Common Ground Editorial: May 2021

‘How’s work going?’ The question sounds innocuous, on a par with ‘how’s the weekend?’, ‘how’s the family?’. But, breezy answers aside, any consideration of the state of our working lives is frequently complex. We find ourselves naming difficulties, failures, and conflicts; we notice the conflicted hopes and fears that cluster around work; we find it assuming a dominant role in our lives, and we’re conscious of work’s fraught impact in the lives of others. As Kareen Durbin’s banner this month suggests, we find ourselves caught between God’s good creation and what we’ve made of it. How’s work going? It’s complicated.

In last month’s Common Ground, Andrew Shamy opened this series on work with a rich unfolding of Genesis 1:26. Work, he affirmed, is part of God’s good creation; indeed, it’s a central aspect of our vocation to mediate God’s love and goodness to the rest of creation, and to glorify God in all we do. But a fuller account of work demands that we ask: if this is true, what’s gone wrong with our work? How is it that work has become a source of grief, distorting our identities and dominating lives?

This is precisely the question Olivia Burne picks up in this month’s feature article. Beginning with her own experience in elite sport, she then returns to Genesis to consider the context of our work apart from Christ’s redemption: humanity’s rebellion against God, and our exile from the garden. But her thoughtful piece lingers longest in Genesis 11, and the strange but revealing story of the tower of Babel. Here, Olivia invites us to consider our work and identity, work and idolatry, work and oppression.

Julian Wood’s art reflection makes for a fitting companion piece to Olivia’s article. He invites us to look—and then look harder—at Xu Bing’s magnificent but conflicted sculpture Phoenix 2008-2010. We continue our Field Notes series with an interview with Kate Muirhead, alumna and Litigation Principal for Meredith Connell. Our monthly practice, conceived by Venn CEO Rev. Dr Nathan McLellan, provides you with a chance to reflect on your own work situation. You’ll find a simple worksheet to guide you through the process he outlines. We commend it to you as worth a quiet 20 minutes. Finally, we’re considering the realities of our work in a fallen world, but reality is, we know, so much more than the here-and-now. To help us on our way, Sam Bloore takes down from his bookshelf Tolkien’s short story Leaf by Niggle, a parable of work within God’s larger redemptive purposes.

Indeed, to anticipate next month’s Common Ground, we can work confident our labours are not in vain. For all things—including our work—find their redemption and completion in the victory of Christ. Whether you’re picking this up on your daily commute, browsing it on a lunch break, or enjoying sabbath rest at the end of the week, may what you find here be a help, an encouragement, and a blessing.

Ngā mihi,

Dr John Dennison

Editor, Common Ground