Good at This

“I am good at this!” That’s what I find myself saying sometimes when I finish a curriculum-writing project. It’s not vanity, really. God gave me a gift for this. When I get in the groove, it all hangs together really well. I can’t help myself from saying, “I am good at this!”

A couple of days ago, I finished a big project. This time, I didn’t feel inclined to speak those words.

This time, I let my deadline creep up on me. In fact, I let my deadline creep past me. Having written for this editor for a long time, I knew that she had a healthy buffer built into the schedule. It wouldn’t be a big deal. Still, I needed to get it done. At the top of the week, I set myself a series of sub-tasks: “Get 1/5 of the work written.” I spread the remaining work over the coming five days.

Day by day, I got my tasks accomplished, but it felt each time more like washing the dishes or mowing the grass than exercising my God-given gifts. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t turn in junk, but when, at the end of the fourth of those five days, I decided to press forward and proofread the whole package, having finished it a day early, I wasn’t overly impressed with what I found. Had I said anything, it would have been, “I am competent at this!”

Do I really want to be just competent at anything that I do? Doesn’t Paul tell us,

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.–Colossians 3:23-24

Reviewing my now-submitted writing, should I feel ashamed, contact the editor and say, “Don’t start processing that yet. I need to make it better”? Let me just confess that I’m not going to do that, but is that my natural laziness talking or is it acceptable that my work this time is just competent?

Although I don’t really have a scriptural argument to support this, I am going to suggest that competent is okay some of the time. When I wash dishes or mow the grass, isn’t competent enough? I think it is.

Our problem in serving God comes when we allow the bar for competent to continue to drop. It’s when our vibrant prayer life turns into a perfunctory one and then into a mere nod in the direction of prayer. It’s when my teaching of children goes from enthusiastic excellence past a studied march through the materials and settling into a “good-enough” case of winging it.

I’m going to suggest that my competent curriculum this time is okay, but I pray that God will never allow me to miss having that sense of “I am good at this!”

Can an Action Invalidate a Life’s Work?

Yesterday, UPS dropped a heavy box on my front porch. Inside, I found something I’ve wanted to own for quite some time: the ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. This incredibly dense publication goes into excruciating depth on virtually every word used in the New Testament. As an example, the entry on logos (and all the related words) from John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the logos or word”) runs to more than 60 pages. Yes, I’m a nerd.

Rather than reading some random entry in it this afternoon, I decided to find out a little bit about the scholar who produced this thing. Frankly, I should have spent my time reading that random entry.

53817dc4d487b6fbb1b57529cd095eb0Gerhard Kittel, it seems, despite being an amazingly brilliant and productive scholar, had this slight issue. He was a Nazi. And this guy apparently wasn’t just a join-the-party-to-advance-the-career Nazi. He served the party in the creation of propaganda, including materials dealing with the “Jewish Question.” In his defense, Kittel wasn’t ushering Jews into gas chambers, but he was, pretty much without question, part of the problem rather than being neutral or part of the solution.

So my question is this: Does Kittel’s bad action invalidate his good scholarly work? Before you answer, keep in mind that the Old Testament work that Kittel performed serves as the foundation for every modern Bible translation. If you want to reject all his fruits, then you most likely have to put your Bible away.

If the answer is that Kittel’s Nazi sins do not invalidate his scholarship, then how far must a person go before they are rejected totally? We’ve all noticed that Bill Cosby has pretty much disappeared from public display. Are his shows no longer funny? Do they not, despite his misdeeds, still portray positive images?

This question might seem a bit abstract. After all, I don’t get to decide whether Bill Cosby’s or Roseanne’s shows remain in syndication, and the Nazi background of Kittel could remain hidden if I didn’t Google inconveniently. But of course this question is quite essential as it asks us if anyone is truly innocent enough to be taken seriously or, looked at from the other end of things, if anyone makes it through life without transgressions that render them persona non grata.

The Christian response, I would insist, is that no one is beyond the redemption of God, whether their sin comes at the beginning or the end of life’s path. Moses killed a man early and David killed a man in the middle of life. Neither was rendered useless by this heinous action. And as for Professor Kittel? I’ll use his work and let God deal with the “Jewish Question.”

Embrace the Pigness of the Pig

This summer, Penny and I visited Polyface Farms, the home base of Joel Salatin, beyond-organic farmer to the stars. Alright, while Salatin might not do much hobnobbing with Hollywood A-listers, he has been in a good selection of movies. I’m convinced that there’s a law prohibiting anyone from producing a food- or agriculture-related documentary without inserting at least one snippet of Joel.

After leaving the farm that day, I grieved for part of my drive back into Staunton, Virginia, the city where we were staying. You see, the farm’s shop did not have any t-shirts reading “The marvelous pigness of pigs” in my size. The shopkeeper assured us that they’d be getting those in eventually, but we were heading home before that.

Only on the way home, as we made a fourteen-hour expedition from Staunton to our house, did I realize–thanks to Penny’s handy use of Google and decent cell reception in West Virginia–that my coveted t-shirt actually reflected the title of Joel’s latest book: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation.

Before reaching home, I had ordered a copy of the tome. Penny followed suit, requesting it from our library. We’ve been reading through it over the past several weeks.

After writing and speaking for decades as a voice for sustainable agriculture and clean foods, Salatin with this book has “come out” as a Christian. Honestly, I don’t think many people who had encountered him were terribly surprised, but in that book’s pages, he lays out the theological underpinnings for his agricultural practices.

Although I plan to take up some, if not all, of the individual chapters in days to come, I thought it would make sense to consider my own “pigness” or the pigness of my students. Do you have “theological underpinnings” for your profession? I ask, because I’m not entirely sure that I have them for my primary work as a college English teacher. Certainly I have not worked out that theology and its implications on day-to-day, semester-to-semester life as thoroughly as Salatin has in this book.

So your homework assignment, as you wait for the book to arrive, is to consider what it means to be a Christian car mechanic, HVAC technician, lawyer, financial planner, gym employee, banker, or whatever it is that you do with your time. Whether you enjoy the pigness of some bacon at the same time is entirely your own affair.