, then you need to work harder. Increase productivity. Make your “toil” your primary identifier. In our pursuit of money and “happiness,” we have blindly bought the cultural norms of our time with regard to our work, which much of the time is not leading us into “life to the full. But what if my friend Tyler, who made the following comment on the last post, is right?

Work sucks. That’s why it’s called “work.” (circular argument, I know). The ground fights back at man as he toils by the sweat of his brow, and lo, nothing has he to show for his efforts but thorns and thistles.

I think work is a part of the Fall. Cultivation, however, is the stuff going on in the garden. I want to cultivate. No one seems to get tired of cultivating life.

2) We don’t trust God to provide. We fall back on salaries and pensions and benefits and long hours. We don’t take Jesus at his words: “Do not store up…do not worry.” We explain them away and put asterisks next to them in our Bibles and commentaries. We more or less take our futures into our own hands, making God an add-on — not the very nucleus — in our lives. These words sting, and I’m right there on the receiving end with everyone else. What if we adopted a “theology of enough,” declaring contentment with what we have (or discontent if we have too much) and radically trusting the Lord — not ourselves or our jobs — for our provision? We would indeed look like a peculiar people.

I’ve been thinking: What if this conversation wasn’t about “work” at all, but about life — life abundant? What if this conversation was about discovering that our primary vocation is to bask in the love of our Creator, and in turn join Him in cultivating — creating — more and more life? This doesn’t necessarily make our day jobs pointless, but it just might. How many of us are spending the majority of our time doing something other than cultivating life — Eden style? Are we living in ways that model the ideal, gospel-shaped world that God is creating here? Do we even have the time and desire to pursue such a life? If not, could our work be one of the things that stands in the way? You see, this is where things get really dangerous, because right about now, I’m calling into question that little myth politicians call the “American Dream.” I’m poo-pooing some of the assumed pathways to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in this country. I’m questioning whether it is through our “toil” that we ultimately find the abundant life …

Maybe God will lead you to quit your job, like I did on Thursday. But my sincere prayer is that we’ll all quit going our own way, and join God on the journey into life.

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OK, for those who care, here are the details about my next steps: I’m going to pursue a freelance journalism career, pitching feature story ideas to magazines, newspapers, E-zines, and various other media outlets. Writing — and specifically more narrative, featuresque writing — has been one area in which I’ve experienced a great deal of life, and I’d like to spend a considerable amount of time using that ability to bless others and give a voice to the voiceless. Additionally, as I ease into this as my full-time profession, I’ve taken a part-time job in the afternoons as the Recreational Coordinator at an after-school youth drop-in program in our neighborhood. The center is literally 3 blocks from my front door. I’ll be helping plan and implement activities and shared projects for a group of about 10-17 primarily Hispanic youth, but mostly I’ll just hang out with them and become their friend. Mostly, though, it will hopefully give me the freedom to spend more time in our neighborhood, with our new East Boston friends. I believe that by walking away from the lie that our abundance is monetary or career-oriented, we will be walking into a freedom and peace that the world simply does not comprehend. Freedom to model more clearly the “new world” God is creating, and into which he calls all his fellow creators. (If any of you have connections at magazines, newspapers, websites, or other media outlets, drop me a note!)

And for those of you who don’t know, Chrissy is now the Business Manager for a non-profit organization that matches elderly mentors with public school kids to teach reading and other skills. So far, it’s a perfect fit.  Our God truly provides. Will we trust him — no matter what?

Shalom.

Moving Beyond Johnny Paycheck – Part 2

So in the comments of yesterday’s post, Miller brought up the fact that folks have been complaining about their jobs for centuries, evidence of which is the über-popular Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” (side note: I didn’t realize that David Allen Coe actually wrote and recorded the song first, but Paycheck’s cover was more memorable)

The Christian approaches the subject of work a little differently than Paycheck or Coe, however, even though their approach is quite hilarious. For the Christian, every subject becomes a theological one. We seek to discover — together, if possible — how our faith in and participation with a God who is establishing a “new reality” here on Earth informs every aspect of our life, not least our “work lives.”

“Work life.” Hmmmm. Therein lies one of the fundamental problems, I fear. Our language reveals a lot, no? We live divided, dualistic lives. We have our “work life.” We have our “church life.” We have our “home life.” Just Google “work-life balance” sometime and inventory the results …

We’ll get to the rest of the extremely thoughtful questions regarding a theology of work before too long, but let’s begin with the “work-life” question:

Does our parsing of “work” from the rest of our lives (spiritual, family, mission, social…) affect the way we view it, especially from a spiritual perspective?  If so, how?  If this is a bad thing, how do we stop doing it?

“Toward a Theology of Work” – Part 1

Why do humans work? What constitutes “work,” from God’s perspective? Are Christians required to work? Why do so many people “endure” (or worse — hate) their jobs, not least Christians? How “Christian” is the American norm for work? Is there life beyond a job we hate? Where does a biblical instruction like the one in Hebrews 12 — “endure hardship as discipline” — come into play in jobs we dislike? Why am I — and numerous others in my generation with whom I’ve spoken — suddenly asking these questions, and why do they sound strange to many people?

