“That’s who I am! That’s what I do!” responded the gas station attendant to our heartfelt “Thank you!” for pumping our gas. Our interaction with him was a cheerful interlude during an otherwise long day of travel. Our previous stops at rest areas had felt a little odd since people still seemed cautious about interacting closely because of the pandemic. Then, in a small eastern Oregon town several miles from the freeway on a 101-degree afternoon, this cheerful guy brightened our day – simply by showing us the joy he took in his job.
That cheerful “That’s who I am, and that’s what I do” stays with me. What if all of us who are baptized repeated these words regularly to remind us of our baptism and baptismal ministry? When we remember to place Christ at the heart of our daily activities, those seemingly routine activities can take on new meaning. They can even become transformational. Maybe if our own attitudes might be transformed so that we feel the same joy as the gas attendant, and we then become leaven for the world around us.
I meet once a month with a small group of friends to discuss their experiences as Christians in their places of work. The discussion-starter is usually an article related to some aspect of the workplace. Recently we talked about an article entitled “5 Ways to Bless Others with Your Words at Work,” published by the Theology of Work. The underlying scripture was Numbers 6:24-26: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. I added James 3:10: From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
As we discussed each one of the five ways of blessing, we saw how it related not only to the workplace but to all other aspects of daily life. For your own reflection let me share them:
Express Welcome. We felt that being approachable was at the heart of welcome.
Eliminate Blame Shifting. It does involve holding people accountable, but focusing on the fault, not the person; the “sin, not the sinner.” Also acknowledging that risk-taking is an asset that leads to some failures. And that failures often lead to growth, more than successes.
Reconciling Broken Relationship. This we really struggled with, for often people bring outside baggage into the workplace that triggers brokenness. And even within an organization/community/family it can be difficult to resolve, but try we must.
Be Careful Not to Judge. We found this to be connected with Blaming, looking to the fault, not the person.
Show Appreciation: How important is this!! Expressing gratitude – especially to those whose work is less glamorous or visible – is so very valuable and affirming.
The article concludes with these words:
Empowered by Christ
When we use our words to bless others, we do so knowing that we’ve been blessed in the same ways through our relationship with Jesus. Jesus welcomes us just as we are; makes us blameless – and therefore unafraid and unashamed – before himself and God; reconciles us to himself; and even describes us as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Because we enjoy his kindness and friendship, we are empowered to extend blessing to those around us.
The musical Rent helps us know the math: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…. How do you measure … a year?”
How do you spend your year’s minutes?
Well, there’s work. Fifty weeks x 40 hours a week = 2,000 hours = 120,000 minutes.
Not to mention sleep. Fifty weeks x 7 days x 7.5 hours = 157,500
Just those two commitments eat up 277,500 minutes – more than half our year – leaving slightly more than 248,000 minutes – a bit over 4,100 hours.
And of course, there’s eating, and commuting, and personal time. . . .
Not too long ago, most faithful worship attenders spent an hour a week in worship – 3,000 minutes annually, leaving out two weeks for vacation. Not much time, in the scheme of things. And that’s if you’re attending worship every blessed week.
What if those 3,000 minutes – barely more than one half of one percent of our yearly minutes – expanded to fill much of our waking life? What if all of life was worship? What if worship became, for us, like breathing – something we do all the time, that becomes the very basis of our lives?
Philosopher and theologian James K.A. Smith has said, “If all of life is going to be worship, then the sanctuary [or the nave] is the place we learn how.”
Imagine what life might be if, when we attended worship, the people at the front of the room were not called “worship leaders,” and instead were “worship starters,” as Fuller Theological Seminary professor Matthew Kaemingk calls them.
Kaemingk and scholar Cory B. Willson became “convinced that theologies of work need to be practiced, embedded, and embodied in communities of worship.…The fabric of faith and work needs to be slowly and intentionally woven back together over a lifetime of prayer and worship.”
Their book Work and Worship – Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy was the result. In an interview about their book Willson says, “We hope our book will help pastors and worship leaders see themselves as servants to the priesthood of all believers. Their primary role in worship is to equip and empower believers to live out their priesthood at the front edge of God’s mission in the world: the workplace.”
