Coarse Labors, Neo-Colonialism, and the Death of Beauty

I have watched good people set themselves to good work--the good work of orphan care, poverty relief, missionary work, and defending particular doctrinal dogmas ad nauseam. They have poured themselves out like martyrs, many of them, and martyrs they have become, though not in the traditional sense. They have been stoned by the work.

Amber and I have watched them drag into our house carrying the shards of their faiths, marriages, and ideals in a burlap sack. We've watched them spill it all on the table as if it were some puzzle that could be put back together if only they could find the darned corner pieces for a starting place. "Gospel work shouldn't feel like this," they say, "it should be more fulfilling, more complete."


I'm not here to address neocolonialism, or the creeping prosperity gospel that's found its way in to the work of "the mission." I'm not here to address the internet debate over the Hebrew root for "woman," the one that was three-hundred comments long and consumed hundreds of man-hours of energy. We could certainly chase those rabbits. But theologies and ideologies aside, I'm considering something quite different.

I wonder, sometimes, whether our efforts to stake a grand claim (some might say "save the world") haven't robbed us of the time needed to contemplate and cultivate something that would, in earnest, refresh us and draw us God-ward. It's a simple thought, really. Are there so many hills on which to die these days, that we're dying too many small and unnecessary deaths? And if so, what's left for life? What's left for children, and marriage, and the process of engaging God with vigor and creativity?

What's left for the beautiful?

“Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine.” ~Henry David Thoreau


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Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks, via Creative Commons.