Nancy Nordenson's Work Stories: Finding Livelihood In The Middle Of Work

Welcome to the second post in the second annual series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

This week’s guest shared here last year and I’m sharing again because Nancy is one of the voices I’ve listened to most deeply on the subject of work. Her book Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure is a good and true reflection on the tension between light and shadow that most of us hold every single workday. In the book, she tells her own story of the work she chooses and the work she’s been given which, on most days of her life, are two separate kinds of work. The fact that she shares this sometimes-discomfiting message with literary beauty puts the book at the top of my list of favorites on the subject of faith and work.

Imagine my delight when, unexpectedly, I met Nancy in person at a writing event a couple of years ago. I’d been wandering around the campus in a self-conscious daze, searching for a friendly face who saw me for me and not my credentials. And that’s when I met Nancy and her husband, Dave. We’ve remained online friends ever since, and I treasure her hopeful, thoughtful, authentic voice in the middle of all the digital clamor.

No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of doing the work you’ve always wanted to do or just doing the work you’ve found, may you find encouragement and hope in Nancy’s words.

p.s., I’m honored to be the first place Nancy’s publicly shared the title of her newest book! Please visit Nancy’s website to read more about her new project, and do sign up for her email newsletter. It’s a gem!

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I have two kinds of work. Creative writing: this work doesn’t add financially to our bottom line, and in fact, has taken away a fair amount, but I consider it a spiritual vocation. And medical writing: this work pays the bills and takes up the bulk of my time. Given, however, that medical writing is about the human body and what makes us sick and what makes us well, even this is within the spiritual vocation realm to a considerable extent. My guess is that most jobs intersect with this realm if you consider them a certain way. Hopefully, both my kinds of work contribute something of value back into the world.

Creative Writing

My day typically starts with prayer and some devotional reading, often from the Bible, and often taking place somewhere near a window looking out on the backyard, preferably in the direction of a river birch tree that we planted about 7 years ago. I then work on my current creative writing project. I’d like to say the creative writing work happens every day, but honestly, it often gets usurped by my other work that overflows its parameters. But for the purposes of this piece, I’ll assume it’s the best of days. I use this hour or so before I start my paid work by writing or by editing something already in process. I often work with pen and paper, tape and scissors.

Currently, I’m working on my third book, this one about hope. My current working title is Being on The Way: The Practice of Hope (and this is the first time I’ve named that title publicly). I started this project about four years ago, and it’s not yet clear how much longer it will take before I can call it complete. Hope, once you start considering it deeply and over time, is not as simple as it initially seems. A first piece from this work was published at Art House America, and if you’re interested, you can read it here: https://www.arthouseamerica.com/blog/knotted-gossamer.html

MY CURRENT WRITING PROJECT AS IT WAS THIS PAST SPRING; IT’S IN A LITTLE BETTER SHAPE NOW.

MY CURRENT WRITING PROJECT AS IT WAS THIS PAST SPRING; IT’S IN A LITTLE BETTER SHAPE NOW.

My creative writing work started about 23 years ago and could be described as slow-moving. I’ve always had another job and a good amount of that time was also spent raising my sons. The two books I’ve written have each taken about 8 years or so to write, find a publisher, and be released. I sometimes get uncomfortable admitting to this slow pace, but on the other hand, it is what it is considering my other work expectations. Plus, on a deeper and very real level, I think it often just takes a long time to think about and live into complex topics, let alone write about them.

Thirteen years ago I went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, a low-residency program with a unique art and faith emphasis. My primary goal in enrolling in the program was to become a better writer. My secondary goal was to deepen and broaden my understanding of faith and how it informs and is informed by art. In the program, I realized just how deeply these goals were intertwined. Better writing necessitates a deeper and broader spiritual sensibility and vice versa. I mention the program now not to name a credential, but because it continues to have so much to do with who am I am and what I’m about.

I try to re-enter the creative writing work again in the evening. This is mostly in the form of reading rather than writing, but reading always feeds writing. I usually write posts for my blog (Markings) and my newsletter (Dear Reader) on the weekend. Other things always compete with this evening and weekend time, however—including cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping, and spending time with my friends and family so not everything on my list gets done and things take longer and longer. Plus, honestly, my brain is often very tired at the end of a workday, which is another reason my creative work takes a long time.