What if all the minutes of our lives – not just the ones spent inside the church walls – became an expression of our love for God and all that God has made?
A friend has been working in a local hospital’s Covid-19 vaccination clinic since early winter. Although most of those at highest risk of infection in our county have now been immunized and the demand has waned, recent expansion of eligibility to include those as young as twelve has prompted a bit of a surge in appointments.
Catherine had had a pretty routine day, when a grandmother arrived with her twelve-year old granddaughter. The grandmother was rather uneasy, perhaps uncomfortable with the hospital environment and the number of people waiting – masked and socially-distanced – for their shots. The girl, however, was extremely apprehensive about everything, not the least of which was the shot itself. The grandmother exacerbated her granddaughter’s anxiety by berating her and telling her that she was holding up the line.
Catherine paused, ignored the woman, looked into the girl’s eyes, and gently took her hand. She said that she understood the girl’s fear, and then whispered, “We can do hard things,” quoting from Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. The girl smiled shyly and held out her arm.
When Catherine shared this touching experience with me, I noticed that she – an ER nurse who’s seen it all – was choking back tears. I asked her to tell me more about what she experienced. She said that although the clinic was busy, she felt it was important to take the extra time with the girl, not just for her Covid-19 shot, but to help calm fears about future appointments. She said, too, that when she saw Jesus in the girl’s face, she realized that she, in turn, could be Jesus’ caring voice and hands. The girl, who also has Down Syndrome, needed even more respect and dignity shown to her, especially in the face of the overly anxious grandmother. And, Catherine reminded me that we all can do hard things when we remember that we’re walking with Jesus.
There is a significant movement within the English Anglican Church that is creatively focusing on the calling of all the baptized in their daily life and work. Illustrative of that is this article by the Bishop of Leicester:
Moving the dial towards everyday faith, by Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester
Inspiring Everyday Faith is a way of highlighting why and what is important in Christian discipleship. In the past 20-30 years, we have not been terribly good at equipping people for living their Christian faith in the whole of their lives. The Church has tended to focus on its own life, or its own outreach projects, and forgotten that for most people the majority of their time is not spent involved in church projects – it’s spent in their workplaces, home, social. Equipping people for faith in those contexts must be core to what the Church is all about. I think there has been a change in that over time, but during this pandemic and lockdown – as in so many other areas – it has brought new questions into focus.
Nick and I have a running joke about who first coined the phrase Everyday Faith. All I can say is it has ‘made in Leicester’ stamped on it, and we use that as our strapline now! Using that language of everyday faith has certainly been very significant. My role as bishop is to hold people to account and for them to hold me to account in what we decide under God we are called to be and do. We use the following questions to help each of us in this discernment:
How are you enabling others to grow in the depth of their discipleship?
How are you growing in numbers of disciples?
How are you growing in loving service, enabling others to grow in loving service?
We have found it important that such questions are adopted across the whole life of the diocese….- Other ways … putting lay ministers’ licensing services and commissionings on the same standing as ordination in the life of the diocese. When I license a new clergy person in a parish, we have a ritual of partnership in ministry, so looking very clearly at joining a team of ministers within that church context –
Recently, we’ve done an exercise of gathering stories about faith during lockdown. We’ve had a particularly prolonged lockdown in Leicester, as you may know. We’ve asked people right across our churches what they have been learning about faith in this particular context. Those stories have been fascinating. There has been a sense in which it has shifted the dial along the scale. People are asking –
+ Is my Christian faith something I do with a particular group of people in a particular building at a particular moment in time? through to
+ Is my Christian faith something I do in the whole of life?
The dial has been shifted during this period to what, actually, faith is about! What I do in my own home, what I do when I’m online, talking with my friends. Increasingly people are realising that we should all take responsibility for this. It’s not something somebody else does for me – I need to be enabling the practices that enable my faith to grow in my own home and in my workplace. I think the dial has been shifted and we’re starting to see more about everyday faith.
Ultimately, the more we’ve talked about everyday faith, the more we’ve started to understand the key role that lay ministers play in enabling the whole people of God to live out their faith in the whole of life.
