Monday, May 17, 2010

Finding My Place and Opportunity to Serve in "The Great Reset": Making Meaning through Work

During my service at First Lutheran Community Church, I spend 2-6 hours each work day. For some people distance commuting is a way of life. I usually enjoy time in the car--I love my time on the open road. Driving served as great down time for me in the days before children and seriously managing a household. Today, the commute is a burden. For the past two months I have wondered how to better invest that time than an entertaining podcast or music. I've reconsidered my listening time since that 2-6 hours ends up devouring time given to study.

The work of Richard Florida sat on my reading list for years. I bought a book that sat on my shelf (typical). I recently started reading Florida's blog and tweets on economic geography. As a passionate student of church and context, I find Florida's research and analysis useful and refreshing. Many of Florida's ideas and methods continue racing through my thoughts well after completing his book: "The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity."

1. Florida sees current economic challenges as an opportunity, though not through mere naive positive thinking.
2. Florida doesn't (explicitly) espouse a particular current American political ideology. His ideas reflect his research analysis rather than a loyalty to a manifesto or prevalent ideology. He regularly critiques government practices that some political activists would cheer, yet sees a positive place for government action to encourage creative work and a healthy sense of prosperity that other political activists would cheer.
3. Florida recognizes the value of historical practices, yet he challenges practices regardless of their place in history.
4. Florida challenges the practices of commuting and home ownership as accepted means to prosperity. This is one of the most challenging ideas for me because of my thousands of miles of commuting over the last decade. This idea also challenges my desire to own another home, even after the first experience was full of great moments in my family history to go along with the stumbling blocks and pain of home ownership. In what he calls "The Great Reset," where a backlog of creativity and opportunity is becoming unleashed, people in bad mortgage situations will be unable to respond to opportunities because they are stuck in their "owned" homes.
5. In this post-industrial/knowledge based economy, Florida asserts that finding meaning in work is a key component for the economy to thrive. Though Florida addresses meaning and work more clearly and eloquently, I wrestled with this idea on my own for the past 7-8 months, an idea I believe identifies a field of Christian service (maybe even more so for Lutherans). Luther recorded many thoughts on vocation, though I have read that Luther's understanding of vocation is different from our understanding. My challenge will be to understand whether these understandings of vocation can be linked. Regardless of that personal study, I still believe people can find meaning in their work in the context of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Grace given and received, Christians live out a response not to earn God's love, but to live in thankfulness in service to our neighbor. If we believe in the transforming power of God's grace, that grace should affect how we interact with everyone, from our families, friends, in everyday interaction with co-workers and the general public while doing our work. In the post-industrial/knowledge-based economy, the service-type job sector continues to grow. People who cut hair, or help you buy your groceries or sell you hardware when you need something on a Saturday afternoon are not going to be outsourced to India or China. Therefore making these into meaningful jobs challenges this era's job market. I believe Christians can serve this era well.

My fellow servants at First Lutheran Community Church and I continue to learn about the depth of importance of work and meaning. As FLCC invited people in particular kinds of work to come for worship, fellowship and blessing at three different services earlier this year--our leaders and volunteers learned about the need to connect meaning and work through prayer and blessing. We all agreed that the greatest impact of our service project was the blessing--the laying on of hands and speaking a particular word of thanksgiving and encouragement was positive and moving for many in this community. Florida's observations about meaning and work confirmed what our leaders saw in our ministry.

Many of my recent social interactions reference Florida's latest book. Though not specifically ecclesiological, Florida has presented a new field that can be reached. I believe that field can be harvested by Christians.

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