Every good endeavour

Dock at DuskA colleague at work once mentioned, in a surprisingly lighthearted way, that they were usually drunk or stoned or both during their college days. While I could not relate to this disturbing experience and lifestyle choice, after giving it some thought this precarious pattern did not really surprise me.

From my perspective, at least, this self-destructive behaviour made sense.

Looking back, reading books like Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work likely played a significant role in helping me avoid a similar sad routine. For despite being surrounded by kind and often wise people, I remember being regularly struck by the futility of human existence and the apparent lack of meaning in my own daily life.

Discussing deep existential despair at a moments notice can feel forced and almost trivial and trite when you are not experiencing the full weight of it all. But if core dignity and worth and personal value and significance is threatened for too long, in a very real and substantial way, it is just a matter of time before some type of escape becomes necessary.

Thankfully, many university and college students do not have time to think long and hard about what they are being taught to believe about their lives. For there is always more propaganda to absorb, wisdom to discern, and all sorts of pressing activities and distractions.

May He help and strengthen everyone in every good endeavor

In Every Good EndeavorTimothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf are not self-consciously setting out to primarily address a societal meaning crisis. They are, rather, trying to assist people associated with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and beyond who are dealing with struggles related to work and particularly issues related to integrating Christian faith with their careers.

A short summary of the second topic is that God and work go together at many different levels and like you would not believe. Or, to put it another way, it is kind of like the relationship between the earth and the sky: a bit complicated to describe at times, but they have always been together.

Picturing a triangle split into three horizontal parts will assist in the presentation of the basic structure of this book. The first section, God’s plan for work, would be positioned at the peak. At just under 50 pages, this is the shortest of the main three sections. The second section entitled Our problems with work comes in at around 70 pages. The Gospel and work, the final section, could be pictured at the bottom; this is the largest part and contains close to 90 pages.

The first part focuses on the design of work, the dignity of work, work as cultivation, and work as service. The emphasis here is on our collective culture mandate or commission. In the second main section, the authors discuss the sense that work can sometimes be fruitless and feel pointless. Creation is no longer what is was originally intended to be and life will be difficult; it is best to just plan on that. In addition, they reflect on how work can now become a very selfish activity and actually be associated with idolatry. It was very interesting for me to read their assessment regarding common forms of idolatry associated with traditional, modern, and post-modern cultures.

With the introduction of the Gospel in the final section, there is an emphasis on a new way of approaching work: a new story or narrative, a new conception, a new moral compass, and a new source of motivation and power to get the job done.

What type work do the authors have in mind?

Well, Timothy obviously works as a pastor and Katherine has business experience as a corporate executive in Silicon Valley. But they are speaking to people who fill a wide variety of roles. Located in New York City, they are intentionally addressing careers common in their immediate community. But they are also thinking, really, about all the work that needs to be done on the earth.

The title is taken from a quote by jazz artist John Coltrane found in his 1964 release entitled A Love Supreme. John had been reflecting on the artistic abilities he had been given, together with his recent and remarkable experience working on a new album, and then wrote this: “May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.” Please keep in mind that John was using language here that used to refer to everyone – that is, men and women.

As some of you may know, I was doing manual labour – planting trees in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia – when I first began seriously considering some of the same ideas found in this book. It became quite apparent that in addition to providing for my own immediate needs and earning enough money to go to college, I was also actively participating in the ancient cultural mandate to care for creation.

Planting hundreds of trees, day after day, was hard work. And all work is difficult in some respects. But knowing your work has great dignity and deep meaning can make a big difference.

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