Monday, February 15, 2010

Where Do We Get The Idea That People Engaged in “Spiritual Work” Are On Another Plane?

On Saturday, Seth Godin posted an entry on his blog titled “Phoning It In.” First, I want to state that I agree with his conclusion that we need passion in our work. We shouldn’t be, as they say in show business, “Phoning our lines in”.
I want to address the start of the post:
I was talking to a religious leader, someone who runs a congregation. She made it clear to me that on many days, it's just a job. A job like any other, you show up, you go through the motions, you get paid.
I guess we find this disturbing because spiritual work should be real, not faked.
I’m curious about where the misconception came from that people engaged in “Spiritual work” exist on some higher plane. I notice that even fairly well-studied believers somehow see pastors and elders and deacons as somehow holier.

I’ve known several pastors. I listen to many pastors’ podcasts, read their blogs, read their books. Same for theologians, counselors, apologists, etc. Believe me, they face the exact same problems, challenges, and temptations that we face. And they have farther to fall. I have witnessed at least one really bad fall from grace personally, and many more through the media.
I once considered entering into ministry work. I decided not to do it professionally at this point, but I do engage in “spiritual” work on a volunteer or layman’s basis. I’ve taught Bible classes, written Bible studies, written a few Bible-based posts for this blog. I’ve given counseling, and received plenty of counseling myself. I once served on the Board of Directors for an Internet based ministry, and on staff at another Christian online community. None of it made me feel “spiritual”.
Perhaps our definition of spiritual is skewed, just like our definition of love is. In other words, we define spiritual and love as feelings. I don’t believe that to be accurate. Neither spirituality nor love is a feeling, though occasionally each does produce one.
I recently finished reading Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper. It’s a good book and I highly recommend it.
Rabbi Lapin gives an interesting definition of spiritual. I’m summarizing here. He explains a line of human characteristics between God and animals. The behaviors that we engage in that we share with animals are definitely not spiritual. Eating, sleeping, bathroom activities, etc. are not spiritual. However, reading is. Animals don’t read. Animals also don’t engage in commerce. People do, and Rabbi Lapin suggest that is also a spiritual activity. The Rabbi also points out that we tend to be shy and insist on privacy for our animal behaviors, but not our spiritual ones. We like a locked door in the bathroom, for instance, but we’ll sit right out in the open and read a book.
Let’s not make the spiritual more than it needs to be. We may occasionally have a “mountaintop experience”, but we live in the valleys. We can’t gauge the measure of our spirituality by those mountaintop experiences that we occasionally have. I think Seth Godin hints at the point to this blog post in the question immediately following the section that I quoted:
But isn't your work spiritual?
I would say that by the Rabbi’s definition, we’re all engaged in spiritual work in one way or another. And so, like Seth says, don’t phone it in.

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