Four Questions

Four Questions with Marcus Goodyear

Engaging with different voices is always important. In blogging it is so easy to concentrate on your own view, and let other views orbit around it. “Four Questions” is a series on Everyday Liturgy which looks to authors & artists to ask them four questions about their craft.

Today’s guest is Marcus Goodyear, a poet and editor. His collection of poems, Barbies at Communion, is particularly good. If anything, his life is a bit meta-, because his vocation is literally vocation: he works for the H.E. Butt Foundation, which works to transform daily work through Laity Lodge and The High Calling.

Everyday Liturgy: Editing is a hugely underrated vocation, because you are constantly in the background. But as a poet, you are at the forefront, writing intimate words you share with an audience. How do you see the role of editor and the role of poet intersecting?

Marcus Goodyear: I think of poetry as something like verbal weightlifting. Most people who exercise with weights in a gym are training for something else–football or basketball or ironman competitions. Whatever. The weight training tones muscles more efficiently than just practicing their sport.

It’s the same with poetry. Poetry forces a writer to focus on the essential building blocks of writing–phrases and clauses and sentences, sound devices like rhyme and meter and alliteration, figurative language like metaphor and metonymy. Of course, poetry also teaches writers to be concise. That’s a lesson every writer needs to learn over and over again. We love to hear our own words.

Poetry training gives strength to any form of writing, from journalism to fiction to theology.

And of course, there are the people who write poetry for its own sake, just like their are people who lift weights just to lift weights. The Arnold Schwazenegger’s of the literary world, I suppose. Remember Mr. Universe from 1970s?

It’s a little weird to like poetry for its own sake, but there are some of us who do.

All that to say, poetry hones a writer’s skill and ability with the elements of writing. These are the same skills that an editor applies to the work he or she is editing.

EL:  As the editor of a website devoted to vocation, The High Calling, how have you seen the Christian laity’s thinking about vocation change over the past five years? Is it getting better, or worse?

MG: Have I really been doing this for five years? That seems weird to me. Even so, five years is just a short percentage of the time that Howard Butt has been trying to educate Christians about lay renewal and vocation. He’s been working at this since the 1950s!

The biggest challenge has been trying to get people to care about this topic. Lilly Endowment has helped in the past five years with its Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation. David Miller left Yale to found the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton, and his book God at Work has begun to influence many of the leaders of regional faith and work groups. Bill Peel founded the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University. Will Messenger’s team on the Theology of Work Project continues to make good progress on their knowledge base.

Of course, The High Calling itself has grown tremendously. Since 2007, our site has seen 500% growth. I would argue that we are the single most productive organization in the world on the topic of faith and work.

So I would say it is getting better. Since the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a steady growth of grass roots organizations thinking about faith and work, but the movement is moving into formal institutions like Princeton and LaTourneau. And some of the smaller movements like The High Calling have grown up quite a bit in the last few years.

Pastors still struggle with the concept, but they at least have a growing awareness of the need. Many of them have never worked in a traditional career. This makes it hard, and maybe even a bit threatening, for them to talk about faith and work. A lot of the organizations I have mentioned above are making specific efforts to help pastors now.

EL: What are the best ways you have found to balance your work with your art?

MG: Who says I have balance?

It is really a matter of priorities. Art, poetry, theater, stories, these things are important for me psychologically. Creativity helps me stay positive and healthy. Art is also a key element in my personal worship and study. For example, I’m afraid I’m not very good at traditional prayer. But I can write poems.

For me, the real challenge is not balancing work and art, but juggling family, work, art, and church. As much as possible, I look for ways that my passions can overlap. My family is involved in our community theater–where I divert much of my creative energies. My work has a lot of room for creativity and writing. And my church is very focused on the arts.

Honestly, though, I’m not good at balance. I over commit on a regular basis and crash and burn and end up staying up too late or getting up too early. Then I will get a grip, say no to new projects for awhile and keep things under control. Until I over commit again.

It seems to be a cycle that I run through about once a year. But I don’t give up. And my family is supportive and understanding–in part because I do my best to support their passions as well.

EL: What do you think is the most vital way churches can help lay persons figure out their vocation and succeed?

MG: That is a very interesting question. I’m not sure the church as an institution should presume to give career advice. Which is to say, there are many good organizations and services that help people explore what careers are available to them. In high school, I talked with my teachers a lot about career. I talked with my dad a lot. I remember going to a career center. In college, I talked with academic advisers and professors. My church as an organization didn’t give me much formal career advice.

On the other hand, my youth pastor met with me at lunch regularly to talk about what was going on in my life and faith. Many of those discussions had to do with my anxieties about my future career, I’m sure.

He served as a mentor to me, during those years. But he couldn’t do that for everyone. He didn’t have enough time. But he had a church full of professionals. Every church does. How hard would it be for churches to provide a simple system for establish professionals to mentor young professionals for several weeks over lunch or breakfast or coffee?

Another thing pastors could do is simply remember their audience when they are writing sermons. Most people will spend 50% of their lives at work. Pastors need to be talking about how we can make our work meaningful–with a healthy theology that accepts the intrinsic value of work. The workplace is more than just another mission field. Our faith is more than a sales pitch. There are so many rich and thoughtful resources out there to help pastors think about work in a meaningful way, including The High Calling’s own free Sermon Notes series with a new sermon about the theology of work every month.

We in the pews need to extend grace toward our church leaders as they try this new concept. We need to encourage them that their work in the church is valuable, just as we need them to encourage us.