Earnings, Economics and Ecosystems- Discovering Your Divine Call (ThinkJump Journal #53 with Kim Gentes)
People are funny beasts. We fancy ourselves as "top of the food chain" creatures, and certainly no species reigns more prominently over the earth from a resource standpoint. One of the wonderful benefits of the internet is the instant access to vast intellectual resources, allowing one to read an article about philosophical reflections on humans, such as "Making a Living" by Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman in the morning, and read how various species are "making a living" within the diversity of ecological resource partitioning of our planet in the afternoon (or sooner, if you have the time). Foreman philosophizes that you are "co-signing God's blank checks" by taking on the challenges of your unique life on earth and believing your dreams of making the world a little better place. In his article, he summarizes:
"You want to know the meaning of life? This is your highest calling: You are called into the dynamic co-creation of the cosmos. This breath is your canvas and your brush. These are the raw materials for your art, for the life you are making."
Life is art, Foreman enthuses, and authentic human struggle to overcome personal challenges is the work you are painting. It's a well written article and worth reading. But scientific exploration of our ecosystem is no less impressive in its lessons.
There is ongoing research among scientists to determine how competing species can exist in the same ecosystem without the dominant species pushing others to extinction. In many cases, it turns out that species may actually be competing for the same resources, but doing so in a way that doesn't impinge on other biological consumers of the same resource. According to Nature's "Knowledge Project"(2), this kind of sharing is called "resource partitioning". The idea is that one species might like to consume a certain resource in one time, configuration or location, while another species will use essentially the same resource on a different agenda. They use the analogy of many people going to the same restaurant, but making reservations at different times.
Geek that I am, I read both the Jon Foreman article and Nature article in the same 24 hour period. It crystallized an idea in me that has been bubbling around (unformed) for a while: the individual struggle to survive and thrive may be harmonious (not competitive) with the human societal need for cooperation. It's no secret that these last 2 or 3 years have had a tumultuous effect on world economics, corporate economics, and heck, home economics. I don't know about you, but my bank account looks a lot worse today than it did 2.5 years ago. The housing market, financial markets, etc, all took tumbles for reasons we can't begin to cover here.
So today, we see people who were once "gainfully employed" now searching for any job to make ends meet. The "U6" unemployment rate- a measure of unemployment defined by the government that is considered more accurate than the tradition number normally reported (called "U3")- shows 2009 through 2011 to be the worst since those statistics began being tracked in 1994 (see detailed explanations on U1-U6 definitions and values at U6 stats online).(3) We are still holding close to 16% unemployment. Those who are successfully placed in their "chosen careers", are working hard, but are fearful of losing those positions. Recent graduates (often hunted for their acceptance of lower wages to enter the workforce in "white collar" professions) aren't as affected as more experienced players in the job market, but even the former are having a difficult time finding work. According to a recent USA Today report, college grad unemployment is the highest since 1970 (see full article).(4)
With all the tension and stress of people seeking jobs, companies downsizing, the economy convulsing on everything from poor weather to poor governmental policies, we seem to be headed for an economic cage fight - where all the people competing for those precious economic resources will be converging in an antagonistic battle over the remaining jobs, home loans and financial water left in the economic stream of our world markets.
"Well thanks for all that good news, Kim" you might be saying. But actually, maybe this is where we are wrong.
Maybe Jon Foreman is right. Maybe our struggle in everyday life is the kind of art in which our tiny victories are the notes in our personal symphonies. And maybe, just maybe, those notes of individual lives do not have to compete with others, but can play in harmony with others. Maybe Foreman's vision of our struggle to be the risk-taking, co-creators in the universe amidst the raw materials of our daily lives is precisely what we need right now. Maybe our personal struggles are needed, not just for us, but for the larger common good. Maybe our macroeconomic system is simply a mirror for the biological ecosystems we read about in Nature and other publications. Perhaps our struggles to push forward in these tough economic times are not really as competitive as we might think. There is no doubt that some people lose jobs and others get them. But, as one who has experienced this personally, perhaps it wasn't so much that the job didn't need you-- maybe you didn't need the job. This isn't meant as a cute semantic exercise, but as a question about whether or not the best of what you have to offer is/was really flourishing in your work environment.
As we see from the Nature article, in the biological world, resource partitioning goes hand-in-hand with adaptation. Species find ways of sharing a resource by relying on something unique to their physiology or skill set. For example, in the past, two specifies of birds might be feasting on seeds sitting on top soil and grass, in an island area about 100 yards inland with vegetation and seed-bearing plants. The smaller, quicker species of bird gains the advantage and consistently gathers more seed than taller, longer beaked birds. As the taller birds are pushed out of competition for the easy-access seeds, they hunt further towards the beach. They find they can access a significant amount of seed that has blown from the same seed-bearing plants into the rocks along the pebbled beach. The longer beak allows them to pick up seeds deeper in the pebbles, making them successful in this context and successful in a way the smaller birds could not be.
