I have been, in some way, shape, or form, engaged in conversation about AI technology and our relationship with technology for a really long time. In 1999, or 2000, I read Ray Kurtzweil, his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. And I was shocked if it was way beyond my understanding the terms he was using the vision he was painting of how life would work in relationship with technology like I didn’t have a context for it. And then as time went on, and this is part of what good books do as they provide us with language for things we haven’t encountered, yet, I started seeing some of his predictions come to life that we would become not just more dependent upon the machines we use, we become more like them. And they would become more like us; it was a fascinating sci-fi-ish kind of adventure for a long time. And now, I’m going to hit pause here for a second because the place I’m not going to go is this place of sort of Luddite ism, where, like, I’m anti-technology; I’m actually not anti-technology; I love that I’m looking around at the tech in front of me and actually love all this stuff I really like having around me. And at the same time, I become increasingly aware, the older I get, of the ways in which the tech around me, the instruments, and the devices around me, and my use of them have actually detracted from my experience of living in my own body. And living as a human. There are ways in which all of this stuff has made my life way better, way easier, and sometimes more enjoyable. And there are ways in which I’m not as fully alive as I could be. If I wasn’t as dependent on some of the things that I use technologically. This brings me to this because I’m someone who has been in this conversation and talked about it publicly; folks will send me things every once in a while that they’re encountering. And a friend of mine recently sent a tweet thread that they were reading about chat GPT showing up in their workplace. The thread was critical of chat GPT, but maybe not in the way you would think. So Chad GPT had been used to write this vision statement for an organization that this person was working for. It’s a charitable organization that helps people in various ways. And the meeting he was in was about vision; it was about who they are as an organization and what happens next. And normally, once a year, once every once in a while. He and the rest of the team and some board of directors types would get together in a room they would talk about, are we on a mission? Are we on? You know, are we living on our vision? Are we who we think we are? It’s a very human question. And how do we continue to live that out? And then they would, over the course of time, have this conversation in a meeting, and people would write down these things. And then, they would pass all these notes on to someone who would then write them out. This is who we are. And this is how we’re going to execute on who we are. And they would live that out over the next few months or years. This article, though, was put on the table; this document was written by Chet GPT, and someone in the company said I can expedite this process. I can make this faster. I’m just going to plug in the information and make these asks to check GBT, they brought the document, and they were working then from this document that a bot had written a chatbot had run. Now his critique wasn’t just that someone’s job had been taken by a chatbot. And oftentimes, it would have been him that was part of why he was writing. And normally, he was the person that would impasse these notes. And he’d spend a few hours over the, you know, every day over the course of a week or so to compile them and write a document; he’d been replaced. So there was that there a sense of, like, my job has been replaced, and I’m bummed about that. But it wasn’t just about not having the job to do. He actually talked about missing the process, that instead of sitting in the room with these people that he works with, talking about this project that they do together and the joy of the work that they get to do every once in a while. It had just been done. It was faster, it was more expedient, and it saved them hours and hours and hours of time, but he wanted those hours back. He wanted to have done the work. Which brings me to this. I wonder if the real crisis when it comes to our relationship to technology and really, specifically, to the use of and our relationship to artificial intelligence. Intelligence isn’t just, hey, we might have our jobs replaced, and we won’t make money. I think that’s a massive consideration. I don’t think it’s not, I do think it is, But I think the deeper consideration is this the real joy of work, the real fruit of work, actually isn’t that we get to pay our bills if we do it. Well, that’s not really the deepest thing. And the deepest truth about what work is, that is a fundamental truth. It’s a fundamental societal truth that if you do your job, well, if you work well, part of the reward is you could get to pay for the life you’re living. deeper than that, though. The real deep fruit of work is who you become as you are doing it. This is what it’s called an axiology, or an ethic, or