In my own work, I’ve encountered numerous lay ministers lacking confidence, wondering what their role is and how they can best express their gifts within the body of Christ. As we’ve started to explore everyday faith – especially with the questions that are raised within the workplace, or within social networks – lay ministers have started to see that this is their area of expertise. They’ve struggled with questions about how to live out faith in these contexts themselves, and therefore their ministry can be focused on how they enable others to grow in their faith in those contexts as well. I think there’s been an encouraging shift in that sense and a growth in that understanding of clergy and lay ministers working together to enable the whole people of God in their everyday faith.
The Christian year – and, I hope, our daily lives as Christians – revolve around two transformational cycles: incarnation and resurrection. In the Christian kalendar, each of those two cycles begins with gestation, a time of examination, reflection, and growth (Advent and Lent). That season is followed by a time of celebration, begun with a feast day and extending far beyond the holy day itself – Christmastide and Eastertide. And after the rejoicing, we enter the “ordinary time” of integration, as we use the time following Epiphany and Pentecost to incorporate the learnings of the cycle into our daily lives and work.
We are well into Eastertide, and, for me, the lesson of Thomas the Doubter is still looming large. Like many in 2021, I find myself in the midst of a whirlwind of political wrangling, pandemic distrust, and civic tug-of-war that seems not unlike first-century Palestine. I’m seeing the Thomas story not so much as a lesson for unbelievers as a model of what Christ is calling each of us to do.
To affirm his identity, and to restore the trust of his doubting friend, what does the resurrected Jesus do? He shows us his scars. He’s willing to expose his wounds, and to invite his friend to touch them. He allows himself to be shockingly vulnerable. And he claims those scars as the marks of his resurrection.
The Incarnation calls on us to “be green,” to begin a new life, to allow Christ to live inside us and through us. And through the Resurrection, we are called to allow our scars to be far more than signs of our hard-fought battles. In his risen body, Christ declares that our scars are the marks of our resurrection. As we become vulnerable enough to show those scars, we both model and proclaim the work of resurrection in our lives.
Our daily lives often bring scars. Some we are ashamed of, and some are marks of honor. May we have the courage to allow others to see and take strength from our scars. May they be for us and for those we encounter signs of our resurrection.
N.T. Wright is an English New Testament scholar, a Pauline theologian, and an Anglican bishop. He recently responded to an article in the British weekly magazine The Spectator, which accused the Church of England of embracing anti-racism as its “new religion.” In The Spectator’s letters, Wright address the question, “Is the Church too “woke”?
“…the ‘anti-racist’ agenda is a secular attempt to plug a long-standing gap in Western Christianity. The answer is to recover the full message, not to bolt on new ideologies….
“The church was the original multicultural project, with Jesus as its only point of identity. It was known, and was for this reason seen as both attractive and dangerous, as a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, chastity-celebrating, socially responsible fictive kinship group, gender-blind in leadership, generous to the poor and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless.
“If this had been celebrated, taught, and practised, the church would early on have recognised ecclesial racism for what it is…. If it has taken modern secular movements to jolt the church into recognising a long-standing problem, shame on us.
“But the answer is not to capitulate to the current ‘identity agenda’…. The answer is teaching and practicing the whole biblical gospel.”
As Wright reminds us, asking whether the church should or should not be “woke” is missing the point.He asserts that the early Christians in that “attractive and dangerous” community – “multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing….and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless” – knew they were called and commissioned as allies and champions of all those that society drove to the margins. And since that time, racism has played a large part in derailing the church’s commitment to that vision.
Glenn Packiam, commenting on Wright’s letter, adds, “It’s a shame that it took secular theories to diagnose [the church’s] error. But that should not make us reject those theories. We can allow them to wake us up.”
In response to those who urge the church to call out racism, we can most faithfully honor our baptismal promises by holding ourselves and our congregations accountable to that radical, “attractive and dangerous” vision of a scandalously inclusive Body of Christ. May we dare to proclaim the whole gospel and work to build the Body of Christ as a whole, life-giving, embracing community that embodies the good news the world longs to hear.
Over the years in the parishes I have served, I have been visiting members where they work. The conversations usually go: What do you do here? What is the Sunday-Monday – the Faith/Work – connection with what you do here? This latter question is, for most all of the church members, the first time that question has been raised for them. Yet where they work is the place where they spend most of their God-given time and talent. What an indictment of the Church!
