By Patton Dodd
Last spring, I attended a gathering at Laity Lodge, a retreat center nestled into the Frio River-bottomed canyon in the Hill Country of Texas. The retreat’s intent was to gather workers from various fields—academia, journalism, the arts, and “business,” though of course it’s all business—to discuss the intersection of faith and work. I was pumped about meeting the people who would be there, and I was stoked about scampering around the Frio, but I was not so enthusiastic about the topic of conversation. I’m not sure I can tell you why, but I got numb just thinking about the idea of multiple days of conversation on "faith and work." You want to talk about faith and film? Sign me up. Faith and sports? I’m there. Faith and politics? Yes, please. I’m interested in most any discourse on the intersection of faith and something. But faith and work? Something about the sound of those words together made me think: I know exactly what everyone is going to say.
At this point in life, I’m pretty used to being wrong, but I was surprised—floored, actually, in a life-changing way—about just how wrong I was that weekend. I heard a series of plenary talks and participated in a series of conversations on faith and work that left me humbled, convicted, joyous, informed, and excited to get back to work in a new way. It turned out that I had not ever experienced sustained and serious (and thus life-giving) theological reflection on faith and work, I had not availed myself of the best perspectives and their practical applications, I had not listened to honest soul-searching about what it means to merge one’s faithful practices with one’s job—and I was weaker and poorer for all my had-nots.
That experience has me particularly charged about the work that the Denver Institute for Faith & Work (nice titular phrase, that) is going to do. Jeff Haanen’s vision for renewing one particular locality—ideally, as a model for others—by paying close attention to a gospel-shaped model of work is sorely needed. There are many ways to explain why, but in this short space, I’ll offer just this: Work in the form of the gospel is an instance of human flourishing that creates the conditions for more human flourishing.
When I’m working as I was intended to work—as opposed to working out of the fear, anxiety, and isolation that can be my constant companions—then I am doing what I’m built to do. I’m realizing the imago dei in me, and I create goods that are truly good because they are consistent with some mysterious good design that’s at the heart of my being. Those kinds of goods are an offering available to others, a message to them about their own work, their own potential and true north. Good and true work creates possibilities for more good and true work.
There’s much more to say about all this, and much for us to learn—which is why I’m eager to watch and participate in the efforts of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. I’ve crossed a threshold that’s made the wisdom in this conversation available to me, and I hope thousands of workers in Denver and the Front Range will do the same.