WEBSITES FREQUENTLY ON MY COMPUTER SCREEN DURING MY WORKDAY.

WEBSITES FREQUENTLY ON MY COMPUTER SCREEN DURING MY WORKDAY.

Medical Writing

When it’s time to start work, I usually move away from the backyard windows to the desk in my home office. For about 16 years, my medical writing was all freelance, but a little over 2 years ago, I shifted to working as a full-time employee for one of my long-term clients. I am very grateful for the routine paychecks, the camaraderie of colleagues, and the opportunity to be part of something bigger than what I could conjure alone at my desk. My medical writing is typically for a physician audience under the umbrella of continuing medical education. For each project, I’m the writer on a team that’s led by a faculty comprised of one or more physicians. Most of the completed projects are available online, but sometimes they are presentations at medical meetings. A few of the topics I’ve written a lot about over the years include hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. There are always new topics as well and so much to learn. Lately, my projects have included Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple other kinds of cancer. I spend a lot of time on the websites of the National Library of Medicine, including ClinicalTrials.gov and PubMed.

St. John’s University Guest House in Collegeville, Minnesota

St. John’s University Guest House in Collegeville, Minnesota

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Final Thoughts From Behind the Scenes

I’m very grateful for my work and creative writing projects, but I don’t want to end this post suggesting a glorious life where all are living happily ever after. Too often, when we talk about work in an all-positive frame, those reading or listening may be left feeling like they’re doing something wrong. To be honest, if readers of Tamara’s blog were all sitting around a dinner table together, I could share troubling stories about work-life, starting with the first day of my first real job, in a hospital microbiology lab, when my coworkers voted on whether to walk off the job in protest for how the staff were treated. I could tell you of the evening many years after that first day in the lab when my husband came home late from work, holding a cardboard box filled with his office stuff, and told me he’d lost his job, just as we had two sons in college and I had started grad school. If we were together around that dinner table, I would listen to your stories as well. We could talk about the hard questions associated with work that books by “experts,” particularly Christian books about work, or dare I say sermons about work that we occasionally hear from the pulpit on Sundays, seem to want to avoid. Work is not just a place from which to serve others or a place to earn money, but a place of human struggle for the one who works, a place of human transformation.

I wrote an essay shortly after my husband lost his job called “A Place at the Table,” first published in Relief Journal, and that was the crystal for my second book Finding Livelihood. I wrote that essay as an effort to deal with his job loss, to make peace with it, but I kept writing what became the book to make peace with work and to explore where work fits on a lifelong spiritual journey.

Peace and hope to each of you in your work lives, paid or not. And thank you to Tamara, for inviting me to be part of this series.


Nancy Nordenson is the author of Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure, (Kalos Press, 2015), and Just Think: Nourish Your Mind to Feed Your Soul (Baker Books, 2004). Her writing has appeared in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Indiana Review, Comment, Under the Sun, Relief, and in other publications and anthologies, including The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (Cascade), Becoming: What Makes a Woman (University of Nebraska Gender Studies), and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage (Kalos Press). Her work has earned multiple "notable" recognitions in the Best American Essays and Best Spiritual Writing anthologies and Pushcart Prize nominations. By day, Nancy works as a medical writer and has written for a variety of venues, including continuing medical education programs and national and international medical symposia. Nancy graduated from North Park University in Chicago with a BA in biology and chemistry and earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. Her website is www.thelivelihoodproject.com.


A song and a prayer for all of us this week

 
May you have livelihood in the fullest sense of the word.
May your eyes be opened to the larger transcendent reality that enfolds your work.
May you live and work in the flow of God’s love and grace, to you and through you.
May your work be absorbed into the overall spiritual journey that is your life.
May your longing for meaning be satisfied even when your daily work fails to satisfy.
May you be refreshed in the time and space of Sabbath-like leisure.
May we all make peace with the shadows.
— The Benediction from Nancy Nordenson's book Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure

We Labor Unto Glory, The Porter’s Gate, featuring Liz Vice

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What about you?

In what ways do you think of your work as a spiritual journey?

Drop me a comment below.


(You can read all of this year’s Work Stories here.)

Weekend Daybook: so many reading recommendations to celebrate the first weekend in autumn!

