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Am I in the Right Career? (A Glimpse of Work from “Shop Class as Soulcraft”)

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In 2010, Matthew Crawford wrote his part-memoir, part-philosophical discourse, part-challenge of the status quo Shop Class as Soul Craft.  The subtitle gives us a bit more information about what this book is about: “An Inquiry into the Value of Work.”  As our church is currently going through a series on faith and vocation, I thought it would be interesting to read this New York Times bestseller and see what those outside of the church are saying about the value of work.

"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew Crawford, 2010.
“Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford, 2010.

This book is an attempt to provide a helpful corrective to the workforce today in the United States, one that is dominated increasingly (if not in numbers then in attention) by the information sector.  Crawford (who has a Ph.D in the History of Political Thought and a M.A. in Philosophy) found himself working for a think tank in D.C. when he realized that he wasn’t receiving the satisfaction from his work that past work had given him (he had worked as an electrician and other odd “manual labor” jobs during school).  Because of this, he left behind his career associated with politics to open a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.

His main argument?  There is a greater sense of accomplishment in repairing motorcycles than there is in working for the think tank.  Working with your hands, you can see the results of a day’s work much more easily than you can when working in the information sector.

I take no issue with his statement here.  Although I work in what would be labeled as the “information sector,” I enjoy working on home projects because I can see the results of my labor much more easily.   He even challenges the state of academia today in undervaluing manual labor and desiring that all high schoolers go on to get a college degree.  He writes,

“A good diamond cutter has a different disposition than a good dog trainer. The one is careful, the other commanding. Different kinds of work attract different human types, and we are lucky if we find work that is fitting. There is much talk of “diversity” in education, but not much accommodation of the kind we have in mind when we speak about the quality of a man, or woman: the diversity of dispositions. We are preoccupied with demographic variables, on the one hand, and sorting into cognitive classes, on the other. Both collapse the human qualities into a narrow set of categories, the better to be represented on a checklist or a set of test scores.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” ebook.

I fully appreciate Crawford’s statement, but not just because it feels good to me.  Crawford puts his finger on something that Genesis 1-3 talk about: the value of all work in God’s eyes.  Genesis 2:15 tells us,

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

From the very beginning (before the Fall of humanity when sin entered the world), God intended for humanity to work.  And the work that he had set before them?  Manual labor in the garden.  Read Genesis 2 and you will see that God himself does manual labor.  He gets his hands dirty when creating all things.  God values manual labor much more highly than most of us likely do.

For this piece of common grace, I am thankful for Crawford’s book.  Lest one think that that he himself is guilty of undervaluing non-manual labor however (which could be assumed from some of the tone in his book), Crawford writes,

“My point, finally, isn’t to recommend motorcycling in particular, nor to idealize the life of a mechanic. It is rather to suggest that if we follow the traces of our own actions to their source, they intimate some understanding of the good life. This understanding may be hard to articulate; bringing it more fully into view is the task of moral inquiry. Such inquiry may be helped along by practical activities in company with others, a sort of conversation in deed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” eBook.

Crawford seems to recognize that not everyone is meant to be a mechanic.  Not everyone is meant to be a politician.  Not everyone is meant to be a pastor.  Not everyone is meant to be a stay-at-home mother.  Not everyone is meant to be an electrician.  Each of us is gifted uniquely for a specific role here on earth.  If you feel guilty for not working in a certain job, don’t.  If you feel like you want to move on to another career that “fits you better,” do.

All work matters to God.

“And the [forces of Ultron] will not overcome it.” — A Brief Analysis of Age of Ultron’s Worldview

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Caution: major spoilers below.  Do not continue reading if you haven’t seen Avengers 2.

No, seriously.  I’m just going to assume that you have seen the movie.  If you haven’t seen it, you’ll either be upset or confused.  Probably both.

My wife will tell you that I am a huge comic book movies nerd (and she will probably do so while somewhat ashamed of me).  It seems like every few weeks, I re-watch a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  My wife and I don’t go to the movies often, but I have had the release of Avengers 2 on my calendar for several months.  I know this post is a few weeks late, but I’ve spent the last several days ruminating on the plot of Avengers 2, as well as the worldview that it is trying to portray.  But first, a little bit about the movie.

MARVEL'S AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON - 2015 FILM STILL - L to R: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) - Photo Credit: Marvel  © 2014 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
MARVEL’S AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – 2015 FILM STILL – L to R: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – Photo Credit: Marvel © 2014 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

As one would probably expect, Age of Ultron (from now on AoU), is an entertaining movie.  While it may not have the deepest plot or deal with the moral complexities of Captain America 2 (which tackled the issue of global security vs. privacy quite nicely), the directors/writers seemed to be perfectly content with shooting for entertainment. If you went into the movie wanting a deep thinker, you were probably disappointed.

If you went into the movie just wanting to see Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth team up and kick some robot tail, then you were likely satisfied.  But I want to zero in on one theme from the climax of the movie that I was frankly surprised by.

AoU tells the story of a crazed robot (if it sounds ridiculous, it’s because you haven’t seen the movie, because it seems totally realistic to me after watching it) accidentally created by Tony Stark to defend the earth from extraterrestrial threats.  (Apparently Stark has never seen any of the “Terminator” movies or “The Matrix” or seemingly any number of other movies where creating artificial intelligence goes wrong).  His name?  Ultron.  Ultron recognizes that the greatest threat facing humanity is humanity, and so he concludes that the easiest way to protect the world is by destroying humanity.