Maybe Jon Foreman is right: we can pursue something greater than just "making a living". Maybe biological ecosystems have something to teach us: that our unique abilities, coupled with the principle of resource partitioning, are a distinguishing mark to identify how each of us can "make a living" amidst our financial ecosystems.
History might agree with both Foreman and science. Certainly John Calvin would. He, like Foreman, pointed to an individual's unique vocation before God as the preeminent qualification (and source of inspiration) for all who "work", when he said:
And everyone in his respective sphere of life will show more patience, and will overcome the difficulties, cares, miseries, and anxieties in his path, when he will be convinced that every individual has his task laid upon his shoulders by God. If we follow our divine calling, we shall receive this unique consolation that there is no work so mean and so sordid that does not look truly respectable and highly important in the sight of God (Coram Deo!)
- John Calvin, 1536 (5)
Can you imagine a world in which we genuinely believe that "every individual has his task laid upon his shoulders by God"? What if God made you uniquely perfect for playing the part you are meant for? What if your place in life does not have to conform to the "preferred qualifications" on the job application? What if you, and your gifting is perfect, and needed, in the personal, social, economic and even spiritual ecosystem you are living in? As followers of Christ, we can certainly gain support, wisdom and encouragement from the broader community, as I mentioned in a recent article published in Worship Leader Magazine.(6) But hearing God's voice has always been an essential counter-balance to the social feedback of our Christian communities. The two scriptural voices, prophetic and pastoral, are always chiming their harmonious sounds to shape the symphony of the human story. We can join in the chorus, but we must not lose our voice to do so.
Perhaps this article is meant to be a wake up call to those of us who are sleeping in a scripted world. You've fallen asleep while reading. And that is the point. You aren't meant to just read the script- you are meant to help write it. Look at yourself. Be honest. Then take real stock of what gifts, skills, challenges and abilities that form the kind of contribution you believe you are called to - that God has laid on your shoulders. You may realize you are in an occupation that has nothing to do with your sense of God's true call on your life.
If you've lost your job, or aren't working in a career that allows you to fulfill that call, you may find that the forces of the economy will push you out. Out to the barren desolation of job loss and eventual re-evaluation. In that place, don't look for a job. Look for a place that calls you to be the person of courage. To be the person that God whispered you truly are. You will hear him clearest in your hour of weakness. In that place, consider who you were made to be. Consider what God has laid on your shoulders. As John Calvin and Jon Foreman have told us- His weight on your shoulders, however pressing, will always be lighter than the self-imposed mantra of "making a living".
This agrees with Christ, who said:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."-Jesus of Nazareth (7)
Direct us, then, Lord. Give us your wisdom for vocation in our lives, that we might bear it with the knowledge of your divine call and divine weight. And encourage us, Lord, that in doing your will we draw on the unique gifts you placed in each of your creation. Show us the balance of learning your yoke while finding rest for our souls. Amen.
With you in the journey,
Kim Anthony Gentes
- Foreman, Jon, (2011) "Making A Living", AOL Healthy Living on Huffington Post. 12 June 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-foreman/meaning-of-life_b_874934.html (22 June 2011).
- Griffin, J. N. & Silliman, B. R. "Resource Partitioning and Why it Matters". Nature Education Knowledge 2(1):8. 2011. http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/resource-partitioning-and-why-it-matters-17362658 (22 June 2011).
- Various Authors, "Unemployment Rate - U6" Portal Seven.com on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011. http://portalseven.com/employment/unemployment_rate_u6.jsp?fromYear=1994&toYear=2014 (22 Dec 2014).
- Davidson, Paul, "Unemployment rate for college grads is highest since 1970" USA Today: Money, Economy & Jobs, 5 December 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2010-12-06-collegegrads06_ST_N.htm (22 June 2011).
- Calvin, John (2004). Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (p. 94). Baker Books. Kindle Edition.
- Gentes, Kim, "How the Church Has Always Been a Social Network" Worship Leader Magazine, June Edition, 30 May 2011. http://www.worshipleader.com/index.cfm?tdc=dsp&page=articles_previous_detail&aid=247 (22 June 2011).
- Various Authors, (2008). Matthew 11:28-30, Holy Bible (TNIV) (Kindle Locations 76643-76646). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.