Poured Out

Human Work in the Modern World

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

Cairn: Work

Web: technology, theology

I recently finished listening to Human Work by Jamie Merisotis. Merisotis does an excellent job of outlining his vision of work in a digital and technologically advanced world. “Work” in our digitally washed and technologically advanced world will not be synonymous with a job — that thing we do and we usually hate but that gives us money so that we can actually do the stuff we like to do!

Work will be that vocation in which “earning, learning, and serving,” as Merisotis says, will be inextricably connected.

Extrapolating from Merisotis’ view of the future, we can think about the paradigm of the current modern world as we live it now. Our current modern world, caught between the competing forces of Post-modernism’s obliteration of meaning, the Industrial Revolution’s emphasis on efficiency, and the digital world’s promise of freedom through information, is one in which we’ve attempted to account for too many of ourselves.

We are used to the classic metaphor of God as bookkeeper. At the Pearly Gates he’ll open the ledger, flip to our name, and determine the balance of our blessings or sins. But in the modern world, we’ve splintered that metaphor. The current modern paradigm is more like if each individual person had their own massive book, and one page balanced the credits and debits of that person’s work identity, another balanced the credits and debits of that person’s spousal identity, another their parent identity, another their identity that follows his or her passion, and so on. God has many pages to fill for each person. He has a library of ledgers, not just one.

Merisotis’ prediction for human work in which “earning, learning, and serving” are connected, however, requires a shift in the way we view our ‘ledgers.’ It requires, for example, that the work self does not demand a credit to the ledger of the work self to balance that page. That credit may go rogue and find its home in the page of the spousal self. Each page of the ledger will not balance. But in totality, the book will balance, and in so balancing, we will have a view of the total human being.

But is that far enough? I think there is even more to this ‘decentralization’ of the human ledger. There is the very real possibility, however discomfiting it may be, that a credit will never enter the individual human’s ledger, or that a debit may be dropped. And when this happens, God opens a book, and he may have trouble zeroing it out.

“Chris Quinn, ay?” he might say.

“Yes, sir.”

“Not balanced I see?”

“Oh,” I might say. “Is that good or bad?”

“It is difficult to tell,” he’ll say. “There are many entries that are actually on the pages of many other books,” and he’ll point to the library behind him.

“Oh, I’ll say.” Silence. “So, then what does that mean?” And I’ll glance over his shoulder at the glowing entrance to Heaven and then peer down off my little cloud, so perilously supported by some divine magic, and I’ll see some flames lick up at my heels. I’d gulp down a flow of saliva, then say, “I didn’t even know you actually kept a book.”

“Many books,” he’ll correct. “There are many books. I had just one when there were only a few thousand people on earth, but you know how it goes, more people, more information, and so the angels came up with this library system, but it’s several hundred years old now, and yes, well, it’s not surprising — these imbalances. Not suprising at all.”

And then he’ll close it shut, throw it off the cloud so that it falls way down into a vent of Hell and flares up, gone forever. Then he’ll tip over the shelves with all the other books and they’ll cascade into the furnace of Hell and be gone.

“But that was my life,” I’ll say. “That was the record of all the good and the bad stuff I’ve done. How do you know what I’ve done? What anyone’s done?”

“Yes, well,” he’ll say. “The thing is, I only keep this book because you people expect me to. How can I separate what you’ve done from what you’ve done to others, and what they’ve done to you? Only by looking at the Totality can I see it all. Only by looking at you in me and me in you can I see it all.”

And then I will see that the flames are not at my heels. And I will see that the gates have always been open. Merisotis’ view of “human work” is not simply human. It is divine. I hope that does not sound too hyperbolic. But I believe it to be true. I believe this willingness to pour oneself out for others — to earn, learn, and serve — without looking for tracible recompense is divine.

As Christ died, Paul says that he “poured” himself out (Phillipians 2:7). The Christ was never fully contained within the body of Jesus. His ledger was never balanced. He was debited far more than he deserved. And he credited far more than he needed to. Through love, we can do likewise.

We would be fools to believe that we are singular, concentrated, and compacted into this material form, insulated from everyone and everything else. We are split out like wisps of Spirit, diffused throughout the spread of reality. We are poured out upon the totality of existence. And there is no book, human or divine, to keep that record.(Though we’re doing a pretty damn good job with blockchain tech. But that’s a story for another time!) There is only the Mystery itself.

So, to Merisotis’ point, we must find a way to do human work: that which enables us to stop keeping tabs on the ledgers of our lives and to trust the diffuse totality of it all. To have faith that the only book there ever has been— that which is not written in ink, but in our words, our actions, our creations, our interactions, our prayers, our peaces, our pains, our sufferings, our sins — will be balanced beyond our capacity to ever understand.

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