At one point, Ultron goes off on a little dialogue where he references Noah and the flood.  He claims to be a source of judgment from God, sent to cleanse the earth.  This seemingly anti-Christian theme of AoU continues when Ultron sets up his HQ in a church in Eastern Europe.  In one scene, he is even seated on a throne in the church.  Oh yeah, and it just so happens that this church is the place where he decides he is going to destroy the whole world.

If this sounds pretty disturbing, it kind of is.  I thought that the statement being made by Marvel & Disney (knowingly or unknowingly) was pretty brash and I may have found the first MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movie that I wouldn’t in good conscience be able to re-watch far too many times.  But then the Avengers step in.

In what is undoubtedly the climax of the movie, the Avengers gather at the church with the challenge of defending the church (and the doomsday-esque weapon in the church) from Ultron and his minions.  In a ridiculous display of CGI and someone having far too much time on their hands, wave after wave of Ultron’s minions attack the church, only to be repelled by the Avengers.  It’s sweet, it’s entertaining, and—surprisingly—it’s rather biblical. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18,

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

Whether the writers meant to or not, AoU gives us a decent (though secularized and fantasy-ized) version of this verse.  Try as he might, Satan will not overcome the church.  He may destroy church buildings.  He may desecrate them.  But he will never overcome the “capital C” church. In AoU, it is a team of superheroes who defend the “church” (and by extension, humanity) from the onslaught of evil.  But in real life, we have something much surer, much stronger, and much purer defending us: God himself.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1 of this great power that is at work in us and is at work in the church:

“and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great mightthat he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:19–22 ESV)

Did the writers of AoU mean to include this?  Probably not.  Am I reading too much into this scene from a movie that I just admitted “wasn’t that deep”?  Almost definitely.  But the truth remains the same.  Jesus has declared that he will build his church.  And nothing—not a secularized world, not the gates of hell, and certainly not a fictionalized crazy robot—will overcome it.  It’s encouraging to me that you can sit down at the summer’s blockbuster and be reminded of this truth.

How Do I Deal with Difficult Co-Workers and Bosses?

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The comic strip “Dilbert” has been a newspaper staple since its creation in the late 1980’s.  The comic deals with all things work-related: micromanaging bosses, bureaucracy, and ineptitude in the workplace.  Another common topic?  How to deal with difficult personalities in the workplace.

Frustrated with your co-workers? (Photo courtesy of PhotoPin.)

Perhaps you can relate to this theme.  You’ve sought out professional guidance and counsel to deal with that “one” co-worker.  You’ve turned to internet articles and even books on managing conflict in the workplace, all to no avail.

But what does the Bible have to say about handling difficult people in the workplace?  Thankfully, a lot.  In fact, Peter addresses this very issue in 1 Peter 2:18-19:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

(1 Peter 2:18–19 ESV)

I think Peter gives us four truths that can help us when faced with difficult personalities in the workplace:

1. Willfully Submit to Authority.

Notice how Peter begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters.”  No matter how difficult our work situation may be, God wants his people to willfully submit to the authority that is in their lives.  Why?  Because a willful, joyful submission to human authorities is one of the ways that we submit to God himself!

2. Show Respect for All.

Peter tells us how to subject ourselves to our bosses: “with all respect.”  This is one of the ways that we submit to our bosses: doing so with respect.  But we also show respect to our bosses when we treat our co-workers with respect as well.

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that all of humanity is created in the image of God.  Because of that image, each of us has innate dignity.  In other words, we treat others with respect because they reflect God, no matter how mean, immoral, lazy, or selfish they may be.

3. See Difficulties as a Chance to Grow Spiritual Muscles.

You are in a difficult situation at work.  There’s no sugar-coating it.  But have you ever thought that God placed you in that situation to help you grow spiritually?  Peter thinks so.  That’s what he says in verse 19: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endure sorrow while suffering unjustly.”

When someone else takes credit for your work and blames you for their own mishaps, it’s natural to want to lash out.  But God reminds us that these are opportunities to “grow in grace.”  Need an example of what this look like?  Look to Jesus, Peter says.

“When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

(1 Peter 2:23 ESV)

Next time you are faced with conflict at work, remember that this is a way God wants to make you more like him.  He’s giving you the chance to be like Jesus—to endure hardship without retaliation.

4. You Work for an Audience of One.

Peter closes with perhaps the most important truth to remember: who you ultimately work for.  Why is it that we submit to our bosses willingly?  Why is it that we show respect to others?  Because our work is ultimately for God, not for others.

As a Christian, you ultimately work for God.  And because you work for God, you want to please him.  We do this by trusting that he knows what he is doing giving us difficult co-workers and bosses.  We do this by seeking to model him in difficult times.  We do this, because our attempts are pleasing and honoring to God.

Remember Who You Work For

Remembering that God is your gracious, empowering boss helps when your real boss is far from gracious and empowering.  You may still struggle, but remembering this truth is crucial for dealing with difficult bosses and co-workers.

A Pastorally Wise Approach to Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day, while a blessed celebration for many, is a painful reminder to those struggling with infertility, with the loss of children or mothers, with wayward children, etc.  Today in church, our current church placed the following text in the bulletins to show love for all women on Mother’s Day.  As Christians, we must recognize the importance of not only what we are saying, but what we’re unintentionally saying as well.

Our Mothers

To those who gave birth this year to their first child–we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year–we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains–we appreciate you

To those who experience loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away–we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment–we walk with you.  Forgive us when we say foolish things.  We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms–we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your child–we celebrate with you.

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children–we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year–we grove with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother–we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood–we are better for having you in our midst

To those who will have emptier nest in the upcoming year–we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising–we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you.

Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst.  We remember you.