A Christian Heathen
“Don’t work at the funeral home … you can’t serve God there.”
As a youngster who had his heart set on fire by God, I was given two occupational possibilities by the spiritual authorities in my life: the sacred vocations of either a Pastor or a Missionary. Anything else was considered missing out on God’s will … everything else was somehow “secular.”
I had witnessed the consequences that this “sacred and secular divide” idea had on my dad. He was told, by various people, that if he really wanted to serve God, he’d quit his job and serve full-time as a missionary. I’ve seen how he’s questioned his life, wondering if he’s wasted his life away in a “secular job”. I’ve seen how he has, at one time or another, felt like a second-class citizen of the Kingdom.
Good is the enemy of best, they say. And best is definitely not being a funeral director … or an electrician, or a chef, or anything other than a pastor or a missionary, they say. “You’re wasting your life”, they say.
Let me pause here, before I continue my soap-box ranting, self-justifying promotion. Let me explain the source of this supposed “sacred” and “secular” split.
The idea has it’s incipiency in Plato’s “Forms and forms.” For Plato, what we see, experience, touch, taste, etc. is a representation (a “form”) of the universal, perfect and ideal “Form”. The “form” is this worldly, while the “Form” is otherworldly, beyond man’s full comprehension (If you’re saying to yourself, “This sort of sounds like how I think about God.” … it’s because Christians hijacked Plato’s ideas. We like to imagine God to be the perfect “Form” of man … such speculation has littered Christian theology with all sorts of fun theological terms that are more often platonic than biblical.).
This separation between the real and the ideal was “neoized”, rethought, spun, and yet still made its way somewhat intact to the more recent Enlightenment as the division between “mind” and “matter”. Stanley Grenz writes, “This fundamental dualism affected the Enlightenment view of the human person as ‘soul’ (thinking substance) and ‘body’ (physical substance)”.
Starting to sound familiar?
Again, Christians hijacked the soul/body split and determined that, “God was out to save man’s soul.” Evangelism was about winning souls. Church was about strengthening the soul. Heaven was about the soul … and hell, even Hell was about the soul. The Church stood as the mediator between this world and the next. And Pastors (or missionaries) were thus at the top of the spiritual food chain, as the shepherd of our souls, who could rescue our souls from eternal torment.
And the tendency within Christianity is to overemphasize the soul at the great expense of the body and material things, assuming as we mistakingly do, that the two are actually separate. And although this starts another discussion on the nature of heaven and the resurrection, suffice it to say here that the Bible doesn’t separate body and soul as independent of each other, but as codependent and of inseparable value.
The bottom graph, borrowed from Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways, illustrates the dualism of the sacred / secular divide.
Based on this division, everybody working a supposed secular job will certainly be looked at as second-class citizens in God’s kingdom, after all, all your work is worldly, destined to be burned up at the last day. Essentially worthless.
Do you feel the weight this idea can have?
Ever wonder why Christians weren’t at the forefront of the environmental movement? Ever wonder why supposed Christian business men will often act godless Monday through Friday at their place of work? Every wonder why Christians are frightened by the sciences? Why so few Christians head social movements? Why we have so few great artists … so few great movies … so few great musicians? Part of the reason is that so many of these things supposedly fit into the category of “worldly” and “material” and so aren’t worth the time of the spiritual believer, “who should be winning souls and not worrying about stupid trees.”
I know. I’m making massive generalizations here and using characterizations that make this epic awesomeness of a blog seem gnashing and interesting … but if you can put up with the drama, I think I have a lesson of sorts.
The only problem with this sacred / secular split is that it’s not really biblical. As far as I can tell, Jesus is Lord of all … not just the Church or the mission field. Rob Bell writes, “This is why it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it’s sacred. You are there; God is there. The difference”, writes Bell, “IS OUR AWARENESS.” He continues, “The goal isn’t to bring everyone’s work into the church; the goal is for the church to be these unique kinds of people who are transforming the places they live and work and play because they understand the whole earth is filled with the kavod of God.”
Post-dualism, or being a “Christian heathen” is represented by the chart below. (“Christian heathen” is my term that I’m using for flavor, but the term that should be used is what Hirsch and others are calling “missional.” Being missional represents that center area which sits at the crossroads of God, Church and World).
When I chose the funeral business, I chose so because I wanted to sit at the center of the “Jesus is Lord of All” Chart. I don’t know if the funeral business is what I’m going to do forever, but I … just like my dad … have lived the reign of Jesus at my job. If you’re a chef, pray the kingdom come. If you’re a Wal-Mart custodian, pray the kingdom come. If you’re a mother, live the light of Christ. If you’re a cubical occupying block in the system, only working for the cash, who is treated poorly by your boss, get your ass out of there and find something better. Seriously, it’s about finding what you love and doing it for Jesus.
I like to call myself a “local missionary.” I’m not a foreign missionary. I’ve been to Africa, but didn’t stay. I honestly felt God’s calling to come back here, to Parkesburg. Yes, I felt called to be a funeral director for a time, working with my family at our family owned business, the Wilde Funeral Home. I’m a fully licensed, sixth generation, epic funeral director missionary guy. Bell writes, and I concur, “Missions then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there.”
And it’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned that Jesus isn’t so much concerned with where I’m at, as much as he is concerned with who I am. And I like to think that I am a child of God who sits at the intersection of God, the church and world, “sanctifying the everyday.”
The Kingdom is not one dimensional! The Kingdom of God spreads to every tribe, people and nation, and it also spreads to every area of life. : )