Usually on this blog we try to spread the love around, with a variety of posts in any one week—from interviews to book reviews to op-eds to reprints of cool stuff you might have missed elsewhere. If you get our posts by email (and if you don’t, you should) you may have noticed that I broke that rule this week, with posts almost solely focused on the Faith and Work Summit in Chicago, which just concluded a few hours ago.
There are a couple of reasons for that. One is actually that I got para-influenza (yes, that’s a real thing) a few weeks ago and was unable to schedule some of these posts earlier! But we also have a good relationship with the Summit and had an exhibit table there for the last few days, where I spent a lot of time talking to people about the mission of the blog and the future of the movement.
My first time attending the Summit was 6 years and 3 Summits ago, at the very first meeting in Boston. I heard many wonderful talks there—you’ll actually find some of them featured on this blog—and, as a first attempt to draw together people from many different contexts and places, it was very successful. But it was also a parade of TED-style talks, delivered with limited breaks and ability for audience interaction, addressed to an almost entirely white and heavily male audience, and by and large addressing very high-level topics related to faith, work, and economics. “God cares about your work,” we heard over and over again.
God does care about all of our work, and it was important to say that. Even more crucially, God cares about all of us. But one of the things that both the Summit and the movement (at least narrowly defining the movement as the kind of people who showed up at the Boston Summit) have learned over the past six years is that within the broken systems of our sinful world, saying that God cares about us and what we do every day may be necessary, but it’s in no way sufficient. We have to get intentionally specific, and we have to be intentionally diverse.
On that level, the last few days in Chicago completely delivered. One of the first people I ran into was a Gen Z Asian-American woman from Google in a panda hat. Instead of a row of middle-aged executives in suits, I saw old people and young people and everyone in between, of all races and from a number of continents, representing pretty much all walks of life. (We’re still working on talking with and not just about blue-collar workers.) As I said to several friends, I really felt like mainline folks were invited into the discussion in a new way without making them continually stumble over evangelical cultural clues. Somebody even said “universal basic income” on the stage and nobody booed.
The talks were wonderfully varied, from Old Testament theology to artificial intelligence and the gig economy. We worshiped together, led by the Porter’s Gate Worship Project, taking time to name very specific pain points in our vocational journeys and sing about them as a way of offering them to Christ.
The workshops were specific and in-depth. I helped lead one on improving access to health care and we were able to discuss some very particular challenges in this area. (Yes, we need to advocate against unjust systems related to health care as the church. We also need to drive people without cars to the doctor in the meantime. Did you know one of the things your baptism commissioned you to do was to drive your brothers and sisters in Christ to the doctor?)
During the last day of the conference, though, we were sharing the meeting space at the hotel with a regional meeting that had something to do with the Salvation Army. Despite all the diversity we’d achieved with the Summit, when that group entered the space, a whole new level of diversity arose. There were many folks with oxygen tanks and wheelchairs and walkers. There were varying levels of cognitive ability. There was perpetual confusion about how the hotel was set up (trust me, the architecture of this hotel , as you can see above, did not contribute to human flourishing) that meant those conference-goers kept ending up at our exhibit tables and being very puzzled when we told them we were talking about faith and work.
Ritzy Chicago hotel spaces expect one kind of body to inhabit them—and I had never really realized that until the kinds of bodies inhabiting the hotel’s space, and our space, changed significantly, just as I was patting myself and this blog and the movement on the back for how far we’ve come. We still have a long way to go to think about how the movement should talk to the very people who kept accidentally ending up on our exhibit floor.
During the time of worship, Greg Thompson noted from the stage that we need to move from language of dominion in the movement to language of communion with God—because the language of dominion can create pride in those who already have agency in our culture and shame in those who do not. We are fond of saying the Bible starts in a garden and ends in a city, he said, but it actually starts with the Trinity and ends with a wedding.
At another point in the day, Philip Lorish reminded us that in the end, though work has dignity, it is not our work that grants us dignity, but it is being beloved children of God. We can get very enthused about conquering the world for Christ. Sometimes when we do that, we forget that Christ has already won the only battle that matters.