Some years near Labor Day we note recent books that help people of faith relate their spirituality to the workplace, develop a Christian perspective in their career fields, or learn to be a faithful agent of God’s Kingdom “in, but not of” the culture of the work-world.
As you may know, we have an annotated bibliography––just click on “vocations“ at the
website—that lists and describes a handful of books for various career areas. Originally designed for college students wanting to supplement their studies by reading authors who related Biblical thinking to their academic discipline, we’ve heard of professionals and career oriented folk in the world-world who say they’ve never been invited to read a book about their job, and were astonished to see our vast listings there. So, we encourage Hearts & Minds friends to check out that set of bibliographies, seeing how I describe books for businesspeople, media professionals, artists, farmers, counselors, teachers, or engineers. From special education to environmental studies, from law to literature, from health care to home-making, we have descriptions of titles that would allow you to see your job in light of God’s light. Pastors or campus ministers or youth workers who are reading this— I hope you keep this bibliography bookmarked on your favorites list, so you can refer to it often as you equip your saints for daily discipleship, serving God in their particular field of endeavor. What does it say about our pastoral leadership when folks are interviewed about their call to serve God in their career areas and they report that they never heard of such a thing, rarely heard a sermon about work, never knew there were books offering a spirituality of labor?
In fact, I will list two books about these themes that are exactly for pastors. I hate to say it, but our experience is that most pastors don’t read this kind of stuff, so if you are passionate about the role of what they call “the laity” and would like to see your church leadership more overtly involved in raising up work-world concerns within your congregation, you may have to buy this for him or her. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind the encouragement, and may be eager to know you want more nurture in a theology of labor, how to live faithfully at the job site, and how to find greater meaning in the 9-to-5.
Lasting Investments: A Pastor’s Guide for Equipping Workplace Leaders Kent Humphreys (NavPress) $14.99 This is an excellent guide for how pastors can influence key folks, helping them in their own marketplace ministries. Highly recommended, clear and precise, and a good reminder of what it means to mentor folks so that they themselves can then make a difference.
Faith as a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership Christian Scharen (Eerdmans)
$15.00 Scharen is a sharp writer and good thinker working as the director of the Faith as a Way of Life Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture (at Yale Divinity School.) Drawing on foundational work about practices developed by the likes of Dorothy Bass, this book tells of the research this author has done among mainline pastors, asking them how they equip their congregants to live out faith in the ordinary. He not only reports on the ways in which folks can think faithfully about life, but offers pastoral guidance about helping the faithful “connect the dots” between Sunday and Monday. He drew on workers, artists, politicians, family leaders and others to help hear how best to construe the primary spheres of contemporary life as a place of God’s presence, and how to caste a vision of whole life discipleship across the whole of culture. Very nicely done.
Playing Heaven: Rediscovering Our Purpose as Participants in the Mission of God R. Paul Stevens (Regent) $21.95 A hard to find treasure, this author has been at the forefront of thoughtful evangelical advocacy for everyday theology, marketplace ministry, and helping pastors support ordinary folks in their vocations and callings. Missional living? Relating faith and work? Equipping the whole people of God to to live out their faith in the real world? This is a collection of articles, studies, book reviews, interviews, nearly an omnibus book of Steven’s shorter pieces published on this vital topic. Should be in every church library and every pastor’s bookshelf, for quick reference and loaning out.
Christianity Today Study Series Faith & Work Current Issues Bible Studies (Nelson) $9.99 This includes a few brief articles that have appeared in the award winning journal, with discussion questions, reflection pieces and Bible study material. 8 weeks. Really the best small group resource on this topic. (They have others in this series, by the way, on pop culture, on creation care, on the role of the Bible, on politics, and one we love called Engaging the Culture. All are highly recommended, as they bring together brief articles and Bible texts.)
There are classic works on a Christian view of the dignity of work, and we have recommended many before: Loving Monday, Monday Matters, Your Work Matters to God, The 9-to-5 Window, The Other Six Days, The Gift of Work, Joy at Work. There are books on vocation and calling. There are devotionals for workers, books to give business people, etcetera, etcetera etcetera. Please call for more info!
Here, though, are some others that have captured my attention just recently. Enjoy!
