Jeff Haanen

Category

Art

""/
ArtWork

Where Love and Need Are One: A Vision For Work

 

In the Fall 2013 Issue of Comment magazine, James K.A. Smith tells the story of a beautiful vision of work.

In 2009, US Supreme Court Justice David Souter retired to his New Hampshire home. Chief Justice Roberts wrote, on behalf of the court, “We understand your desire to trade white marble for White Mountains, and to return to your land of ‘easy wind and downy flake,’” citing a Robert Frost Poem.

Justice Souter responded with a quote from a Robert Frost poem of his own: “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” Souter wrote that Frost set out “the ideal of a life engaged,” when he wrote work should be “where love and need are one.” The finest moments of Souter’s professional life were described by this unity of love and need, work and passion.

In the context of the simple task of splitting wood, Frost wrote about his vision more fully:

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future’s sake.

For Frost, and for Justice Souter, when work and play are united, we are most useful God, to society, and to those who would come after us.  

As I speak with an increasing amount of people in Denver about their work, occasionally I am lost in somebody’s description of their craft. And it seems they’re lost in it too – so engaged with the task they almost emit a fluffy, self-forgetful delight.

My neighbor Jodi is an artist. She painted a picture for our home of our oldest daughter near a river with balloons, inspired by the quote by Jean Pierre de Caussade, “The soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responding to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.” As she was doing the last touches in our living room, her eyes, her hand and her canvas almost became one. She was “out of time” – for that moment, her work and her delight were one.

Broadly speaking, Americans don’t like their jobs. Over 70% of America’s workforce is either passively disengaged or actively disengaged from their work. It seems to me that if we’re going to chip away and this soul-emptying number, we need to collectively pay attention to the times when we notice our love and need becoming one. As Fredrick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

If you feel that delight, share that experience with somebody. Here is where “the deed is done / For Heaven and the future’s sake.” Here’s where manual laborers, teachers, nurses, business leaders, and even Supreme Court Justices come alive.

Photo: Splitting Wood

ArtTheology

An Act of Creation

 

I was supposed to be networking. That’s what normal people do when surrounded by a city’s top leaders, as I was at a recent Q Ideas Conference at the Denver Performing Arts Center. But during the break between sessions, I found myself sipping coffee, standing alone amidst the buzzing conversation, and utterly transfixed by the artwork of Jake Weidmann.

Three paintings of a lion sat on easels. The first lion’s mane was ablaze, representing God the Father, a consuming fire (Deut. 4.24). The second lion’s mane was a barbed wire, an allusion to the suffering of God the Son. And the third lion’s mane was a river, the Living Water given by God the Spirit (Jn. 7:38). As I beheld Weidmann’s arresting creativity and Trinitarian imagination, I quietly thought to myself,“We are at our best when our daily work reflects the creative work of God himself.”

Made in the Image of the Maker

When looking for a model for work, the best place to start is God’s own work. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Both the Bible and the creeds (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”) begin with the work of creation. Genesis paints a picture of the Maker of supernovas, seashores and salamanders who spawns new life and new realities through creative, joyful work (Gen. 2:2-3; Ps. 104:24-26,31).  On the sixth day, God declared his creative work was very good – and the angels shouted for joy at what they saw (Gen. 1:31; Job. 38:7).

English playwright and author Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) said that when God made men and women in His image, all he had done until that point was create.  Sayers writes,

“Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.”

God made grass seeds, and giraffes, and those in His image make gorilla glue, graham crackers, and grandfather clocks. Work is not only something we do for money, but rather it is the first expression of our spiritual, mental and bodily faculties. At its best, work is a creative act.

The word “creativity” should be broadened past associations with bohemian artists or ad agency professionals.To create is to initiate an object or a project (a definition of the Hebrew word bara). Bringing new products, ideas Lion - God the Sonor organizations into existence is all creative work. For example, Jake Weidmann brought a trinity of lions into existence from a mere thought, which now shapes me, the beholder of his art. A landscaper conceives of a beautiful garden, plants and cultivates the roses, and sees the homeowners enjoy their color and aroma. An engineer designs a more efficient hood for a commercial stove top, and works with technicians to install his new creation. Dorothy Sayers’ masterful The Mind of the Maker argues that all satisfying human work is essentially Trinitarian in that it is creative (bringing something into existence) and follows a three-part process (idea, product, and effect, which mirrors Father, Son and Spirit).  She even wonders if uncreative activities and an uncreative outlook might be “doing violence to the very essence of our being.”

Many puzzle over how to best ground a theology of work. Should it begin with evangelism, ethics, or simply a desire to do a good job? Today several leading voices are looking to creativity to understand work. Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making grounds a theology of work in both our identity as sub-creators and cultivators of God’s world. Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work spends no less than three chapters chewing on the creation narrative.  Marketing Guru Seth Godin believes the most exciting work is found in “art” – doing something unpredictable, brave, and un-chartered. Even the staunchly atheistic Ayn Rand saw the centrality of creativity to human work:

“Whether it’s a symphony of a coal mine, all work is an act of creating, and comes from the same source…the capacity to see, to connect and make what had not been seen, connected and made before.”

