I always enjoy trying a new book by an author I haven't read before. In this case, the book was "Garden City" by John Mark Comer. The subtitle caught my attention from the start: "Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human." Now that's an ambitious topic to tackle in 323 pages, but he did it.
This book is a grand tour of the big question: Does what I do really matter?
(There's a thousand sub-questions, but that's the main one.)
To get us to an answer, John Mark starts way back in Eden when man was first given work in a wild and vibrant garden. Adam and Eve's calling was to make culture and civilization out of a glorious wilderness. The earth was full of raw material, John argues, ready to be shaped and tended and stitched and hammered into everything that humanity needed. When you think of it that way, the essence of man's work has never really changed. We're still cultivating our way towards increased human flourishing, whether that cultivation comes by planting fields or repairing electrical lines or treating cancer or policing a city.
And let's shoot straight here. Even the work that nobody wants to be stuck in, the part-time entry-level minimum-wage work matters. If you're waitstaff or a dishwasher or a janitor, you are cultivating the world to a good end, and we damn sure appreciate it when you do your part well.
So, there is work to be done. We're invited/commanded/designed to do this work, and we're not slaves or robots or even mere laborers while do it. John Mark makes the case that when we do good work, we're partnering with God. That's ultimately how we decide what work is good: is it the sort of thing God does? Does this give order to the world? Does it take care of people? Does it help to provide others with a healthy, whole, happy life?
This criteria is beautifully broad, and it reassures everyone from the salesclerk to the guidance counselor that they have a contribution to make.
Now, because this is a book about the art of being human, work is only one side of the coin. Rest is the other. To show us a picture of rest, John Mark takes us to the mountain where the Ten Commandments came down. The Sabbath was given to Israel as a day of rest and worship. Now, before you get visions of mandatory pew-sitting and your best Sunday shoes, hold on a second. John wants to re-introduce you to the Sabbath, because it's likely you didn't get off on the right foot when you met before. This Sabbath is the satisfying end of the weekly cycle, and it can fall on whatever day you happen to have off. It's a time to tune into the rhythm God wrote for the world, to lay aside your striving and see that God is enough, you are enough, and you have enough.
John Mark makes rest sound like the best act of rebellion we could possibly engage in. And it is rebellion, because it flies in the face of every "Egypt" that we face. Like the Israelites, we have to be rescued from our taskmasters. Our Pharaoh is the drive to gain more and spend more and "do better," and the Sabbath tells him he's a liar. The Sabbath says we have what we need, here together before God, and we can make this space to refresh ourselves and remember what is real.
So obviously, this is quite a book. And it's one of those rare ones that aimed for thinkers, both girls and guys, young and older, so there's basically nobody you can't give it to. Heck, give it to somebody you know who isn't a Christian who's trying to find their life purpose. It may help them.
I thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a review copy, thanks to Zondervan Publishers.