disinterested religion + the art of unemployment

Occasionally, there are days-and even moments within days-when heavy clouds pull in front of the sun, blocking its light from view and casting everything in the empty parking lot outside my office window, in shadows.

A few years ago, I interviewed for a sales position at a local Bed Bath & Beyond.

Out of all the online applications listing the experiences, skills, qualifications, and 150 word entries on a customer service experience where things went woefully awry, mine had been chosen.

YOUR LOSS JASON FROM BORDERS WEST TOWNE, OH, AND ENJOY BANKRUPTCY CAUSE I GOT A CALL BACK OVER AT THE BB&B!

So, armed with my wrinkle-free GAP khakis and a willingness to wax poetic on how much sense it makes to fill aisle-ways-barely big enough for a normal-sized housecat to skirt past-with wares one can only “see on TV,” I headed off for my meeting with manager Jeff at the bridal registry desk up front.

There’s always a “Jeff,” isn’t there?

Needless to say, I nailed the interview.

We laughed, we cried, we even bonded over the superiority of Calphalon non-stick pans and Bodum french presses.

But then I heard it, the deep, awkward, deflating: “Welllllll, Eric.”

And once that train starts rolling, in my experience, it doesn’t usually stop.

“We’re the busiest, most well-recognized, and consistently well-reviewed BB&B in this area. We run a tight ship in a high touch environment where employees need to be able to wear several different hats.”

JEFF, I DON’T THINK I MENTIONED MY DEEP LOVE OF HATS AND THAT MY ONE WEAKNESS IS I CARE TOO MUCH!

However, Jeff remained undeterred.

“I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think you have enough retail experience to keep up. We need to go in another direction.”

Now, normally, I would not use the word “devastation” to describe an experience of rejection at the hands of an adult man with an unironic pony-tail and apron sitting stiffly behind a desk in the bridal registry department, but when you’re 25 years old, with an expensive masters degree and a spouse, squatting in your grandfather’s house, and have been unemployed for almost a year

the word devastation doesn’t feel all that hyperbolic.

And, for that matter, neither does crying for 20 minutes alone in your 10 year-old civic in the parking lot.

Especially, when you consider that for the majority of my life I had followed the success-producing rules when it comes to marriage, gender, sexuality, politics, education, and religion. I worked hard, studied harder, prayed fervently, listened well, voted correctly, waited my turn, sacrificed, relocated and what awaited me after years and years of preparation and expectation was the stark discovery that the world has little room for me and my student loans.

(HAPHAZARDLY WIPES TEAR STAINED CHEEKS AND RUNNY NOSE ON SHIRT SLEEVE)

There’s an ancient and confusing story in the Hebrew Bible about a man named Job and the God he serves.

This story begins with a strange exchange between what the text refers to as “the Satan” and God. In their unfolding conversation, the Satan poses a question that ends up framing the next 40 or so chapters of the book:

“Does your servant Job, serve God for nothing?”

Meaning: Job seems quite wealthy, successful, fertile, healthy, and well-taken care of, why would he not serve a God who provides this kind of security?

In the wake of tragedies both personal and global, we often return to faith (whatever that might mean for us), as a way of grappling with the chaos and ambiguity of crisis.

(Exhibit A: post-9/11 church attendance numbers > 2014 church attendance numbers)

The book of Job argues that this move, this return or renewing of our fidelity to God in the face of disaster, is almost always self-interested.

For Job, the truth of the matter, the heart of belief, the foundation of authentic religion, is found not in the practice of particular prayers and behaviors in hopes of a temporal or eternal reward, but in the embrace of dis-interested faith. A dis-interested faith sacrifices and releases the expectation of security, reward, and control on the altar of divine dependency and self-effacing generosity.

Dis-interested faith can only be understood as a radical trust (even when it manifests itself as doubt, confusion, anger, and the very rejection of God and God’s ways in the world) that life has purpose and a point, even if our own seemingly ambles off course.

However, this militant trust isn’t an attempt to restore an existential equilibrium or force a stoic acceptance in hopes that God will see our unquestioned fidelity and respond accordingly, but is instead a way of providing space, stability, and salvation for those struggling around us.

Contrary to popular belief, our faith is always for others.

Even though his family and finances are devastated, his country is ravaged, and his health crumbles, Job serves God because God is all there is, even in the darkness.

If there’s one thing Bed Bath & Beyond has taught me, it’s that people love Tervis Tumblers, especially when you can get them monogrammed.

But if there’s two things my prolonged stint with unemployment continues to teach me on the other side of a steady paycheck, is that what’s worth believing in is always wider, deeper, and more generous and mysterious than my own occupational, financial, and eternal security.

Most days I believe in God because my life makes sense.

Some days I believe in God because it doesn’t and I want someone to fix it.

But, every once in a while, I believe in God because the world is better off when I do.

Even if it hurts, even if I fail, even if I never live up to the hype, even if no one ever reads this or anything else I whisper to the internet, I believe because the world needs resurrection.

And, as I’ve painfully discovered, for something to come back to life, it must first, die.

The thing about shadows, about darkness, about an overcast sky filled with heavy cloud cover, is that no matter how long it lasts it always manages to give way to the light. Perhaps one day my life and yours will do the very same thing, but until that day is this one, keep going, we all need you to.

Eric Minton

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About the Author
Eric is a writer, pastor, pug enthusiast, and chief curator of the sacred at www.newheresies.com. He lives with his wife Lindsay and their pug Penny in Knoxville, TN. You can follow him on twitter @ericminton or connect with him on Facebook.

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