A curated list of what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from this week

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My thoughtful and generous parents drove to Connecticut (from central NY state) just to have lunch with us and take a walk in the September sunshine. They also delivered some bedroom furniture that my grandparents no longer need that will eventually go into Kendra’s home after she GETS MARRIED next spring! We managed to fit in a first-look in real life of the stunning engagement ring, a visit with the engaged couple, lunch around the table, and a walk at Seaside Park. Family is a good gift and I’m so, so grateful to God for my parents.


(2) posts in the second-annual Work Stories series

  1. More Work Stories: bringing back a favorite for Ordinary Time - This year again, I’m delighted to share some stories from a few friends who are on the same journey of living out their callings one day at a time. I’ve asked them to give us a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be. Some live out their callings in a way that they get paid to do the thing they’re most uniquely suited to be in this world, others work jobs that pay the bills so they are able to pursue those callings. Most are a combination of the two.

  2. Matt Evans' Work Stories: One Job, Many Titles (including "the worst") - Here’s a teaser from a day in Matt’s life as a “husband, a father, a small business owner, equine veterinarian, amateur painter and uber-amateur stand-up comedian”. It’s a pretty great kick-off to this year’s series!

    “…here we are, smack in the middle of Ordinary time again like we mostly are, and Tamara asked me to write a bit about what I fill my Ordinary time with, my Vocation if you will (you will.) Vocation seems to be a popular buzz word among the liturgical thinking community just now. Our church has hired a Director of Vocation recently and while I’m not any more sure of what he does than the Canon, I haven’t seen him at my office helping me extract a horse tooth as of yet, so I’m guessing Vocation is a term that, like Ordinary, is used to encompass that part of the Christian life that is, well, most of it.”

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Matt Evans' Work Stories:

One Job, Many Titles (including "the worst")


(3) links to reorient our concerns about the border

  1. “If we aren’t showing up for immigrant families before the raids happen, we’re already too late.” Jessica Courtney shares her experience I’m an Immigrant in Another Country. I’ve Been Arrested and Separated From my Children. Here’s What I Want You to Know via Preemptive Love.

  2. When a small town loses 100 people in just a few hours, kids come home to find their parents missing. In Sudden Departure, This American Life producer Lilly Sullivan talks to people trying to make sense of where they went and if they’ll come back.

  3. One of the voices I continue to appreciate most on the subject of immigrants and refugees in the United States is Sarah Quezada. Over the past month, she’s invited her weekly newsletter readers to join her in prayer for Stephen Miller, immigration policy advisor to the president. Because Miller’s strong anti-immigrant sentiment is woven throughout each of the policies he writes, Sarah Quezada encouraged her readers to pray for the Lord to soften Miller’s heart. Read more about The Adviser Who Scripts Trump’s Immigration Policy, join us in prayer, and subscribe to Sarah Quezada’s weekly newsletter.

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Sarah Quezada’s newsletter

The Road Map is a “weekly digest navigating faith, justice and culture”


(4) bits & bobs related to work

  1. Plough’s autumn quarterly just released and - fun surprise! - it’s on the subject of Vocation. You can browse the articles online here (or better, yet, subscribe to the print version): Plough Quarterly No. 22: Vocation.

  2. Hear! Hear! It’s Time To Destigmatize Service Industry Jobs via The Urban Phoenix - “With a changing economy and a “new normal” when it comes to making ends meet, we must begin to accept that service jobs are opportunities for growth and stability, not evidence of an unsuccessful life."

  3. Something I’m pretty sure many of my teacher friends and family would endorse, a new monthly column, In Praise of the High School English Teacher via LitHub. “In order to survive as a high school English teacher, you have to be an idealist and a realist in equal parts.”

  4. A sweet and poignant gift from my friends at Think Christian, A Theology of The Office. “In six funny and relatable essays, an array of TC writers break down your favorite episodes, characters, and moments from The Office to unveil the way God’s story can be seen even in Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch.” (Don’t miss the companion-themed Work Playlist on Spotify!)

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A Theology of The Office

Free Ebook from Think Christian!


(5) links to celebrate the beginning of Autumn!