Here are the words of one businessman, David Wofford, I visited. The words he wrote (pre COVID-19) describe his “Aha!” to that second question:
Excuse me? Faith at work? I’m not a priest or a rabbi. It’s not my job to heal the sick or mend broken souls. I’m just a “used-bond salesman.” These were my initial thoughts when Fletcher said he wanted to visit me at work to discuss faith at work.
Upon his arrival, Fletcher surveyed my work area. The space is a large trading floor with people sitting in front of several monitors blinking price action in the bond market. Everyone sits almost elbow to elbow and it can get a bit loud. The two of us then moved to an office for a little privacy. I tried to explain that the atmosphere in my office was closer to that of a fraternity house and not exactly like a place of worship. We work hard, do a good job, and at the same time, have a lot of fun. More often than not, that fun is similar to the fun we had in elementary school.
After asking for more details about my job, Fletcher thought a bit and he said something that opened my eyes. My faith was all around me. It is there when I try to help my accounts meet their goals with honesty and integrity. If they are down, I try to cheer them up or put them at ease. The camaraderie with my colleagues is also a part of my faith. Many of us have worked together over twenty years in a very stressful occupation. We share lots of laughs. We pull together when times are tough. Another salesman and I like to read “Forward Movement” on line during down time. There is also an email I receive from Fletcher entitled “On the Job Prayers.” I pass that around to some in my office to help alleviate some of the stress during the day.
I park across the street from my office. Each morning there is a little ritual on my walk. I thank God for my great family. I ask for Him to help me be a better father and husband. I thank Him for the opportunities I have and the friends around me. I ask for His help when times are rough or a friend is in need. I thank Him for the sunshine or the rain. God walks me to work….and everyone in the office says I only park across the street because I’m a tight wad and can save $30 a month!!
Faith at work? Even for a “used-bond salesman”? Believe it or not it can happen.
St. Seraphim of Sarov is often quoted as having said, “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find their salvation.”
All during Christmas and Epiphany, we Christians have focused our awareness on the Light of Christ. As we walk our Lenten journey, we’re invited to practice silence and stillness, discovering Christ’s light within our own hearts as well as in the world around us. Our Lenten practices can help us nurture that light, grounding us in the peace that Christ’s presence brings.
The daily work of practicing inner stillness can free us to remember who we are – a Child of God, beloved and called. And in that clarity of our true identity, joy blossoms as quietly as a flower unfolding. That joy is the wellspring of the generosity – in terms of possessions and time, skills and spirit – that is the hallmark of one who follows Christ’s way of love.
Seraphim understands that joy as God’s irresistible gift – whenever we receive that joy and offer it to another, it sets the world alight. “We cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives.” In the sharing and receiving, such a community of joy participates in the reign of God.
May our inner work in Lent lead us to the realization that our daily work – offering ourselves as such conduits of joy – can bring us to a place of true peace.
We’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day, on the very same day as the lectionary reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration, marking the shift from his Galilean ministry to his prophet’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We Christians are about to move from the festivities of Mardi Gras to the solemnities of Ash Wednesday and the 40-day journey that leads us to witness Christ’s transit from death to life.
This liminal week reminds us that love is the catalytic transformational force that God brings into the world. Love – the love that made St. Valentine a martyr – gives us new eyes to perceive God’s transformational work all around us. Love – the love that announced “This is my beloved. Listen!” – created light in the darkness and lights each of our lives. Love – the love that tenderly reminds us that we are dust – proclaims that we are made in the very image and likeness of God.
As we embark on the journey of Lent, may we remember that our calling is not to religious athleticism, demonstrating by our strenuous practice that we are worthy of God’s love. As God reminds us, in the words of the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21) Our calling, instead, was proclaimed by Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:88)
This Lent, may we walk the Way of Love, remembering that “Go” is an essential element of the Christian life. Go out from the comfort of church pews into the challenges of daily life. Go beyond our timeworn practices to experience a new perspective. Go into respectful relationship with unmet neighbors and unfamiliar cultures, to look into the eyes of siblings we’ve never met.
May our journey this Lent awaken us to new life, as we walk into the immensity of the reign of God.