16 Apr Common Ground Editorial: April 2021
Over a year ago, as New Zealand went into the first lockdown, Venn launched Common Ground. As the impact of COVID-19 unfolded, we found ourselves opening up new avenues for our mission with audio, art, photography, and many kinds of writing. Alongside Common Ground, we broadcast Venn Lockdown Radio, pursuing ways to keep in step with our alumni, and with the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand; we’ve since launched the podcast Venn Presents. It’s been a wonderful journey with you all.
In the course of this adventure, we’ve understood better the place such resources have in our work, as Venn seeks to help people embrace the depth and riches of the Christian tradition for the good of their homes, universities, workplaces, churches, and communities. The development of resources has become a core part of our mission, and we’re excited about the possibilities this opens up for us, and for those we’re resourcing. While the impacts of COVID-19 will be with New Zealand for some time, the easing of the immediate crisis allows us to step a bit deeper into Venn’s storehouse of teaching and learning to offer wider, richer reflections on our life with God and others. We’re looking forward to the road ahead.
If there is one aspect of our everyday life with God that needs wider, richer reflection, it is work. It’s striking: we spend the majority of our waking hours expending effort to secure the needs of our lives, and (hopefully) to contribute to the larger flourishing of our common life, and yet when it comes to understanding work—what it is, its place in God’s ordering of life, what the good of it is—most of us fumble and mumble. Good teaching and preaching on work is as notable in the Church for its scarcity as it is for any insights.
So what does God make of your work? Whether an architect or arborist, dog-walker or dentist, teacher aid or trade negotiator, what’s the good of your work? What does faithfulness in work mean for those who follow Jesus, who are called together as the Church? The answers most readily to hand either seem to be vague or general: we fall back into encouragements to ‘just do what you’re passionate about,’ or such a narrow band of endeavour is commended to us (pastoral ministry, overseas mission, something health-related) that we’re left wondering if good work is even an option for us. Even while we devote most of our waking hours to work, many of us address this crucial gap in our understanding by neatly dividing reality in two: there’s work, and then there’s the rest–family, community, God, faith, and so on.
And yet Scripture reminds us: the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Ps 24). There is no sphere or aspect of our lives that does not fall under God’s rule, that is excused his attention. Useful as the segregation of ‘work’ and ‘life’ may be for a secularised existence, such division is not an option for followers of Jesus Christ. We need to do better.
Over the course of the next three issues of Common Ground, we’ll be thinking again about work. What does it mean to work well? What’s the good of this effort and endeavour, and why is work so often hard? Is work simply food on the table and money in the offering bag, or might my work in fact be a means of true worship?
In this edition, Andrew Shamy opens up the conversation with a breath-takingly large view, setting our work within the opening chapters of Genesis, and within God’s purposes for a flourishing creation. Such a generous frame is needed, if we’re to begin to understand work rightly. Just as expansive is the call to worship Dr Luke Fenwick finds in Joachim Neander’s hymn ‘Lobe den Herren,’ a treasure of the faith that celebrates God’s sovereign rule and generous provision in all our working and living. Rev. Frank Ritchie is back to commend to us silence, a spiritual practice that opens our daily grind to God’s presence and initiative. We’re excited that Artist Ashleigh Tuck has created an original artwork for this issue. She reflects on what she’s learning about art as work. Finally, this month we launch a new in-depth interview, Field Notes: conversations with people about their work and faith. Dan Mazengarb, a Senior Lender at Christian Savings, reflects on what he’s learned about work, vocation, and God’s unfolding purposes in his life.
Our banner image for this edition, created by alumna Kareen Durbin, is a reflection on the simplicity and urgency of our work: for some, mundane tasks of cleaning and re-cleaning are crucial for the health and wellbeing of dependents; for others, finding and procuring water is a significant and urgent aspect of a day’s work. Both have meaning and dignity.
This is Common Ground: may God challenge and encourage you as you seek him in all your working and resting.
Dr John Dennison, Editor
(Image: Kareen Durbin, 2021)