  1. For my local friends - 15 Places To Get Apple Cider Donuts In CT

  2. For my regional friends (and everyone else who wants to visit NYC at this exquisite time of year!) - Where to see fall foliage in NYC: 10 of the best spots for leaf-peeping in the five boroughs

  3. From our Canadian neighbors: The science behind the smell of fall

  4. For my reading friends: Weathering the Books by Rebecca D. Martin via The Rabbit Room

  5. For all of us: 3 Autumn Poems by Jane Tyson Clement via Plough

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3 Autumn Poems by Jane Tyson Clement

image: Swamp In the Forest, detail, by Fyodor Vasilyev


(6) personal favorite book recommendations for atmospheric autumn reading

  1. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

    My first rapturous words for this book and author are written in this post all the way back in 2007. While the Pulitzer-prize winning title chronicles the author’s entire year exploring on foot the Virginia region surrounding Tinker Creek, my imagination has always been captured by the autumn Monarch butterfly migration. This work is nothing if not an atmospheric depiction of the life (and death) cycles of nature.

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

  2. September: A Novel by Rosamunde Pilcher

    “September...when the heather is in full flower, the first chill of autumn cools the air, and the countryside stirs with the hunt, balls, dinner parties, and dance.” A simple, cozy read which requires a mug of tea and a fluffy quilt.

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

  3. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis From A Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll

    The Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi is October 4! Hug your pets and buy Abigail Carroll’s warm, lighthearted and substantive book. Interwoven through the letters, we get a glimpse into the life of the infamous saint, the author's life, and our own lives as well. This book is an autumn fixture on my nightstand since my first read back in 2018.

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

  4. Still Life: An Inspector Gamache Novel (Book 1)

    Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal just after they celebrated a Canadian Thanksgiving (always the second Monday in October). As they go traipsing through the woods to discover clues around the dead body, they kick up loads of autumnal chill and intrigue. If you’re knee-deep into the bestselling series, this first story is worth a re-read!

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

  5. Harry Potter: The Illustrated Collection by J.K. Rowling and Illustrated by Jim Kay

    Since the entire series revolves around the rhythms of a Hogwarts’ school year, autumn is the perfect time to re-read or dive in for the first time! I’m planning to borrow the gorgeous illustrated full-color editions from my children who’ve been pestering me to finally, and for Christ’s sake, finish reading this series!

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

  6. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

    If your typical fall reading includes a couple spooky tales, Flannery O’Connor’s got you covered. Our church’s reading group read the entire collection of short stories together last autumn and it reminded me just how chilling and grotesque O’Connor draws her characters. If nothing else, read her masterpiece A Good Man Is Hard To Find

    Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers


 

(7) posts from the archives

  1. Related to the Work Stories series and highly recommended! 5 of my favorite authors on discovering & honoring our calling (2018)

  2. What would you say? If you could talk to the world right now (2016)

  3. Still one of my favorite stories from our newlywed days. The time we got mac & cheese as a wedding gift [a mini story] (2013)

  4. Always a needed reminder for me! Becoming forgiven [imperfect prose] (2011)

  5. Last week I was trying to describe to a friend my favorite childhood place. Here are the best words I’ve been able to write so far. On the Subject of A Place: an essay, imperfect prose: a Place for rest, pondering words and pictures on a Wednesday morning (2010)

  6. I’ve never forgotten this epiphany. As through a glass: trying to imagine myself a young widow (2009)

  7. The years I was learning what it meant to make friends as an adult - the good, bad, and the ugly. Good medicine & Bad medicine (2007)

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12 years ago

An ordinary weekend overflowing with the good medicine of friendship and beauty.



May your weekend include some rest and some fun with friends and family. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

Weekend Daybook: the what-we-did-this-summer edition

A curated list of what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

I’m happy to be back sharing some of my favorite things. It was a hard and good summer, and we’re celebrating the kindness of God and our community in walking through some hard things. Thank you, too, friends, for your encouragement. I’m grateful

(1) photo from this week

Walking with a friend around the pond at  Grace Farms  in New Canaan, CT.

Walking with a friend around the pond at Grace Farms in New Canaan, CT.

I adore the end-of-summer’s overgrown wildflowers and vegetation. It feels like the entire earth (at least in the Northeastern United States) gave up mowing the lawn in favor of snoozing in a patch of sun. Last week a friend and I drove to one of my favorite spots in Connecticut for a writing day. We managed a little bit of writing, a lot of life-giving conversation, and a sweet ramble across the meadow and around the pond at the always-gorgeous Grace Farms. Along the way we met a robust cricket, comical praying mantis, and debated picking apples off the bulging trees that didn’t belong to us.

This is the way to spend a day in September, friends. I hope you’ll get a similar opportunity this weekend wherever you call home . Here’s some of my favorite good things for your browsing enjoyment.


