Blessed be the invisible hand of the market
that prodded the opening of a dozen eateries
over the course of just a year: trusty old supply
meeting fresh demand like a May-December affair.
Blessed be the shopkeepers and their workers
fielding orders feverishly with no proper workflow
to speak of, just the beautiful mess of paying attention.
Blessed be the elderly couple selling diced turnip and
papaya, retirement far from their minds; and the
peanut vendor glad to be overwhelmed in the
noontime sun by a small mob, with their one-word
conversations of “Sweet,” “Salty,” and “Spicy.”
Blessed be the narrow, wet sidewalk made narrower
by all this pop-up commerce, and blessed the
city administrators—maybe customers themselves—
who have not yet thought to demolish the whole thing.
Blessed be the regularized woman on the way to
remitting cash back home; blessed especially the old
beggar and his special child, patient in their spot and
grateful with every gift; and the workmates jostling
and jesting, passing up the mall not only for something
cheaper and healthier but also to be nourished
by an unsanitized view of the different walks of life.
When I pause to consider all the great award-winning movies, all those glowing recommendations from friends or Netflix, and all those copies that I in fact hoarded in my hard drive but never have the time to watch, I realize it’s still about the now-proverbial modern-day fear of missing out. In the vastness of our world and in the expanse of recorded history, what if I never get to hear the most remarkable and most important of stories? What if I never come across the books that would have made the biggest impact on me?
I realize this is an existential and maybe even theological question. Because if there is such an entity as an all-knowing, sentient Goodness, then one thing we need not fear is that the best stories go untold. Instead we can expect that the best story will not only be told but also retold and memorialized. And who knows, in a twist that answers our deepest hunger for meaning, we may even be playing a part in it.
When you fill up forms these days, there is usually a field for “occupation.” But if you reach far enough in your memory to grade school, you will remember another word–livelihood–that seems to evoke a more rural meaning (as in “The chief means of livelihood among early Filipinos were fishing and farming”). Occupation sounds more urbane. Cooler. But when you consider their root words, guess which one implies the idea of thriving and flourishing, and which one implies merely something to fill time with, to keep one’s hands busy until retirement?
I love the following lines from Nancy Nordenson on livelihood:
“Far from my high school daydreams about the future, I am on a search for daily meaning as well as for daily bread, for living rather than dying. I want to cast my net on the side of astonishment…. I want to find God at work in me and through me. I want livelihood.
Livelihood: the word gathers up and bundles together the simultaneous longings for meaning, satisfaction, and provision. In the fullest sense of the word, livelihood means the way of one’s life; it means the sustenance to make that way possible; it means both body and soul are fully alive thanks to what has been earned or received by grace. On one level we make our livelihood; on another level we keep our eyes open and find it. –Nancy J. Nordenson
It is easy to deplore market capitalism and “modern city life” and the many ways they depersonalize people, but most of us who are well-to-do enough to bother about this concern actually live in the thick of them. (Or maybe it’s just that the other less urban voices are not as loud.) We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and grocery stores; we take for granted such conveniences as taxis, toothbrushes, and Internet connection; and we choose jobs based on what we believe are the best that employers can offer. And often the employers, incidentally, are multinationals.
Our condition refuses easy dismissal. We have to pay more attention to this than just the occasional comment about idealism as being something for the young.
We may decry the obsession over the next best thing in gadgets and technology, but that is simply an effect of the all-too-familiar drive, year on year, to make products and services better, faster, more efficient in the companies where you and I work. As Norman Lear stated, “Maximizing shareholder value is the central disease of our time.” And even if your job is not in a multinational, it’s likely that the fruit of your labor is still part of this whole system.
In what ways should we engage in our culture? Just how should ordinary folks like us “cultivate the talents entrusted to them” while being “in the world but not of it”? How do we “render unto Cesar” without forgetting to “consider the lilies”? There must be some way to have better balance. Or to at least get a better perspective.
“In a world where significance and identity are earned by what we do, by what we have accomplished, by what we own, by what we earn, and where Christmas is about the lines we fought, the lists we finished, the gifts we were able to secure, the kingdom of God arrives scandalously, jarringly–even offensively–into our captive and content lives. In this kingdom, a person’s value begins before she had said or done the right things, before he had accumulated the right lifestyle, or even made the right lists. In this kingdom, God not only uses children in the story of salvation, not only calls us to embrace the kingdom as little children, but so the very God of creation steps into the world as a child.”–Jill Carattini
“A wish may lead to false beliefs, granted. But what does the existence of the wish suggest? At one time I was much impressed by [the] line “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But surely tho’ it doesn’t prove that one particular man will get food, it does prove that there is such a thing as food! I.e., if we were a species that didn’t normally eat, weren’t designed to eat, would we feel hungry? You say the materialist universe is “ugly.” I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time . . . In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.” –C. S. Lewis
Note: The following is a repost of a book review I wrote for the Philippine Navigators newsletter in December 2015.
