Tag Archives: Protestant Work Ethic

Chorus to a Tale of Pain & Purpose

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah…
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1:1a, 21 (NIV) 

In the history of theatre, Greece was the first great age. The Greeks developed several theatrical conventions that are still widely used today including the use of what was called a Chorus to prepare the audience for what they are about to watch and to narrate the events. Shakespeare used the same convention widely in his plays, as do many modern productions.

The first chapter of Daniel is the literary equivalent of a Chorus. The author, traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, uses the opening of the book to provide a quick lay of the land with regard to the background of the story and introduces us to the major players. The fact that the chapter describes Daniel and his companions as being learned young men who were then given a thorough course in Babylonian literature and culture, is ironic. It seems to me that the chapter itself gives evidence to this in its structure and content.

In the next year, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers will be studying the theme of exile. I’ve written in previous posts about the theme of wilderness throughout the Great Story. The exile of God’s people in Babylon is one of the major examples and many casual readers don’t realize just how many characters, psalms, and books come out of this period. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah are all books that chronicle parts of the Babylonian exile and return.

In today’s chapter, Daniel provides bookend dates of the story he’s about to pen. It starts in the “third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah” and ends the first year of King Cyrus. A little study shows this to be 605-539 B.C. In other words, Daniel was an educated young man from nobility in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. His hometown is destroyed in a long Babylonian siege in which Daniel watched people starve to death and, according to the prophet Jeremiah, reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Out of this horrific event, Daniel is taken captive by his enemy. He is torn from his family, his people, and his hometown which has been reduced to rubble. He ends up in the capital city of his enemy, Babylon, and finds himself subject to indentured servitude to his people’s enemy number one: King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s own name is taken from him and he is given a new name. He is forced for three years to learn everything about the history, culture, and literature of his enemy.

A young man of God forced to live in captivity and exile and to serve his enemies for about 65 years. Welcome to the story of Daniel, whom many people only know from brightly illustrated children’s books in the dusty Sunday School memory bins of their brains.

But the real story is far deeper and more complex than that, as Daniel tries to tell me as a reader in his opening Chorus. It is the story of a young man who finds a way to survive. He courageously maintains and lives out his faith in the midst of the unbelievably difficult circumstances that make up nearly his entire life.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the common misperception I observe followers of Jesus often have, and that I confess I find myself unconsciously falling into from time to time. It’s partially driven, I believe, by the American Dream and the Protestant work ethic. If we believe, work hard, and live good lives then life should be a breeze of material blessing and pain-free existence. But as I journey through God’s Message I find that this has never been the message. Daniel fires an explosive shot across the bow of that notion from the very beginning of his story.

Trauma, suffering, starving, captivity, bondage, indentured servitude, and life-long exile in the land of his enemies serving a mad king.

I find God’s purpose in my pain. That’s the message Daniel foreshadows in the Chorus of his book, and the one I’ve been reminded of over and over again on my life journey.

 

Simple Virtues; Simple Joys

A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.
A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Psalm 128:1-2a (NIV)

This morning as I went to the front door to gather the newspaper off the front porch, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. The simple joy of gathering the paper off the porch on a frigid January morning, and reading it over morning a hot cup of coffee is deeply rooted in my soul. I got my first job when I was almost twelve working as a paper boy for the now defunct Des Moines Tribune. There were two Des Moines newspapers when I was a kid. The Des Moines Register was the morning paper and the Des Moines Tribune was the afternoon paper. My buddy Scott Borg and I would categorize people in our neighborhood into “morning paper” people and “afternoon paper” people. Me and my family were afternoon paper people until the Des Moines Tribune closed up shop.

As a paperboy for “The Trib” I picked up my bundle each afternoon after school at the corner of Madison and Lawnwoods Dr. With a big yellow canvas paper carrier that was slung over the shoulder and a bag of rubber bands (or plastic bags on rainy days), I would begin my trek each week day west up Madison Avenue to Lower Beaver Road, then south to Douglas Ave. I would make my way back north on Lawnwoods Drive, as I zig-zagged up and down the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues. Delivering The Trib also meant you had to deliver the giant Des Moines Sunday Register early every Sunday morning. The slug who delivered The Register each weekday morning got to sleep in.

Map of my old paper route.
Map of my old paper route.

Every two weeks I was tasked with making a personal visit to each of my Tribune customers to collect their subscription fees. They would pay me and I would give them a little receipt torn from a perforated sheet of receipts. I would have to count the money, balance the amount, and turn it in to my regional manager. I got to know many of the people in the neighborhood around my home and even got a tip from time to time.

I come from a family in which the protestant work ethic was firmly engrained. Work was a virtue to be pursued at an early age. From my early career in the newspaper business I became an “Inventory Specialist” for my dad’s sign company. The monotonous task of counting hundreds of screws, bolts and washers out of large bins taught me very quickly that I just might want to do something different with my life. Paperboy, bolt counter, corn pollinator, lawn maintenance, film duster, actor, babysitter, bus boy, and retail clerk. By the time I left high school and headed off to college I had a wealth of work experience. By the time I left college I could add librarian’s assistant, cook, dishwasher, resident assistant, waiter, caterer, and voice over talent to the list.

There is honor in doing a job. There is even greater honor in doing a job well. That was the example of my grandparents, parents, and older siblings. That was the ethic of my Dutch ancestors. I’m grateful for that. This morning I’m thinking about simple virtues like doing a job, and about simple joys like opening up a newspaper with your morning coffee and reading your news “the old fashioned way.”

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Charitable Work

English: Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2:2-20) Русский: ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
Ruth 2:5-6 (NLT)

Part of the story behind the story in today’s chapter is an ancient practice of charity. In the days before a central government and welfare, the society itself had to find a way to provide for the poor. In keeping with God’s laws, Farmers would leave part of their crop unharvested, or would allow the poor to follow behind the harvesters and pick up grain that was missed. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, both being widows, had no choice but to depend on this charity. Ruth followed behind the harvesters Boaz sent into the fields and gathered the scraps they left behind.

I am largely of Dutch heritage, and I sometimes think that “the Protestant work ethic” is knit into my DNA. There is honor in working hard. If you work hard as though God is your employer, you will be blessed. That’s what I’ve been taught since I was young along with being reminded of another simple teaching from God’s Message: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

I find it interesting at how this simple principle was put into practice in ancient days. There was no entitlement. Ruth and Naomi had a recourse to get food, but it required labor and Ruth was working hard to provide for herself and her mother-in-law not realizing that she was about to be blessed in unexpected ways.