Saturday, March 20, 2010

Making the ordinary holy

After a conversation yesterday, I started thinking about that often-talked-about difference between working to live and living to work.  A few times in the course of my life, I've run across people who have exemplified this difference to such a degree that their example bears following.

Years ago, out on the Olympic Penninsula, we lived out of town on our own little acre (well, ours and the bank's, though if we still lived there, we'd own it outright now).  Because of this, we had a well and septic tank.  And, eventually, the need to clean out that septic tank. Such need led Beve, through his normal channels of research, i.e., talking to everyone he knew who also had a septic tank, to a man named Dale Brown.  Dale Brown who called himself--get this, I kid you not--the turd merchant!  Beve set a date for this merchant of turds to come to our house, which, of course, happened to coincide with a time when I'd be home from work, but he might not be yet.  Such is always my life.  So one bright spring afternoon, Dale showed up at our house with his tanker truck, complete with the name emblazoned across the side, like he was proud of it or something.  I showed him the septic cover, then made myself busy inside with who knows what, probably laundry and vacuuming.  Yep, I'm guessing vacuuming where the noise could keep me from thinking what Dale Brown was pumping out back.  Only Dale hadn't started pumping when he came to our back door and knocked loudly.
"You gotta see this," he told me gleefully.  A large cover had been dislodged from our yard, a giant hole exposed.  I stood uncertainly in the doorway.
"Come on," he said. So I put on my shoes and followed him out to our septic tank, where I stood as far back from it as I could and still seem to be seeing it.
"See that crust on it?" he asked.  I nodded. "That's just how it's supposed to look.  You've done everything right.  This is like the perfect septic tank.  I'm so excited, I wanted to take a picture."
Though to him, he'd uncovered buried treasure in that septic tank in our back yard, I stood far back from the edge, barely glancing at it.  And I'm pretty sure I pulled my arm up over my nose when he actually laid down on the grass and peered down into the tank, pointed.  Then I backed away gladly, because about that time, Beve got home, wandered out to take my place as interested spectator, so I could hustle back into the safety of the house. But then, Beve is always interested in those kind of things, and doesn't have as quick a gag reflex as I do.


That afternoon, as he pumped the tank, Beve and Dale talked.  Shared war stories, so to speak--or perhaps I should say tank stories.  Then they got to talking about how good it is to like the job you feel called to do.  Yes, even Dale Brown, the turd Merchant, who told Beve this story.  Once he was taking a load of garbage (not from his job!) to the county dump.  The woman checking cars through looked like she'd been sucking on prunes all day.  Grumpy and ill-mannered, definitely not smiling.  Dale asked her what the matter was, and the woman said, "I work at the dump. Wouldn't you be in a bad mood?"
Dale said, "Listen lady, I pump turds for a living."
And made the woman smile.  Laugh. "You beat me," she said.
"Not only that," Dale said. "I love my job.  It's a service people need, and I get to do it."  He didn't say it, but the implication was--'just like you.'

Dale Brown, the turd merchant, had turned his most base of jobs into the most holy, because he believed he'd been called to do it.  Called to serve the world in just that way.  It isn't WHAT we do that makes our work holy.  It isn't whether we're full-time employees of the church or a ministry that makes us doing our work unto Christ.  It's How we do the work we're given to do.  It's doing even the earthy of life's jobs for Him.  For the Kingdom.  Whether a teacher or garbage collector, a writer or an engineer, a clerk or a parent.  And ultimately, what makes the ordinary holy is WHO we serve when we serve.  Dale Brown teaches me this.  Pastors can also, but I think someone like Dale Brown might do it better--because he lives it, because he does something most of us would never, ever do.

How will you do your work, your God-called, God-given work this day (or maybe Monday, if you get this day off)?  How will you do whatever it is you have to do this day?  How will you make the ordinary holy?  We could do worse than follow the example of the turd merchant.

"Do your work heartily, as unto God, rather than people."

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