By Jeff Haanen, reprinted from the Denver Institute for Faith and Work. Part two of two.
Read part one here.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” writes the author of Psalm 46. “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging….Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts….The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
The changes to the world of work since the pandemic began feel like this psalm: waters roar, mountains quake, nations are in uproar, and my daily work rhythms just got blown up.
Yet in this cultural context of change, Christians bring a unique perspective: the unchanging reality of God. If you’re a secular person, focused just on the individual and your ability to control your own destiny, the storyline is actually chaos. Each day is a grasping attempt to bring security and stability in a world being tossed by the fierce winds of an economic, social, and cultural storm.
In contrast, the Christian can breathe. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
She believes Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God is a rock and a fortress, an anchor that allows for stability, resolve, and peace even amidst turmoil (Psalm 18:2, Hebrews 6:19). It’s this foundation that both brings down the decibel level around current debates and allows people of faith to be reformers as citizens of another kingdom.
Following up on my first article, here I will suggest three macro changes to our world as a result of the pandemic, as well as how Christians might understand those changes and what practices we might consider in light of those truths.
Systemic Change #1: The tech sector will continue its pervasive growth into the economy.
Eventually we will go back to in-person gatherings and offices, but digital connectivity is speeding up. The world’s most powerful companies (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google) are all in the tech sector and during the pandemic, each saw record stock prices. Zoom (and dozens of other video chat services) are here to stay.
Former Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that the pandemic accelerated technology trends that were already there, and many workers (especially women) lost competitive ground on their peers in 2020.
Theological Frame: Vocation. How should we think about the pervasiveness of digital technology in our lives? Vocation isn’t first about job choice or “meaningful” work. Vocation calls us first to love God, and then our neighbor. It is a summons to offer ourselves completely to God in all areas of life, including our hearts, our family lives, and our work.
I believe vocation also puts a certain priority onproximity and place. When God speaks, He wakes us up from being connected to everyone and everywhere, and reconnects us to our real, daily lives. “I have a spouse and children. I have neighbors. I have family. I have co-workers.” Vocation pushes back on the “everything, anywhere, right now” culture of tech.
There are positives and negatives to the tech sector and its growing influence on our work. But vocation reminds us first to be present to God and to our actual, embodied lives.
Practice: “Identity, Context, Practice.” Here’s a simple practice you might consider to interrupt the domination of screens over your working life. Close your laptop, find a notebook, and write down answers to three questions:
- Who am I? (Identity)
- Where am I? (Context)
- Based on my answers to these two questions, how should I respond? (Practices)
Putting limits on tech resituates us back into our real, embodied lives, and can reattune the heart to hear the voice of God.
Systemic Change #2: Everything is politicized and workplace culture is anxious.
We’ve been on this train for a while, but the pandemic accelerated this trend. We also feel it at work. CEOs make statements on nearly every new social issue. We find it difficult to have a conversation with coworkers about issues we disagree on. People come to work on pins and needles, caught in an anxious cycle of news, performance, loneliness, and more news.
Theological Frame: Reconciliation. In such a tense environment, God calls his people to a message of reconciliation, as if “God were making his appeal through us,” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The New Testament idea of reconciliation conjures images of making peace between two warring parties – an image we’re not unfamiliar with in a culture of deep divisions that find their way into homes, churches, hospitals, schools, and workplaces.
Practice: Spheres of Influence. How do we really become people of reconciliation in a hyper-politicized environment? How can we model gentleness, conviction, and real love for others as we seek to live out our faith amongst our coworkers and our areas of influence?
Part of the answer is to think through what we can control, what we can influence, and what we cannot control.
The temptation is to think that the news and the thick anxiety of our culture is something that we can and must change right now. But the constant influx of media fools us and fuels the workplace and personal anxiety that acts like an acid, burning through our most precious relationships and most important tasks.
With what we can control (attitudes, motivations, behaviors, use of our time), let’s offer them in worship, surrendering to God and living life “with God” at work. With what we can influence (other people), let’s witness, demonstrating the reconciling love of God to others through our work and with our words. And finally – this is important – what we can’t control, we release. Don’t hang on to the news and global events, believing you can control more than you can. Pray and release those things to God and ask him to do the cosmic work of reconciliation that only he can do (II Corinthians 5:19).
Systemic Change #3: Social and economic disparities are vast — and growing.
You’ve probably heard the term a K-shaped recovery. It comes from looking at a graph: as we recover from the pandemic, those connected to education, technology, and financial capital will come out ahead. Those with less education, less connection to tech, and in a lower income bracket are bearing the brunt of the negative impact of the pandemic.
The pandemic didn’t cause these macro trends, but again, it is accelerating trends that sociologists like Robert Putnam at Harvard University have seen growing since the mid-1960s. Inequality is now as vast as the Gilded Age (the late 1800s).
Theological Frame: Shalom. Shalom is a word that encompasses ideas of both peace and justice. It is about right relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others in our community. Shalom is about wholeness spreading from peace with God to restoration in our cities. The prophet Jeremiah insists that there can be no shalom until there is an end to oppression, greed, and violence in our social relationships (Jeremiah 6:1-9, 8:11). In an age of vast disparities, which the pandemic has made worse, the call of God is to “establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15).
Practice: Creation and Compassion. If you’re one of the lower-to-middle-income workers, let me say this to you: God is with you. Feel his hope and his power. He has called you to himself and sent you to serve him with the talents he’s entrusted to you (I Peter 4:10). You may be serving him in a job you don’t like, or you may be struggling to find a job. Either way, God is with you. Your secular counterpoints may cheer you on, too – but it’s just cheerleading. As a Christian, you actually have the Triune God at your side. He is with you and calling you to create (Genesis 2:15).
If you’re a higher-income worker who hasn’t been very affected by the pandemic, now’s the time to get in the game. You’re called to love and serve those with less power than you. There are so many opportunities to get involved: through your church, by offering opportunity to an entry-level employee, by getting involved with charities serving low-income communities. God is calling you to compassion (I John 3:17).
The world of work has changed. Yet Christians have a unique foundation and calling to rest in God’s character, listen to his voice, seek reconciliation, and work for justice through our work.
“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our Fortress.”