But in the wounds of this world, in the disappointments of a life and the distortions of money, sex and power, rather than being a gift, work is often a curse. From Father Adam on through Karl Marx and Johnny Paycheck, we feel more alienated than graced by the work of our hands. It was not meant to be that way, and does not have to be that way. Finding our way out is honest and hard work though, and is not easy, as it is not only a matter for individuals but for societies. Here, as with so much else, the personal is the political.
For more than a year now Tom Nelson and I have been traveling the country, visiting cities like Los Angeles, Denver, St. Louis, Orlando, Washington, DC and Chicago, engaging communities over the question of work. Long a friend, about a year-and-a-half ago he called, asking if we (The Washington Institute) could help him. He had authored a book that was coming out in six months, just about exactly a year ago now—on Reformation Day, of all days –and hoped we could work with him on getting it out into the world. The book is simply, “Work Matters,” and is very good.
We offered the idea of working as a team, Tom and I, drawing together people in the marketplace, and people in the ministry, asking the question: what would it take to recast the paradigm?
This past week we were in Pittsburgh, on the same mission. We had some wonderful partners in this, organizations and institutions that are kindred spirits committed to the same vision. From a morning at Geneva College to a lunch at the Rivers Club with the CCO to a dinner at Station Square with seminary and pastoral leaders to a breakfast at the Sheraton with Serving Leaders (formerly the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation)—and with good gifts of books from Hearts and Minds –we gave ourselves away to the city and its long hopes.
Tom offered these words from Martin Luther King Jr., and they capture this calling we have together: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangleo painted, or as Beethoven wrote music, or Shakepeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great sweeper who did his work well.”
Work matters, for everyone everywhere.