I’m currently working on a paper for an upcoming conference in Liverpool, England. For a long time I’ve considered problematic the busyness of the people around me. The way we are bound to our work, the way that we believe a life of productivity is the “good life” (and therefore, that unproductiveness is “bad”), the way that we feel there isn’t enough time in a day to do all that we need to do, the fact that many of us are tired much of the time (and as a result are afflicted with sickness more regularly than we might otherwise be)—all of these things seem to me WRONG. I try to live disobediently to this frame of life. My paper is in part, an investigation into how we might think differently about this, especially with the help of the Catholic theologian and philosopher Josef Pieper, in order that we might actually live differently.

Pieper challenges many of the above issues. He believes that conceiving of the “good life” as the life which is productive, a life which displays hard work, one which is always active (in the sense of producing), is too narrow a view of life as God meant for it to be. For most of the readers of this blog, the Lutheran doctrine of vocation provides no help in understanding the good life as Pieper envisions it. As highly as this doctrine is regarded in that it teaches that all work done to the glory of God is sacred, thus giving meaning to our lives and our work in a sort of ultimate sense, in Pieper’s view, it  merely contributes to the view that life is all about work and productivity. While vocation equates work with worship—doing our work is service and glorifying to God—it narrows the view of worship and makes one feel obligated to work not merely as bound to it in our current economic system, but also now religiously. We must work because that’s what it means to be a good Christian.

In contrast, Pieper argues that our busyness working actually prevents and obscures our ability to understand what it REALLY means to be a good Christian, or more simply, what it means to be a human creature and live life as God intended. We’re formed by both our culture of total work and our religion (which in Pieper’s argument is only a conflation with culture on this point—religion has compromised) is to be busy working, busy “serving our neighbor and caring for creation” through our work.”Right on,” you say. “How else could it be?” We take this for granted if we’re teachers of Christians, or if we’re just the laity in the pews, we’ve drank the Kool-aid (if you will), only to believe that this is unquestionably the way life was meant to be lived. “Love God. Serve your neighbor.” As if the Christian life, or even what it means to be human, can be captured in pithy branding statements that are the hallmark of contemporary Christianity.

My challenge in writing this paper is to create an alternative perspective from within an already bad system. Like I mentioned, we’re bound to our work, so trying to frame a way of living differently is going to look and feel impossible. We feel trapped, unable to live differently—we have to be productive in order to make money in order to support our family in order to live happily in order to be able to have nice things in order to able to retire, etc, etc. This is the feeling of entrapment that creeps in when we reflect merely on our place in the system. Add to that the religious sense of identifying my work as vocation and we end up feeling guilty for thinking that a life of total work might not be God’s best for us.

So I’m trying to conjure the possible out of impossibility. In some way, I think that’s the only way it can happen for this paper. It’s only from within the bad system—which we must admit we are also complicit with, even while we feel trapped within it (by going along with it, we are also responsible for perpetuating it)—that we can see the problematic situation clearly. It’s also only from there that we can begin to imagine a different way. That’s what I’m trying to do. I won’t have a full-proof answer in this paper, but I’ll have a step in a new direction.

If you’re reading this, please pray for me as I put this together, deliver it, and hopefully have some stimulating conversation on the topic with other thoughtful folks.

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