I heard a talk at Urbana called "Theology of Work" and it discussed God's plan for work and how we serve God in our work and how we can follow God just as radically as engineers as pastors. Good talk - except - when asked, the speaker concluded that there was no place in Christendom, or anyway for Christians to justify using their talents for fashion design or, specific to my question, for footwear development. He didn't realize it, because really it was a question he'd never thought about, but his whole talk previous to that had actually supported such work by Christians. I want to use this space below to explain how I my work as a footwear developer can be in God's perfect will for my life. I will talk very specific to my case, but many of the principles can be broadly applied.
THEOLOGY OF WORK:
- We were built to create value (this is what the speaker used to bash fashion - no value added)
- Work for the common good (this is where sustainability comes in)
- Work in community
- Relate to God through act of working
Those were the 4 main points from the talk and I didn't write verses for them because I didn't think it was that controversial at the time. After the fall, the first point was expanded from simply creating value, to also restoring and fixing the broken.
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
When picking where I should work, there are 3 things to look at (which I had thought of months before on my own...):
- What does this world need to look more like heaven?
- What are my gifts and skills?
- What are my dreams and desires?
The common answer to those 3 questions is a good place for you to start looking, but definitely not the be all end all.
Now that we're through the background, here are my specific thoughts.
THEOLOGY OF FOOTWEAR DEVELOPMENT:
Working as a footwear developer definitely fits in with my skills and my passion. The harder questions are, "how does this help people?" and, "does it need to help people?" and, "does it create value?"
God created us. His creation was "good." His creation was beautiful. I won't go into this, but I think being beautiful is in and of itself already justification enough for something to exist and have value, even if that was all it was good for. Captivating by John and Stasi Eldrege discusses this in depth.
Another thing I'd like to point out is that proper Christianity is not dualistic. We sometimes operate under the assumption that the physical is bad and that the spiritual is good. Not true. God created a physical universe and it was good. Just because an item seems purely material with no intrinsic, spiritual benefits says nothing to how good or bad the item is.
When God created this beautiful creation, he made animals in all sort of bright colors to attract mates. For millennia, cultures around the world have recognized different visual cues or appearances as admirable. Many of the aspect of our appearance that we control are simply ways to express outwardly, different things about how we are inwardly. It is really amazing and cool that we are able to make these associations and effectively communicate simply with a new look. Modern shoes are an excellent way to express things about yourself. This is even easier now with brand image. I can express things about what lifestyle I value simply by wearing PUMA red racing shoes in contrast to the newest Nike Jordans. These things are all good. Yes, they can all be distorted, and used for evil. Just because something can be used for evil, does not make the thing bad. Let's follow up on that.
One of my biggest concerns with footwear is the obsession people make it. Materialism takes over us and we make idols from our footwear, especially expensive footwear. Take a look at this music video from Macklemore that covers this topic. Brilliantly done. This is seriously wrong. This world is a mess. Footwear companies rise and stand on the sinful obsessions of the consumers. This is an incomplete thought though. Your obsession may be sinful, but you can enjoy footwear without sinning. The company doesn't make that distinction though, that's up to you. Not only can you enjoy the product without sinning; many use the product and need the product, and don't even think about or care about the product. We all wear shoes. Moving past those people though, the real problem is when your obsessive desire pulls your finances, or your thoughts away from where God wants them to be. From my personal experience, there are times when God says, "Ryan, go ahead. That's a nice pair of shoes, and you'll appreciate them. I know your heart is in the right place. Go ahead and buy them." There are also a lot of times when I'd like to get a pair and God says, "no Ryan, I'd rather you didn't invest in those. I have other plans right now." Submitting our material possessions to God is a good litmus test of his importance in our lives. There have been times when I was ready to by an $80 pair of shoes and God stops me saying, "nope Ryan, not this time, but since you're so ready to part with that money, why don't you give it to support this missionary?" I've been able to pull back and do what God said. Every time this happens I know, that at least for that day, God has the number 1 place in my life. As long as God has the first place in my life, I can work with shoes. When those positions get reversed, I had best get as far away from shoes as possible.
- The footwear world is a small world that I can reach while many other Christians can't.
- Performance footwear helps people to stay active and take care of their bodies (which God values).
- Many footwear companies manufacture and sell their products globally, allowing me to make a global impact, hopefully for Christ.
- A "normal" job is an opportunity to make lots of money and give lots of money. There's a lot of needs and I want to help the church meet those needs. The question is: am I doing this job for God or for me? Answer that honestly.
This was a little scattered - accurately reflecting what it looked like in my head before it spilled out. Working is good. Shoes are good. Beauty is good. Quality is good. Many of these things have been corrupted and make bad, but God can redeem all things. Christians in every sector can make this happen through trust and obedience to God. We simply cannot use a career as a copout to living a typical life. We are still called by God. Dependent on him. Live his will, and his life, not mine.