The test of our work

Eugene Peterson:

The test of our work is not the profit we gain from it or the status we receive from it but its effects in creation.  Are persons impoverished?  Is the land diminished?  Is society defrauded?  Is the world less or more because of my work?

(Where Your Treasure Is, 139)


From his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, delivered February 4, 1968, only a few months before his assassination, words to keep me humble and grounded and ever thankful that God invites us to play a part in his story:

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.

Perhaps you haven't yet truly lived …

Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ; February 19, 2009:

If you haven’t felt the bitter pain of betrayal, perhaps you haven’t trusted enough. If you haven’t fallen flat on your face, perhaps you haven’t ever tried to soar. If you haven’t had your heart truly broken, perhaps you haven’t fully experienced love’s true wonder. If you haven’t ached at the core of your being or felt agony in your existence, perhaps you haven’t yet truly lived.

Links of the Day, October 7

Happy birthday, Barcode! Also, baseball playoffs start today–go Dodgers!


Health care

  • Fox News’ Shep Smith schools Rep. John Barrasso (WY) on the public option–I’m generally not a huge fan of Fox News, but Shep Smith is one redeeming feature.
  • If you had five minutes to tell me why a public option is a good thing …

Human trafficking

Finance reform


Thoughts on success

My twelve year-old niece Aimee emailed me recently. She has to do a presentation in class on someone who’s successful. So I was a little bit surprised and very honored that she chose me! In fact, one of the first questions was, “What is your most successful achievement?” And that had me stumped.

I’m not really sure what my most successful achievement would be. Maybe the fact that I moved half the world away from my family when I was 15, but then lots of people move and adjust to new environments nowadays. Maybe the fact that I’m a musician with his own music video? But then, there are millions of better known and more talented and more published artists. Maybe the fact that I’ve collected four degrees in nine years of higher education? Then again, I certainly wasn’t a child prodigy, and I’m certainly not the smartest person in the world!

Thinking about it more, I think my most successful achievement is figuring out what success really is, realizing that success isn’t necessarily about beating everyone in a competition or in a race, or about getting better grades than everyone else.

Success is being a good human being, a good person. Success is loving God, loving your neighbors, and loving your enemies. Success is figuring out who you are, figuring out what you’re good at, and being the best that you can be—the best that God created you to be—and knowing that that is enough, and that that is all that God asks of you. Success is helping those in need, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, protecting the weak and the marginalized. Success is showing patience, kindness, grace, humility, mercy, joy, faithfulness, and love in all of our relationships. Success is being faithful and hopeful and loving in spite of all the challenges that the world and life throw at us.

In the process of learning, I’ve had many experiences that have made me question myself, my abilities, my talents, even my worth as a person. I’ve suffered disappointments in my work, felt unable to produce anything good—both in terms of music and in life in general—and known heartbreak and letdowns in relationships.

We live in a culture that measures success by comparing us to other people, and so one of the big challenges for me was realizing (and continually reminding myself) that I don’t need to compare myself to other people. All I need to do is the best that I can do; all I need to be is the best that I can be.

And ultimately … any success I may have is only by the grace of God. I suppose the way that I try to live out this kind of success is to be first grounded in God, to know what he says about me, to know that he loves me no matter what, to know that my family and my friends love me no matter what. There’s a freedom that comes with being secure in friendships and relationships, that allows us to be and do all that we can be and do.

So that’s been my success: understanding success as I think God sees it, and then living in the light and truth of that.