(2) non-nonsense literary women, I kind of adore but who also intimidate me

  1. The Woman Beside Wendell Berry: The Most Important Fiction Editor Almost No One Has Heard Of via Yes! Magazine | On women’s work, small-town living, and editing Wendell. “I brought in a review, somebody praising my work, and I said, ‘Look at that.’ Tanya said, ‘It’s not going to change a thing around here.’”

  2. Flannery Film from filmmakers Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco and Produced with the support of the Mary Flannery O'Connor trust, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Emory University, and the Georgia College & State University. | We zigzagged through the Deep South on our route from Austin back to Connecticut this summer. Imagine my delight when we realized Milledgeville wasn’t too far off the beaten path!



(3) photos from our tour of
Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, GA

I seem to be especially drawn toward authors I’d be afraid to actually visit in real life. Brian and I were the first ones to arrive and managed a private tour of the home Flannery lived with her mother from 1951 until her early death in 1964 at age 39. When Flannery died from complications of Lupus, her devoted mother left the house untouched. Georgia College (formerly Georgia College for Women), O’Connor’s alma mater, has meticulously recreated the property. I found her bedroom especially meaningful as all of the furniture collected near the doorway to accommodate Flannery’s increasing immobility. Her bed, dresser, desk,, typewriter, and aluminum crutches cluster around a large Bible and simple crucifix. Other than the peacocks, ducks, and chickens wandering the grounds and the visitors who kept company with Flannery and her mother on the screened-in front porch, this bedroom contained O’Connor’s universe. Such a small, tightly-gathered space for the imagined characters that still haunt Flannery O’Connor’s readers today.

Related:


(4) helpful resources to ground your days in a meaningful way

September and January. These are the months I feel like I get a second chance to order my days. Here’s some of the resources that are helping me frame my life with intentionality this fall.

  1. Common Rule Fall Reset via The Common Rule | I’ve been reading this book slowly and am grateful for this two-week Scripture-reading plan to help me dig in more fully. The tagline “habits of purpose for an age of distraction”? Yes, please.

  2. My Daily Bookends via Art of Simple | Tsh Oxenreider’s been sharing her morning and evening routines for years and I’m always glad for her reminder. If nothing else, we can all join her in the first thing she does each morning after turning off her (non-phone) alarm.

  3. Start With This Simple Rhythm via The Next Right Thing podcast | Emily Freeman shares a basic structure for her morning that looks and feels the most like my own.

  4. Crafting A Rule of Life | Steve Macchia’s book is the guide given to me as part of my spiritual direction certification process. I’ve been revising my own Rule of Life for the past two years and hope to share it with you in the near future. For now, enjoy browsing through the posts to see different examples from differing people hoping to live by a “well-ordered way”.



(5) excellent articles on the Gospel implications of our daily work

Read this first: More Work Stories: bringing back a favorite for Ordinary Time

Last fall, during the waning weeks of Ordinary Time, I invited a dozen or so friends and acquaintances to share a day in their work-life as a contribution to a weekly written series called “Work Stories.” In all my years inviting stories on diverse subjects ranging from lament to favorite hobbies, I’ve never had an easier time finding willing participants.

As I began to have more volunteers than weeks left in the series, I recognized the benediction I’d inadvertently conferred on each guest. The invitation to present a snapshot of their weekday work life in a space committed to liturgy and sacrament helped the contributors rightly frame their livelihoods as participation in the kingdom. The guest contributors seemed energized by the opportunity to share a bit of their everyday occupational lives, and in turn, told me they’d received a renewed sense of gratitude for the community with which they spend the majority of their lives—their colleagues.

This year again, I’m delighted to share some stories from a few friends who are on the same journey of living out their callings one day at a time. I’ve asked them to give us a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be. Some live out their callings in a way that they get paid to do the thing they’re most uniquely suited to be in this world, others work jobs that pay the bills so they are able to pursue those callings. Most are a combination of the two.

Here’s more encouragement to view your work life through the lens of the Gospel:

  1. Our Work, God’s Work by Bill Haley via In the Coracle | “Our work in the world was designed to be and continues to be how God does God’s work in the world.”

  2. Finding Christ in Our Work by Dallas Willard via Renovare | “If one will simply learn from Jesus how to do our work we will find the promise, “I am with you always,” to be the sure basis of abundance of life, whatever the “job.”

