The Service Industry

As Martin Luther emphasized, serving others is THE reason we work. God calls us to love and serve our neighbor, and it is through our work that we respond to that call.

[Ray, Darby Kathleen, Working, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011, p. 123]

Work isn’t just to gain the necessities of life: it’s a way to serve the world through our actions. Taken to its end, all professions are meant to be helping professions, designed to give something back as much as to pull money in. What is valuable is what serves others in love, what is a response to God and neighbor. It is its own reward – pro bono with a salary or without. What a thought!

The measuring of professional success cannot be outrunning the other rats in the race. Getting the biggest slice of the pie isn’t the goal; making sure everyone gets dessert, perhaps even baking the pie, start to count. But such things can’t be definitively measured. They are seeds planted and potential fostered. Why consider things beyond the paycheck and the goods that come with it? Why not win the working game by the usual rules: material gain equals success? Ray notes this:

Jesus spent a whole lot of time doing nonheroic work: walking beside those who were heavy-laden; caring for the sick, the infirmed, the outcast, and the prisoner; telling stories rooted in everyday experiences; sharing simple meals with friends and strangers. [ibid., p. 127]

Could he have done otherwise? Sure. But he didn’t. He didn’t rule the land or preside over the temple. His work involved walking around everywhere and nowhere, talking with everyone who happened his way. He didn’t measure a person’s worth by the coins in a pocket. Job titles didn’t seem to matter much to him, but generosity and compassion did. The first and the last jumbled together, equally loved and often equally lost.

I have the luxury of meaningful work. I can write, teach, and serve on a municipal board pro bono. I can tend a garden, clean floors, and drive the carpool to school. No titles or measuring sticks necessary. All this work is a privilege, not just some of it. I sometimes forget this.

Lord, help me, lest I become arrogant in my forgetfulness.

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

One thought on “The Service Industry”

  1. You and Darby have sent me back to a book I read some twenty years ago–Matthew Fox’s “The Reinvention of Work–a new vision of livelihood for our time”. On page 47 he writes: “We have much to let go of: racism, adultism, classism, denial, addictions, violence, definitions of gender roles. And this spells WORK. There is so much work to be done in our time, but it is primarily work on ourselves—work on our better selves (the via positiva) and work on our shadow selves (the via negativa) Once we start paying attention to the inner needs of our species, we will see that there is no shortage of work. There is work to be done on the inner needs of our communities as well, with their capacity for joy and celebration (positiva) as well as their need for sharing grief, anger, outrage, and sorrow (negativa). Where are all the workers? They are among us. But we need to invite one another to this work.” Earlier he writes: “People need a spiritual sense of work. If the mystical contribution to living is the radical thing I believe it is–if it represents the repressed side of our civilization–then exposing oneself to it is a prelude to creative breakthrough”.
    Aquinas said: “To live well is to work well” not the other way around as we often think in our society.

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