I work in an office. On some days, I find myself checking email every other hour, bouncing between websites, and meandering the halls of my school. I come home utterly exhausted, feeling like old Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Other days I plan my schedule, start and finish significant projects, and come home brimming over with energy for my kids. What is the difference the two days? Sustained, creative work.

Re-centering on God the Creator

Far too many churches see faith and work ministries as an optional add-on. But when viewed through the lens of the doctrine of God the Creator, integrating faith and work becomes central. We are reflections of the God who weaved together atom and galaxy, desert and DNA. Our impulse to create and work comes from bearing the image of the Maker. In a world where most work is seen merely as a means to money or leisure, the mandate to create human culture (Gen. 1:28) as a fulfillment of our very reason for being (Eph. 2:10) becomes ever more pressing. The need for joyful, satisfying work beats in the human heart. This is precisely why unemployment is so distressing. All of us, from the elderly to small children, are made to make. My four-year old daughter declares this truth when I pick her up from preschool: “Daddy, look what I painted for you today.”

A renewed commitment to teaching about God the Creator can also give deep hope to so many who despair over their jobs.  Again Sayers writes,

Far too many people in this country seem to go about only half alive. All their existence is an effort to escape from what they are doing. And the inevitable result of this is a boredom, a lack of purpose, a passivity which eats life away at the heart and a disillusionment which prompts men to ask what life is all about.

When people hate their work, or perceive it as a necessary drudgery that gets them to the weekend, they go about “half alive” and often fall into a trap of boredom and meaninglessness.   But the biblical story is founded in a Creator who works for sheer delight, and is making all things new. When Lion - God the Spiritthis narrative is applied to writing lesson plans or building clinics, a renewed motivation for culture making can bring about a deep happiness to even the most mundane task. It may even bring about the cultural renewal.

As I came out of my trance staring at Jake Weidmann’s three lions during a break at the Q Conference, I took a look outside the window. The rising sun lit up the Rocky Mountains in the distance, and sprinkled its warmth on the flock of cars filing into Denver. As I sat at my table and prepared for the next presenter, I quietly wondered what life would look like if we viewed work not as a job, but as an act of creation.

 

 

""/
ArtWork

Choosing to do meaningful work

 

We have to consciously choose to use our freedom well.  I’m aware of few authors who put this more pungently than Annie Dillard.

In her book The Writing Life she reflects on her work as a writer.

“Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence…It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself.”

The freedom to create something new is the heart of exhilarating work, a fact, I would think, not lost on the Creator himself. To dream up a project, bring it to reality, and see its affect on others – this is meaningful work.

Yet there is an ugly opposite to this creative work as well. Dillard writes,

“The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever…Your freedom is a by-product of your days’ triviality.”

This quote struck me like a dull club. When I read this I thought about my relationship to email and to web surfing. There is no lack of triviality in our culture, and in our work there are mounds of tasks we could simply leave undone, and nobody would care.

I’m reminded of Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. He advises executives to not make to-do lists, but instead not-to-do lists. Hacking away at the trivial will do more to improve effectiveness than adding to the stack of the important.

I’m also reminded of Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission. At a Willow Creek Leadership Summit Conference several years ago, he pleaded with pastors to call out to God to, “save us from all that is petty.” Where is this plea today, in a world afloat with digital triviality?

One of the great verses used in faith and work circles is in the prayer of Moses: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands – O establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17).

The context of the verse, however, is an extended reflection on the fleeting nature of human life. “Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered,” (Ps. 90:6-7). In the scope of eternity, the prayer to “establish the work of our hands” is built upon a knowledge of the shocking brevity of life.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” So here’s the question: What makes work worth doing?

Discussion question: Do you intentionally choose which tasks you will and won’t do on any given day? What criteria do you use to make this decision?  How would you define “work worth doing?”

""/
Art

Fezziwig and the Joy of Work

 

There exists a kind of lightness and unhindered joy that can fill a company and its employees with deep and instantaneous happiness.

In Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Mr Fezziwig is a perfect example of this lightness and joy. When the Ghost of Christmas Past takes old Scrooge to see Fezziwig’s ball, even his own heart is kindled with warmth.

Dickens describes the joy of Fezziwig’s house on Christmas Eve. The warehouse was swept and cleared, a fire lit the room, and a fiddler played his song. Mr Fezziwig’s daughters, the housemaid, the baker, the milkman and the cook came to the ball. In came more than twenty couples, dancing, eating a roast, and wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Looking on, Scrooge felt younger, unlike the miser he had become.

And the Ghost comments to Scrooge:

“He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not latter self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Fezziwig’s joy for life was contagious, and the influence he had over his household was contagious. With a simple smile or glance, he could “render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome.”

Faith at work may mean many things to many people. But this “slight and insignificant” spirit of delight can spread to co-workers like light glimmering off the face of dancers on Christmas eve. It doesn’t cost anything, but joy is a subtle quality that draws the distinction between “just a job” and a vocation.

Discussion question: This Christmas, how will you render the work of others happy or unhappy, light or burdensome? What is the difference between a task being a pleasure or a toil?

Note: Thanks to my friend Brian Gray for pointing out this delightful passage to me over a glass of ale yesterday – and for connecting it to a theology of work.

1 2