I steer into the campus parking lot, see eight students with notebooks waiting in the grass for me.
I glance at the clock: 3:41 p.m. I was due here a minute ago.
The one student who interrupts me during class lectures, … he lectures me now.
“Why the hold-up?” he scolds, jumps to his feet before the others. He asks his question one more time, then adds: “You’re late.”
He has a book in his hand, raises it over his head like an exclamation point.
I pretend I don’t hear him.
I wave students into cars, instruct them to follow me to City Hall. I’ve been teaching my students how news reporters cover meetings. I figure the best way to learn, is to do. So today, we’re covering a city council meeting.
The student who scolded me takes the passenger seat … in my car.
I pull seatbelt, latch. He slips his book on the armrest between us.
I turn my head, catch his eye. He smiles.
“I promised you,” he says, then wags a finger. “Now, … don’t forget: I need that back by the end of the semester.”
The book is Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner. And Bryan has written his own name in the front cover of the well-worn book, in case his absent-minded professor forgets who loaned it.
The student told me about the book two days earlier.
I was at the front of the classroom, praying — because that is the way I start class. (I teach journalism at a Christian college.) I pray for words, for journalists, for newsmakers. That day, I also prayed this:
“Father, we don’t always do work that looks sacred. We live in a secular world, where we cover council meetings, fires, tornadoes. But we are called to be a holy people. And Lord, even if the work doesn’t have a Jesus Label slapped on it, remind us that it is, indeed, holy. And remind us that we do our work for Your glory, not our own.”
I barely whisper the amen, when Bryan is speaking, finger punching the air.
“Professor,” he says. “I have a book you need to read.”
On the way to the Council meeting, he sets the book between us.
“Thank you, Bryan. I’ll be sure to return it.”
Good, he says. He tells me he’s convinced we can do our work in the world, even if it doesn’t have the Jesus Label slapped on it — just like I’d prayed two days earlier.
I nod, steer west toward City Hall.
“Bryan?” I ask. “Have you heard of this word? It’s spelled A-V-O-D-A-H. Avodah. It’s a Hebrew word that means both work and worship. I’m just crazy about that word.”
“Can you imagine it?” My voice is rising now. I’m the one punching the air with my forefinger. “Our work isn’t just work. It’s worship, too. Covering a City Council meeting? That can be worship if we do it well, if we do it for God’s glory!”
He says he’s never heard the word Avodah, but he nods. Because he already knows.
Meeting adjourns. I take students home, tuck my own girls in bed, open the Roaring Lambs.
Briner writes about a Christian subculture. He says we often write songs and books and stories for Christians, but sometimes exclude the world. He asks how we can really be salt for the world if we’re not doing some work outside a Christian ghetto. How can we be world-changers if we’re only writing our stories and our songs for people who think and believe like we do?
He asserts that Christians have fled from culture-shaping arenas of art and entertainment … and journalism. Now, to be clear, I love things with the Jesus Label on it. I favor Christian music, read mostly books on Christian living. Even my blog bears His name.
But I can’t get over the question on the front page of the book: “Do you have as many close friends outside the church as within?”
I lean over these pages, hear them roar, and I whisper the word twice more: Avodah. Avodah. I want to live an Avodah life.
I finish the last chapter. Close the book. I’ll take it back to Bryan on Tuesday. And I’ll thank God for the kid in the front row who was bold enough to roar.
Photo: Quote plaque at Laity Lodge in Texas.
RELATED ARTICLES on Avodah:
“Do You Feel Broken and Fragmented?” by Ann Voskamp at The High Calling. She also writes of Avodah here, at Holy Experience.
“Six Days Shalt Thou … Worship?” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.
“Why Work is Holy” by Dave Williamson at The High Calling.