  3. A World Without Work? by Steven McMullen via Comment Magazine | “Our true challenge is not to avoid work but to figure out how to do the most good possible as we participate in commercial life.”

  4. Thinking And Writing About Your Work by Nancy Nordenson via The Livelihood Project | You’ve probably heard me reference Nancy Nordenson’s beautiful book, Finding Livelihood (which was recently republished by Metaxu Press). In this post, Nancy offers a free journal download to accompany the book or use it on its own. The guided journal that you can download, print out, and write in offers 18 excellent writing prompts to help you think well about your work life.

  5. Christianity and Labor – Essential Books for a Deeper Understanding via Englewood Review of Books | On Labor Day weekend, ERB shared a list of some very helpful books for Christians that reflect on the virtues of labor and its role in flourishing human societies. Some of the books explore the relationship of Christianity to organized labor, others explore crucial facets of vocation and work. (And here’s a counterbalancing list of books on Sabbath, rest, and recreation.)


(6) photos from our visit to The National Memorial For Peace and Justice

Speaking of books we’ve read with our church friends, Brian and I we detoured into Montgomery, AL to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum (created by Bryan Stevenson’s @eji_org) on our drive from Austin back to Connecticut.

I don’t have words yet for the entire experience yet, except for this: Go.

The emphasis the museum makes on the progression from the slave ship to the auction block to the plantation to the back of the bus to the prison cell underscores everything Bryan Stevenson has spoken and written in an unforgettable, multi-sensory experience. The lynching memorial itself - each metal block representing one COUNTY in the US where lynchings occurred (as recently as 1950) - left us speechless.

May God’s Spirit open our eyes, hearts, minds, hands, and mouths for Peace and Justice.


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7 years ago


May your weekend include some rest and some fun with friends and family. Peace...

More Work Stories: bringing back a favorite for Ordinary Time

Work Stories

Living Our Calling One Day At A Time

www.tamarahillmurphy.com

The focus of Ordinary Time

Depending on who you ask, the church calendar has been in Ordinary Time since June. This quirk of the liturgical year is one I find slightly annoying. Is it Ordinary Time immediately following Pentecost Sunday or do we mark the time as weeks after Pentecost? Some churches refer to these weeks as “weeks after Pentecost” beginning with the first Sunday after Pentecost also known as Trinity Sunday. Other churches refer to this time on the calendar as “weeks of Ordinary Time” (as in, “Today is Tuesday, the eleventh of September in the twenty-eighth week of Ordinary Time”). There are a few more variations, but I’ve found it more fruitful to worry less about what to call these weeks between Pentecost and Advent, and instead to focus and become more deeply formed in the theology of the church’s intentions. What does it mean that half of our calendar is left open to the ordinary? What does it tell us about the God who created and gives purpose to our lives?

One way I do this is to consider the parts of Christ’s life that Scriptures tell us almost nothing about. Between his newborn and toddler days which were spent in various locations of the earth, as his parents sought refuge from Herod to the beginning of his more formal ministry marked by his baptism in the Jordan River we know only a few sparse details. You could say this was the Ordinary Time of Christ’s life. The years we can patch together a few details of work and worship made up the vast majority of his days on earth.

Each liturgical cycle, we reenact that reality in the church’s calendar with days, weeks, and months of ordinary time. In the United States, this time of year (summer and autumn), the civic calendar is packed full with holidays and remembrances. The trinity of celebrations that bracket our summer (Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day) ensure we pay attention to the passing of a favorite season of barbecues, vacations, and recreation. From Memorial Day to Veterans Day, our calendars remind us to also set aside time to remember our place as citizens of our country with parades, memorials, and flag raising. (I happen to be writing this post on September 11, another day on our national calendar that will live in infamy.)

If the historic liturgical calendar teaches us to number our days to gain a heart of wisdom, there must be a lot of wisdom to be gained in our regular, working, resting, and worshipping lives. This is the model Christ seemed to have lived, and the church invites us to embrace the same pathway.

A Missional Invitation

In the words of theology professor Wendy Wright, Ordinary Time is a season:

“…to become attentive to the call of discipleship both outer and inner. What are we called to do? … What are we called to be?”