I first read Dr. Larry Crabb’s Finding God during the semestral break of my junior year in college, after a few months of hanging out with a Bible study group mostly for the sense of fun and friendship (not to mention the cooking of our study leader, Ate Paping) than for anything else.
I was merely looking for something to read; it did not occur to me how heavy the book would turn out to be as I see it now. I can’t even remember if it was recommended to me or if I just happened to pick it among many other books in the shelf. But considering how there couldn’t be such a thing as chance if there’s such a person as God, that choice must have been divinely appointed.
You see, it’s one of those books that make you deal with questions you may not know you’re asking, but need to.
Like most people in a relatively religious culture, I was familiar with such messages as trusting God and resting in the fact that he is in control, perhaps so familiar to the point of it all sounding commonplace and unremarkable. But exactly how that trust plays out and what it involves—what it demands of us—is often lost in trite sayings and the platitudes of forwarded e-mails and memes. Dr. Crabb’s book, I found as I read along, is one of the most painstaking, rigorous, but realistic explorations of how that trust looks like.
The book is rich with insights from biblical examples as well as stories from his own life and from people he had counseling sessions with. Its unrelenting assertion is that our fundamental sin is doubting God, doubting that he is good. The world is full of pain—even for people who are walking in the way of Christ. One common way that we cope is to tend to become indulgers (like the younger brother in the story of the Prodigal Son), dulling the pain with entitlements and pleasures we believe we deserve. Another is to become conformists (like the elder brother), jumping the hoops, subduing all desire, and believing that we can get God to cooperate with us, but ending up angrier when life takes a bad turn or seems unbearably unfair.
Neither of these is the biblical way, Dr. Crabb says, because in both cases we seek desperately to make life work with the tools and talents God has given us so that we don’t have to deal with him. We are in fact actively arranging life so that we can make it “a satisfying experience without ever having to trust God.”
In this perspective, sin is therefore not just our breaking of laws but our effort to supplement what we think are limits to God’s goodness. In a number of different ways, the book asks the question: “Did the fact ever cross your mind that you are here in this world just to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, and for no other reason?”
We begin to find God when we start considering seriously that he is good even if we don’t get everything that we want. That God himself is enough, even if our pain never goes away. “We find God to the degree that we want to find him. Until our passion for finding God exceeds all other passions, . . . we will not find him as deeply as he longs to be found.” In other words, our primary purpose is not to use God to solve our problems but to move through our problems toward finding God.
Finding God is personally significant to me because it happened to be the book that introduced me to the world of authors who wrote on the same theme: Philip Yancey (Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God), John Piper (The Pleasures of God), Jerry Bridges (Trusting God), and later C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Frederick Buechner. (Consider giving these books a try as well for a wider perspective.)
Perhaps one criticism that could be made about the book is that it doesn’t seem to dwell as much on the glories of finding God as it does on the upheavals and “pruning” that one goes through in finding God. But maybe that’s just as well, because that’s an accurate picture of the Gospel—something that is “bad news before it is good news.” Still, the book does talk about what can be called initial redemptions in transformed lives, and it makes references to the banquet, the party, the wedding feast with Christ that the Bible foreshadows.
“The Christian ideal,” says G. K. Chesterton, ” has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.” Read this book for a soulful look at what it would be like if twenty-first-century people like you and me did try it. It will involve more than a little brokenness, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be beauty in it.
You could say it is part psychology and self-help, in the sense that you can assume anyone reading a book with this title would probably at least want to help himself to a better understanding of himself and of God. But the message in this book is one of the farthest things you will see from that of the popular self-help bestsellers on today’s bookstores—even the supposedly religious ones.
More than an academic work or your typical motivational guide, this book is a sort of biblical mirror, a journal of all the mess of coming face-to-face with ourselves, our sometimes misguided passions, our deceptively fallen foundations, and through it all a stirring invitation into a trusting relationship with our Savior that doesn’t sweep away our emotions but instead puts them in perspective in light of Who it is we are relating with.