Saturday, June 16, 2018

Liturgy of the Ordinary and Purposelessness

I'm currently working through this book Liturgy of the Ordinary written by Tish Warren. I find it to be simple, accessible, thoughtful and very helpful to get us to think about God's work in the everyday rhythms of our lives. Regarding modernity, on p. 96, Warren writes:

"There can be a deep sense of purposelessness in modern work, in our day in and day out punching the clock. We live in a world where I can sit at my desk and email people I've never met in order to discuss work that I will do by staring at a screen And though we must fight against the injustice and inhumane conditions that can make modern work intolerable, we must not inadvertently create a new 'hierarchy of holiness' that elevates ancient work above our modern jobs. Part of our particular task as believers sent out by the church for the mission Dei is to learn to embody holiness, not only in blacksmithing and cheese making, but in and through work that is inevitably shaped by modernity and technology. I have to check my email. In this hour, that is the work that God has given me to do.

Most of us are not called to simply abandon the modern world for a back-to-nature ideal. Instead, even now, we must hone the crafts and habits that allow us to work well and to love our neighbors through our work, whether that neighbor is someone I've known for decades or someone sitting at a computer screen far away. I have been blessed and helped by people who do modern work well, people who have served me, their neighbor..."

I think Warren is right on, though admittedly there is a larger story around why modern work in a post-industrial, technological age can seem to be so dehumanizing, to reflect on Miroslav's word, we find much of our work to be "alienating" and to separate us from our humanity given larger structural and economic forces outside our control. A part of what Warren is pushing us towards though is a recovery of the imagination to see that even our work now does have a meaningful impact on our neighbors and contribute to their welfare and flourishing. I think of workers at a nearby factory who made oxygen masks for airplanes, who received a letter and a visit from a Kansas City-based pastor, after this pastor had a harrowing flight that lost altitude. Pastor Reid Kapple thought his life might come to an end and through the ordeal used the oxygen masks that were deployed as a result- he came out of this terrible scare and began to think about the makers of these oxygen masks put in airplanes, learning they were made by a nearby company in his "backyard" in Kansas City. Kapple wrote to the CEO of the company and shared his story. In turn, he was invited to speak to the workers, and the workers responded that no one had every helped them to see just how significant their work was; tears ensued- you can watch Kapple's testimonial here. So, if we can enlarge the imagination of God's people to seeing our work to be meaningful in ways beyond our current limited vision, but also acknowledge that we must always work to remove the larger structural forces that are oppressive in our work, then we will live in a proper tension that is our responsibility to assume as God's people.

I have much more to say about this, but I think finding tangible ways to translate the skills and gifts that we have developed in the workplace to a neighborhood or local economy of some kind where we see them directly benefiting people we know, love and care about, can go a long ways towards giving meaning to our work, but that is another conversation for another time. This book helps if this topic is of interest to you.

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