There may not be another area of our lives that we hold most in common without realizing it, and we spend our days trying to fill the gap between what we were made to do and what we actually do with our days. This gap is no small thing; it often feels like an ache we can’t name and leaks out in the midst of our day jobs and our too-short weekends. We carry this sense of wanting something more with us into every relationship and every job interview. We know, in our innermost being, we were made for something good and most of us are not sure how much attention to pay to that feeling.

In the meantime, we have to pay the bills, care for our families, mow the lawn, and figure out what to eat for lunch.

Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong?

In between the lines of the thousands of posts I’ve logged into this blog you can hear these questions and this ache in Brian and me. If nothing else, nearly twenty-nine years of our marriage has been trying to help each other figure out what we’re going to do when we grow up.

In some beautiful ways, God has helped us gain deep peace in this question and we feel like we have some answers to the question of our callings - as individuals and as a couple - that will probably stay with us for the rest of our lives. In addition to the lifelong callings of being husband and wife, mother and father, we now can add a priest (Brian) and spiritual director and writer (me). Whatever else develops for us as we age (grandparenting? caregiving for family members? book writing?), we are grateful for some hard-won confidence that the recent vocational arrivals will stay with us into eternity. Hard-fought, hard-won and all the more rewarding for the sometimes excruciating insecurity on the journey.

As a part of the inaugural Work Stories series, I wrote 3 stream-of-consciousness reflections on our journey:

The Work Stories series

Last fall, during the waning weeks of Ordinary Time, I invited a dozen or so friends and acquaintances to share a day in their work life as a contribution to a weekly written series called “Work Stories.” In all my years inviting stories on diverse subjects ranging from lament to favorite hobbies, I’ve never had an easier time finding willing participants.

As I began to have more volunteers than weeks left in the series, I recognized the benediction I’d inadvertently conferred on each guest. The invitation to present a snapshot of their weekday work life in a space committed to liturgy and sacrament helped the contributors rightly frame their livelihoods as participation in the kingdom. The guest contributors seemed energized by the opportunity to share a bit of their everyday occupational lives, and in turn, told me they’d received a renewed sense of gratitude for the community with which they spend the majority of their lives—their colleagues.

This year again, I’m delighted to share some stories from a few friends who are on the same journey of living out their callings one day at a time. I’ve asked them to give us a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be. Some live out their callings in a way that they get paid to do the thing they’re most uniquely suited to be in this world, others work jobs that pay the bills so they are able to pursue those callings. Most are a combination of the two.

I’d love to hear your stories, too. At the conclusion of each post, I’ll add a prayer of blessing for all of us in our work and ask a question about your own vocational journey. I’d be honored for you to take a few minutes to share those answers with me in the comments.

Let’s help each other recognize the truth that many times

our most extraordinary qualities are demonstrated during our ordinary work.


For more reading about the journey to discover our callings…

Tamara:

Brian:

You can see last year’s guest posts here: Work Stories 2018 wrap-up!

Weekend Daybook: the evil, tragedy, memorials, and common grace edition

A week of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

You can consider this late from last week or early for next! We’ll be gone for the next couple of weeks and I look forward to catching back up with you in September, friends!

(1) photo from this week

A common grace found in Kennebunk, Maine: The MOST delicious lobster roll I’ve ever eaten + fresh squeezed lemonade. I will never forget this meal.

A common grace found in Kennebunk, Maine: The MOST delicious lobster roll I’ve ever eaten + fresh squeezed lemonade. I will never forget this meal.


(2) helpful podcasts covering the subject of gun control

As with most other important policies, gun control is complicated. It feels hopeful we may finally move to more common sense in regulation, but we need wise governance to navigate all the complexities. These two podcasts helped me think through this issue with more knowledge and nuance.

  1. Trump Says He’s Ready For Gun Measures | via KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center

  2. Constitutional Primers: Second Amendment | via Pantsuit Politics


(3) links remembering Toni Morrison

I’ve not yet had the courage to read her work. I keep waiting for the “right moment” to engage emotionally and intellectually. In the meantime, I’m grateful especially to one of my favorite writing peers, Allison Backous Troy, for pointing toward Morrison as “a powerful witness, Toni Morrison's God Help the Child brings us into the work of reconciliation, the work of the Cross.”