If you can’t tell, these questions and more have been brought to the forefront of my mind by my increasingly frustrating job situation. I won’t get into all of it here, but here are a few of my grievances (for contextual purposes only) with my current job, which I’ve held for a little over a year now:

1) In my current role, I don’t believe I’m “creating” in the way God created me to create.

2) I disagree with the business practices and environment of the company for which I work.

3) I don’t believe I am wired to stare at a screen and either a) do work or b) act busy for 8 hours a day.

4) My primary vocation as a child of God is to join my Creator in his continual mission of “putting the world to rights.” While this vocation is not impossible in the work I do, the office environment makes this very difficult. And when I get back to the ‘hood at the end of the day, I’m running on fumes, leaving little energy to bless those who live with and around me (not least my wife).

If I sat here and thought long enough, I could probably double the list above. Those of you who know me know that I am a glass-half-full kinda guy … I generally try to make the most of every situation and generally think the best of people. So you’ll certainly know that this series is not some grandiose excuse to complain, but an opportunity to explore some deeply important questions relating to our identity as humans. Humans who work.

I’d like to back into this dialogue more from a questioning perspective than an “I have all the answers” perspective. Let’s truly “educe” that knowledge that lies latent within each of us as creations of God. So, what questions would you add to my list above regarding humans and work?

I’ve spoken with many of you about this topic, so I know I’m not the only one struggling here … what do you say we struggle together?

“you know not how”

John Piper and I don’t agree on everything theologically, but man do I love what he said at a recent conference at his church. He is speaking truth, and those of us in kingdom work had better listen closely.

Let me just give one last counsel or piece of advice. This comes right off of my devotions from this morning. I was reading in Mark 4 (vs. 26-27), where it says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is as if a man should sow seed on the ground. And then he sleeps and wakes, night and day. And the seed grows and sprouts. He knows not how.’

And my closing exhortation negatively is you don’t know how to grow the kingdom of God. Beware of conferences. Beware of books. Beware of seminars that tell you how to plant the church. You don’t know how to plant the church. The bible says you cannot know this. This is God’s doing. It is mysterious, it is deep, it is awesome. You go to bed at night. You get up in the morning. You sow your seed. And it sprouts. You know not how.

Watch the video of his talk in its entirety here.

missional

I’ve blogged about “missional” before (here, here, and here, for instance) on this blog, and in the last few years or so the word “missional” is everywhere in church conversations. Frankly, I’m a tad sick of it, to be honest. What church would ever admit “not being missional” anyway?

Well, I like lists, and blogger Adam has given us a list of some possible characteristics of “missional.” I like lists because you can easily add and subtract bullets from them. But no subtracting here … I like all of Adams points:

He says being “missional” includes:

  • no longer seeing the things I do as either spiritual or physical. We don’t live in two realms. Christ is King over everything and every aspect of our lives!
  • being intentional about finding and developing relationship with “not yet Christians.”
  • inviting people to partake in a kingdom life – and not the “life of the church.”
  • removing any and all obstacles that would impede someone from hearing the clear message of “the kingdom is at hand.”
  • preaching Christ only – the resurrected Lord.
  • beginning to understand that all followers of Jesus have in effect “entered the ministry.” We are all full time disciples of Jesus – yes, even if you didn’t go to seminary, and aren’t a paid minister. We are all missionaries.
  • inviting your neighbors over for dinner or play – spending time with them.
  • being friends with non-Christians – even knowing that they may never come to faith in Jesus.
  • seeing Christ as the perfect example of what it means to live in our world, and defining your life by this fact.
  • finding yourself increasingly uncomfortable with the “status quo” of religion.
  • “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” and acknowledging and participating when you see that kingdom breaking into the world.
  • understanding that mission isn’t a program, but God allowing us to join him on HIS MISSION!

priest

Do you have a relationship or two that never fails to encourage … edify … satisfy?

That’s how I feel about my friendship with Tyler Priest, who was with us for about 44 hours this past weekend (Thursday evening to Saturday afternoon). I met Tyler in the basement of the Brown Library at ACU at the beginning of my second year of seminary. I was conducting random interviews on people’s thoughts on the definition of “missions,” and that ended up being my first conversation with The Priest.

Since then, he’s been a friend who has never failed to encourage me in my walk as a disciple of Jesus. It seems like 90% of the time, our conversations center around some aspect of the expansive kingdom of God — how we see it manifested in our lives, ways it is breaking in around the world, and where it might be taking each of us.

Tyler’s time in Boston was a kingdom-saturated 44 hours, filled with deep conversations about the New Perspective on Paul, stories of God’s working through his people, and the great theological task of throwing the football with the neighborhood kids. This post isn’t meant to puff up or embarrass Tyler in any way, but to serve as an encouragement to our readers to ask God to provide similar “kingdom-centered friendships,” if you don’t already have them. We need each other, folks.

Tell me about a person in your life with whom you share a “kingdom-centered friendship.”

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Coming later this week: “Toward a Theology of Work/Vocation” … stay tuned!