even a theology or philosophy of work. And I think it is the thing that is primarily missing in our conversation about AI. Not just, hey, what will we do when these machines take our jobs? How will we pay for our lives? But who am I going to be without the work in my life? What the guy who wrote the tweet thread was missing wasn’t just the job and what it would pay him. It was the joy of becoming as they did that work. This brings me to this underlying problem when it comes to our understanding of work and its relationship to rest. And part of why I wrote the book Sacred Strides. When I initially set out to write this book for this time of my life. It was a book predominantly about rest. I looked around, and I noticed as I was putting it together there were so many incredible books, but the rest was about Sabbath Keeping. I’m thinking of Mr. Buchanan’s book, the rest of God, which actually shows up in my book as part of my story, as does Walter Bergman’s book, Sabbath is Resistance. I’m thinking of Lauren winters book, Mudhouse, Sabbath, and I realized, gosh, I don’t really think I have a ton to add to that. I’d rather point people to those books. And say this is more quintessential teaching about Sabbath and Sabbath Keeping. And then I noticed this problem that a lot of the culture built around the reading of those books made work an enemy of human flourishing, that rest had become the antidote that Sabbath Keeping was treated as an escape from the drudgery of the awfulness of having to work and I get it. I know this. I mean, if, again, if you’ve read the book, you know, you know, my dad’s whole story around work was rooted in anxiety; it wasn’t a story of joy or becoming or love. My dad’s work ethic was rooted in the fear that if he didn’t do a good job, doing his work, doing his job, he wouldn’t hold his life together, he lose his family, etc. I get that. But I’ve never believed that the real problem in my dad’s life was that he was working, or even working hard, or even working a lot. The real problem in my dad’s life was the narrative that had been built around him and really specifically about him as a worker that he was hitting the target. If, by work, he held his own life together, that’s a terrible philosophy of axiology and a theology of work. What I miss about my dad is not what he provided for me; what I miss about my dad is him as a person; I liked who he was. And that is what actual work does. And that is the actual value of work. It helps us become whole persons.
Part of our human flourishing, part of what it means to be fully alive, is to work. So when that gentleman sat in that boardroom and looked at the AI-generated document in front of him, what he was missing, was part of his own human flourishing. I want to be the person who did that, not just because I want the job, but instead because I want to be the person who did that. That’s part of who I want to be as a human being. It has been pointed out by theologians and storytellers and preachers far wiser and better than I am that in the biblical creation poems, work is actually a thing handed to us as humans before anything goes wrong. That work was not a thing that we had to do after stuff went sideways; instead, part of Wednesday, what went sideways when things went sideways was our relationship to work, which says to me that part of what it means for us to be on a redemptive journey individually collectively, societally, globally, are we get to need to reorient our relationship to work itself. And if there is a real threat posed to us by the handing off of our work lives to machines, it’s that we will lose a sense of the value of our own becoming and the joy of work itself. That will continue to see work and any sort of labor at all, as a kind of evil, as a kind of negative, as a thing that is opposed to leisure and fullness. When in reality, I’m designed to give the best of who I am to the world around me that my heart is designed to love
But now this experience of being aces dad, of being Kaitland stab, of being a father figure to neighborhood kids, and the sons and the daughters of sisters and brothers of mine have unveiled and sharpened and clarified my own belovedness in ways that just I wouldn’t have said I wouldn’t have seen or even received really otherwise. And in the process of writing this book, I’ve been able to look at those relationships with a much deeper thankfulness that I get to be here, I get to be this person with foreign to these people. So those are the three things that I can think of off the top of my head that I know I have learned in the process of writing sacred strides. As you read the book, I’d love to hear from you about what it unveils in you, what it exposes in you about maybe some things in your own life that highlights or even down the road. Maybe after you’ve read the book and slowed down a tad, or pay more specific attention to certain aspects of your work life. I’d love to hear what it is you’re learning as well. This is why I do what I do publicly so that we can share these things and learn and grow together. Until next time.
Links For Justin:
NEW Single – Let Go
NEW Music – Sliver of Hope
NEW Music – The Dood and The Bird