  1. Toni Morrison – Remembering the Award-winning Novelist [NPR] | via Englewood Review of Books

  2. The withering witness of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child and The rough redemption of Toni Morrison’s Home by Allison Backous Troy | via Think Christian

  3. How Toni Morrison Countered the Canon by Karen Swallow Prior | via Think Christian


(4) beautiful examples of the Church responding to evil and tragedy in Dayton and El Paso

Slowly, slowly - and, sadly, too late for many - a few voices from the American Church are more clearly demonstrating a public response that sounds like what Jarvis J. Williams and Curtis A. Woods describe in the CT piece linked below : “We believe in a Savior who redeems, a Spirit who reconciles, and a gospel that is the antithesis of white supremacy.”

  1. Context for El Paso mass shooting from Sami DiPasquale, Executive Director of Ciudad Neuva

  2. Returning to the Lord in Times of Evil and Tragedy by Fr. Peter Coelho, Church of the Cross, Austin, TX

  3. A Litany of Lament and Repentance For Our Treatment of Immigrants and Refugees | via Caminemos Juntos

  4. Jesus, Deliver Us from This Racist Evil Age by Jarvis J. Williams and Curtis A. Woods | via CT


(5) remembrances on the 5th anniversary of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson

Jemar Tisby’s piece reminded me that it was not only Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent protests in Ferguson that began to wake me up to my own racist complicity, but more specifically a question I asked an Intervarsity leader friend of mine after he returned from Urbana ‘15. I heard my own racism more clearly than ever and began to confess, repent and hope for reconciliation with my Black neighbors.

  1. Michael Brown Jr.’s Sisters Remember Their Brother on the Fifth Anniversary of His Police Shooting Death | via StoryCorps

  2. Five Years Later, Two Ferguson Protestors Reflect on the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photo that Captured their Anguish — and Connection | via StoryCorps

  3. How Ferguson widened an enormous rift between black Christians and white evangelicals by Jemar Tisby | via Washington Post

  4. I’m a Shooting Survivor. If You’re Going to Pray for Us, Here’s How. by Taylor Schumann | via CT

  5. Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, 2015 by Mark Dukes

Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, Mark Dukes   Source

Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, Mark Dukes

Source


(6) photos from my first week participating in #AugustBreak2019

I’m always ready by August for a little daily prompt to keep paying attention to the beauty of summer, aren’t you?

There is much to be cynical about—and it is a good answer if there has not been an incarnation. But if that has happened, if the Word did become flesh, and if there are men and women who in and through their own vocations imitate the vocation of God, then sometimes and in some places the world becomes something more like the way it ought to be.
— Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

(7) links featuring first-person narratives expanding our understanding of the Imago Dei

I hope you’ll take the time to read through this list I’ve curated. It covers an expanse of people and places, held together by the thread of society’s outliers. May reading the words translate into real-life noticing in our everyday lives.

  1. Confessing My Racism by Anna Broadway via Amy Julia Becker’s Thin Places at CT | How forgiveness could transform us all: “But insofar as we can call racism a blind spot (by which I don't in any way mean to absolve people of responsibility), Jesus taught a very different process for correction: start with your own sin.”

  2. Introducing: Mockingbird, History Lessons For Adults via Black Coffee with White Friends | "What if, all those years ago, when I asked Mrs. Jacka, “what should I be,” she’d been able to tell me, “Well, your people were the great pharaohs who were already here. They were from distant lands like Egypt and they arrived with gold spears to trade with the indigenous people who allowed them to stay and exchanged land for goods”? See a sample lesson here: Gimme shelter

  3. Christ in the Camps by Caitlin Flanagan via The Atlantic | Migrant children are suffering. Christians need to help: “But the Beatitudes come at you sideways sometimes, and that’s when you’re really in trouble. It occurred to me this morning that maybe as a Christian I’m also supposed to be meek.”

  4. My time with Jean Vanier and his mom, the grandmother of L’Arche by Ellen Rahner via America Magazine | "My time with Jean Vanier and his mom, the grandmother of L’Arche."

  5. The Fruits of Your Suffering: A Letter to My Refugee Mom by Adrienne Minh-Chau Le via On Being | "I have grown up so comfortably eating the fruits of your suffering."

  6. Going Home with Wendell Berry by Amanda Petrusich via The New Yorker | The writer and farmer on local knowledge, embracing limits, and the exploitation of rural America.

  7. The McDonald's Test by Chris Arnade via Plough | Learning to Love Back Row America


May your weekend include some rest and some fun with friends and family. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!