Two Competing Visions of the Future: Freedom and Dignity in Genesis 1 vs. The Babylonian Captivity

Mosaic of lion in Babylon

A Story of Hope, Freedom, and the Possibility of Human Flourishing.

The creation story found at the beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1, had special meaning for the people of Israel during the period known as the Babylonian captivity.

In the years leading up to 587 BCE Jerusalem, it’s Temple, and several other cities were conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. Many of the people were taken into captivity in Babylon and held there for more than 50 years, longer than a typical lifetime.

One of the things the Babylonians did to maintain their dominance was to bring people together periodically to hear the Babylonian story of creation, the Enuma Elish. This was an awful story that was an attempt to justify the oppression of the captive people by the Babylonians.

But the captives had another story — the creation story of Genesis 1. This was a much different story, one that involved freedom, human dignity, the goodness of creation, and the possibility of living a flourishing life. And this story was about the true God.

In the story from Genesis 1, God creates humans in his own image, blesses them, and tells them to be fruitful, fill the earth, and have dominion over it. In other words, we are to be creative and productive, and to flourish. It would be understandable if the captives in Babylon heard this story as a message of hope and a sign that their oppression would not last.

This optimistic view of Genesis 1 sometimes seems to be inconsistent with what we see in the world and in history. It sometimes even seems like the life we saw in Babylon has not ended for some people. We continue to see brokenness, sin, and oppression. And we all have plenty of problems in our work lives as well. We have good times, of course, times when the human spirit seems to emerge from its enslavement. But the forces that would enslave us can reemerge as well.

Like the captives in Babylon, we need to remember the underlying story and take it to heart. And that is the topic of this episode.(Time 12:18)
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Work As Service To Others

Waiter servingThere are great many products and services, and a great many jobs, that are needed to build and maintain a flourishing society: those who produce food and other goods, distributors and retailers, communicators of various kinds, accountants, lawyers, and administrators, and many, many others.

And here we have a problem – – a problem of perception. The contribution of the people doing many of these jobs goes unappreciated, at least in religious contexts.(Time: 9:01)
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When Callings Become Burdensome

Millennial working photoAn acquaintance in his late 20s made a very interesting observation a few days ago. He said that finding a calling has become a serious problem for people his age – – but not in the way that I had expected.

His contention was that there has been so much emphasis, especially among his peer group, to find your calling, or to follow your passion, that the concept has become burdensome. Rather than finding a job that pays some money and seems to have a future, many people feel they are under a great deal of pressure to find not only a job but a calling. This has made it more difficult for them to get on with life.

Part of the problem, of course, is that it can take a long time to find or develop a calling, as Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy point out in their book Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work. This can lead to a great deal of frustration if we try to rush the process.

But I think there might be more going on here.

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Small Group Curriculum

Small Group Guide Cover

Preview Small Group Discussion Guide

Transforming Work: Spiritual Renewal for Your Work Life is now available as a preview. Our small group discussion guide is designed to help people connect their faith or spirituality and their work, and to help them find ways to deal with work related issues. Each session includes a passage of scripture, a short commentary, and questions for discussion.

While it is formatted for use by small groups, it can also be used for individual study and reflection.

Our plan is to offer it for free as a digital download for thirty days and then, after receiving your feedback, offer it for sale. if you would like to download it for free, please visit our Transforming Work page and we will be happy to send you a link.

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The Ups and Downs of Following a Calling

Finding your calling: Tom King interview photo.In this special edition we interview solar energy professional Tom King. Tom has a very interesting story to tell about finding and following a calling, and the ups and downs this can involve. Along the way he has worked in a variety of fields — coaching college sports, construction, information technology, a small food start up, produce distribution, and now solar energy. Tom has picked up several important insights which he shares with us.

This is our first interview; let us know if you like the format and we will do more.
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The Quest for the Sacred: The Story of King Herod and the Wise Men

Photo of Wise Men sculptureThe story of the wise men – – also known as the Magi – – is one of the great stories of the Bible. The late James Dittes of Yale saw in the story a battle between two conflicting aspects of our human nature, a drive for stability and control, and a drive to forsake stability and control in order to pursue a quest for the sacred. In the story, the desire for stability and control is represented by Herod and the quest for the sacred is represented by the wise men.
Both are necessary and contribute to human flourishing.
The drive for stability, in its uncorrupted form, is important to us. It provides the foundation for the coherence that helps us make sense of daily life. It enables us to make decisions regarding our work, our family, and other areas of our lives. Too much turmoil makes it almost impossible to make clear decisions and to build effectively for the future.
But the quest is important too. What I am calling the quest has to do with our search for the sacred, for transcendence, for meaning. We can think of the quest as the natural outgrowth of the intuitive human desire to connect with something deeper than ourselves – to experience a deeper sense of connection with God. It is as though over the course of our lives we are being drawn to God.
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Can Your Work Be Your Calling?

Photo of man working

Finding Purpose

No matter what we see as the primary purpose of our work, it is clear that if we can find more meaning in it, then we are likely to be more effective, more purposeful, and happier. For some people, this means seeing their work as their calling.

In this episode we talk about what it means to have a calling, and how we might develop or find it. While people have used several very different definitions, we will focus on what we see as its key aspects.
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(Time: 11:59)

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Going Backwards

Photo of depressed manMost of us have had times when we seem to be going backwards in our career or in our work life. Or maybe times when we seemed to be dead in the water while everyone else was moving forward.
But in these situations are we really moving backwards? Or might there be something going on, out of sight – – something that is laying the foundation for new growth – – something of which we might be completely unaware?
There is hope.
We might not be able to change our objective circumstances, at least in the short run, but we can control our response. . .
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Ralph Waldo Emerson on Vocation

Drawing of Ralph Waldo EmmersonFrom a sermon preached by Ralph Waldo Emerson at the Second Church, Boston, October 21, 1832:

How many men now regard their business as so much interruption, as so much injury to their religious life? Their religious character is something separate from their daily actions. If instead of this each man worked in his favorite calling in the way and according to the principles of his own inward Teacher – and therefore with love – if he saw in every day’s labor that he was thereby growing more skillful and more wise; that he was co-operating with God in his own education, so that every dollar he earned was a medal of so much real power, — the fruit and means of so much real goodness; if neither his working hours nor his rest was lost time, but all was helping him onward, — would not his heart sing for joy? Would not the day be brighter and even the night light about him? Would not company be more pleasant and even solitude be sociable and his life reveal a new heaven and a new earth to his purer eyes?

The concept of calling can mean different things to different people, and in fact there are several different definitions in use by scholars of the subject. But I think Emerson points to something that should not be left out —

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Passion and Our Work

Photo of woman concentrating on work
We sometimes hear that we should “follow our passion”. But what happens when we actually do have a passion for our work – or maybe for some aspect of our work? Is this positive? Or is it negative? Actually, according to psychologist Robert Vallerand, it could be either one — depending on the type of passion. Vallerand has written a very interesting and valuable book called the Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model in which he proposes that there are two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. This has important implications for our work lives, which we explore in this episode.
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