Intangible work – a few follow-up notes

“Bring examples of your work.” But we cannot.

Next, along these lines, I need to read more about the “service economy” as my friend Ryan G. was describing it this weekend. That seems to be a useful category for discussing much of this. If it can’t be escaped in our age (and it seems as if it cannot), then perhaps it can be transcended or sufficiently adjusted for. Actually, I believe there must be a way to sufficiently adjust for it and live a holistically healthy life. That is the whole purpose of my inquiry.

On a related note, it seems the only people remembered in history are those with concrete production – not performance, not vapor.

One of my music history professors from college is currently researching and writing a book about a certain Italian opera singer from the early 1800’s. She has had to dig though special archives to find scraps of program notes to track down details about her career and personal life. At the time, she was famous throughout the city and region as a magnificent (and sultry!) soprano. Now, you can quite literally count on one hand the number of people alive who even recognize her name (at least until the books is finished, then the number include a few other scholars).

In contrast, we have tons of knowledge about composers from this era who were relative nobodies. Why? They wrote their music down. Their creative output was tangible as ink on the page. You can give this sheet music to an orchestra today and bring it back to life. Those who wrote books are remembered. Those who didn’t, no matter how significant their creative output, are lost to history. I don’t mean to say that they didn’t have an impact. They may have influenced their children or students in ways that mattered tremendously down through many generations. But as soon as one generation has passed, the next one can’t put their finger on why or how a particular piece of knowledge or culture came into existence. Etchmiadzin Cathederal was built in the 4th century and it’s still here, but the wisdom of my great-grandfather Walter, who raised nine children and lived to be 102, is indiscernible.

This line of thought would lead one to believe that they must write books. I often feel that way. I think some have even felt compelled by God to write. Clearly, there is much potential value in this. Nevertheless, I think there is a great danger. It is part of our undue over-respect for those with this sort of output. We imagine their work to be more valuable in the eyes of God since their work is clearly more valuable (or at least visible) in the eyes on men. This can lead us to shun the humble man who does not create something “lasting” in this particular fashion. Abraham was one of the most significant and influential men in human history, but he didn’t write anything down or build any cities. We only know anything about him because one of his great-grandsons recorded some of the oral history. Saint Augustine’s mother Monica is the hero of Confessions and was later made a saint herself. Yet she didn’t do squat if you only measure worth in the eyes of men. She didn’t write or build anything either. She was “just” a faithful mother.

What I want to reach in my conception of the value of work is to be OK with never writing a book or changing the world, to be OK with my humble position, BUT to also still be willing and able to write that book and change the world. The Lord brings down those who think they have something to boast about, but lifts up the humble.