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Alain De Botton (Pantheon) $26.00 I reviewed this briefly earlier this summer in a Comment magazine article, and I remain convinced it is beautifully done, thoughtful, and important guide to various jobs and how people manage in their work. De Botton, you may know, has written a wonderful book called The Architecture of Happiness and some on how philosophy matters for ordinary life. At the end of the first chapter, on dock workers, he notes that they inspired the book, and that he hopes it might function like those eighteenth-centur
y paintings of cityscapes that show so many different folks in their various stations and jobs and places. These inclusive scenes, he writes, and his book, he hopes, “serve to remind us of the place which work accords each of us within the human hive.” De Botton continues, ” I was inspired by the men at the pier to attempt a hymn to the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern work-place, and, not least, its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us, alongside love, with the principal source of life’s meaning.” Lovely, smart, inspiring, insightful. Read my fuller review here.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work Matthew B. Crawford (The Penguin Press) $25.95 We’ve been touting this book before it even came out and believe it to be one of the great books of the year. A brainy PhD working in the world of think tanks and the academy ends up starting a motorcycle repair shop and discovering not only his own passion and calling, but discerns much about the nature of schooling and work. He’s been on The Colbert Report, excerpted in the New York Times magazine, and is getting buzz among sharp folks that are interested in the nature of what it means to know stuff in our world of information, data, bytes and bites. He is interested about the relationship between working with one’s hands and what it means to find meaning in daily work, hard work, work that takes craftsmanship and quality, insight and care. As philosopher Albert Borgman notes, our cultural renewal “will have more depth and grace if we read Crawford’s book and take it to heart.” One reviewer, Rod Dreher, says it is “brilliant and true and perfect for its time.”
The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling Robert Benson (Waterbrook) $14.99 I’ve read his book on baseball, on tourism, on gardening, on fixed hour prayer, on the Rule of Benedict, and, just recently, his new one on community. (Which was brief and utterly lovely.) He is an economical writer, not splashy or verbose, but tells wonderful stories, explains his insights in clear, wonderfully crafted prose laced with just a bit of understated humor. I cannot exactly say why I am so appreciative of his dignified writing style; others agree, though, that it is honest and clear and enjoyable and tender, making him a fine and important author. He is often self-depreciating, humble, candid. He writes as a friend, and that is a great grace to get right. Anyway, this book may be one of his most personal, telling of his love for the book biz–he went to his father’s publishing plant even as a boy–and how that eventually, through ups and downs, false starts and hairy turns, led him to become a writer. This is a wondrous book, full of insight into finding one’s calling, learning to be attentive to our most authentic selves, and find joy by listening to God’s voice as it is heard, deep within. Truly lovely.
The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success Dr. Henry Cloud (Collins) $24.95 I tend to avoid recommending typical self-help books, supposing that BookNotes readers are looking for stuff they may not find other places, and these kinds of personal guides to improved living– well, they are ubiquitous. I greatly appreciated Cloud’s several book on boundaries, and his Integrity:The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality (Collins; $16.99) is very good. So I finally gave this a fair glance, and found myself being described on waaaaay too many pages. Frustrated, nearing depression, energy zapped, fearful of challenges at work, and sadly, aware that my personal mess has hurt or discouraged others. I love the language that Cloud uses, inviting not balance or managing tensions between work and home, relationships and self, professional success and inner happiness, but, rather, the language of integration. We have just one life, after all, and being the same person, in each zone or side of life–and fully present relationally, emotionally, professionally, being competent and kind along the way—is the key. The “one-life” solution. Are you aware how in the last decade many job stresses have increased as we pile on more and more, mostly via the web and email and cell phones? Do you fret about the erosion of sane boundaries between work and home? Perhaps those who have been helped by Boundaries or other Cloud titles would see this as Boundaries at Work, and it is at least that. And more. Highly recommended for, well, if the statistics are true, nearly everybody out there.
The Truth About You: Your Secret To Success Marcus Buckingham (Nelson) $29.99 This author is one of these top-tier consultants that has worked with Fortune 500 companies, and has done a huge amount of work in the corporate world. He has done more than 150,000 interviews over the last two decades and has developed a thesis for how to determine one’s personal strengths, and how to develop them in the workplace. This is an interactive book, which comes with an enhanced DVD and a memo pad. This uses some of the Stengthfinders stuff, applying it in a very hip package, colorful, usable, interesting. We have a few extras of these nifty little volumes, so can sell them at half price, while supplies last. That’s $15 even.
Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits edited by Gilbert Meilaender (University of Notre Dame) $19.95 Want to read excerpts about work, gleaned from sources as diverse as Aristotle to Marx, Longfellow to Sayers? With an anthology of 75 selections, this is a fascinating, wise, and profound resource. Want to dip into the heavy theorist Charles Taylor? Enjoy the charm of Witold Rybczynski? Be challenged and inspired by Tolstoy or Oliver Wendell Holmes? Here is Abraham Joshua Heschel and Karl Barth and John Calvin. And poetry and Bible, and George Will’s piece called Men at Work on baseball.
Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition Brian J. Mahan (Jossey Bass) $21.95 This author teaches a college course on vocation and ambition, drawing on deeply thoughtful sources such as Gerald May and Robert Coles and James Fowler and Parker Palmer…he tells stories, offers mature insight, and writes wonderfully. If you’ve followed our fascination with books like the classic Os Guinness title, The Call, or other studies of vocation, this is a fabulous study, deeper in and farther along. Sweet.
any books mentioned
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