Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Radix: On Work and Spiritual Need

If you’re not familiar with Radix Magazine, it is a magazine published quarterly with the subtitle of “Where Christian Faith Meets Contemporary Culture.” If you are familiar with it, you know that Luci Shaw is the poetry editor, Dan Ouellette is the music editor, and Sharon Gallagher in the editor. It is also a publication with no online counterpart presence; the editors cling to print, and given the quality of what they publish, I saw more power to them. The content is so good that I will pay for a print subscription.

The current issue is about work. It includes an interview with Richard Nelson Bolles, the author of the 10-million-copy bestseller What Color is Your Parachute?, which I first read more than 30 years ago; an article by Bob Buford, the author of Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, which I read 15 years ago; and several reviews, short articles and poems, most of which are about work.

The lead article is “Our Work in the World: The Incarnational Call to Kingdom Building.” It’s by Tony Campolo, whom I first read back in the mid-1970s after hearing a sermon by him called “Sunday’s Coming.” I believe I heard it when it was part of a program on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. (I understand that admitting to have listened to Focus on the Family, even more than 30 years ago, qualifies me to be labeled a right-wing fundamentalist wacko.) (However, in my defense, reading – and believing – most American newspaper editorial pages would also qualify me as an unmitigated wacko, if not of the right wing variety.)

Yes, I know that many believe Campolo slipped a bit toward heresy, particularly in his 1983 book A Reasonable Faith. And he leans to the left in American Christianity. But I dare to admit that I have read many of his books, articles and speeches, and have found him thoughtful, insightful and thought-provoking. I may not agree with everything he says, but I agree with a lot, and I find myself challenged with what I don’t agree.

This article in Radix is no exception.

It’s about work, and how work – like so much else in American culture – changed profoundly in the 1960s. The Protestant Reformation (especially Luther and Calvin) had emphasized that the work of the laity was just as important to God, just as “spiritual,” as the work of the clergy. The Calvinists went a bit further, and considered work as a calling, a “service to God,” as Campolo says.

It wasn’t so much that the Calvinist view prevailed in the workplace until the 1960s, but certainly its influence did. But the 1960s swept it away, replacing it with something else entirely. “Your job wasn’t to glorify God in this new ethos and you weren’t supposed to make a big thing about collecting wealth,” he says. “Instead, work was supposed to be emotionally gratifying. Fulfilling!”

That’s what changed. And the change coincided with the entry into the workplace of the largest generation of people in American history – the Baby Boom. People like me. We had already swamped education, and now it was on to the workplace. (I hope the nursing homes and funeral parlors are prepared.) We didn’t just bring our numbers. We brought our self-actualization, our
self-centeredness, and we changed the reason for doing work. This could only happen in very wealthy societies; most people around the world worry less about self-actualization and more about feeding themselves and their families.

Consider how this might play out at work. The structures surrounding our work – benefits, salary grades, organization charts, performance reviews, perks – have changed from what they were. It doesn’t mean they all bad, but they are changed, and they reflect a very different philosophy than what they did before.

What I find particularly encouraging is that the church is recognizing this. It’s one reason why so many churches and organizations are paying attention now to the workplace, where we and our faith sit five days a week. We’re hearing a lot more about work being “a high calling,” or perhaps “the high calling,” like the group I’m associated with.

The fact is, we as Christians are exposed to much more widespread spiritual need in our workplaces than in our worship services.


Martha Jane Orlando said...

This was an enlightening read for me, Glynn. I have often thought that my work, our work, should be done to the glory of God, no matter what profession we find ourselves in. I am gratified to know the church is beginning to recognize this.
Blessings, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Radix (Latin for root) has its roots both in the "real world" and in the truth of Christ's teachings.

Acronym Finder: RX stands for Radix (Latin: Root; derivation of prescription).

Anonymous said...


the first sentence is from the radix magazine page.

the second sentence is from a web search...not sure where.

diana said...

Thank you for this, Glynn, not only for the insights on work as a high calling, but also for encouraging us to read people with whom we might occasionally disagree. . . because they're good people, too. And good thinkers. Tony Campolo is a committed Jesus follower. So is Richard Rohr, so was Henri Nouwen, etc., etc. And though they, and others, might be labelled as leaning to the left, they offer good and challenging insights in many areas. I'm grateful for this good mix of voices. Thanks for underscoring that.