When some people talk about faith, they make it so complicated. Others insult our intelligence.
In this introductory episode, host Joe Iovino explains how we can talk about faith in simple ways without being simplistic, sophisticated but accessible to regular folks like you and me.
Thank you for listening to the premier episode of Blue Collar Wisdom, a podcast of down-to- earth thoughts about life and faith through things we experience every day.
I’m Joe Iovino.
Have you ever heard someone talk about Christianity and thought, “Wow! People make this way more complicated than it needs to be.”?
And then heard someone else speak the next moment thought, “C’mon! it can’t be that simple.”?
You’re not alone. I’ve been there too.
I have books on theology that are so dense I’ve had to read them twice with pen, paper, and a theological dictionary open on my phone. I’ve built outlines on second reads in order to follow the reasoning of their argument. It’s a lot of work.
I’ve also read other books, the ones that just tell us what to believe because of what the author has determined “the Bible says.” And others who give us five simple steps, or three, or sometimes just one, that will improve your prayer life, fix your marriage, get you on a budget, and/or get you into heaven.
So, who’s got it right?
Well, I think there’s a third way.
I started thinking this way when I was pastoring my very first church almost 30 years ago. A congregant spoke to me after worship, bemoaning the fact that my sermons were “simple.”
I took that as an insult. I was in the last year of working toward a degree from a very fancy theological seminary. I was working through some complex theology, writing lengthy papers about communion, and studying koine Greek. And I had a more than respectable GPA, if I do say so myself. But now was not the time to say any of that.
In my memory, I replied by asking him to stick around, because over time, I thought he would find that while my sermons were simple, they were far from simplistic.
In reality, I’m sure I just stammered some pseudo-apology.
Months later, the same guy stopped me in the aisle after church, probably, I thought, to say goodbye. Instead, he said something like, “I’m coming to understand that you have a gift for sharing very complex ideas in simple ways.”
That’s kinda become a theme throughout my ministry. As a pastor, youth minister, and writer I have always strived to be understood while never compromising the integrity of the Bible, a theological point, or the audience’s intelligence.
A theme I will continue in this podcast I’m calling “Blue Collar Wisdom.” In coming episodes I will be sharing down-to-earth thoughts about life and faith through things we experience every day.
Let me tell you where the Blue Collar part of the name comes from.
I think much of my ability to share ideas in ways that are accessible to all of us, comes from my blue collar roots. My life and faith have been richly influenced by the values of my family, especially my dad.
Until his retirement, my dad worked as an itinerant heavy equipment operator, running backhoes and cranes all over New Jersey. But my dad thinks like a theologian.
For example, he taught me things like, “You go to Hell for lying, same as you do for stealing.” He taught me about the importance of confession, forgiveness and second chances. And how love isn’t just something you say but something you live. He taught me about the value of hard work and how to enjoy simple pleasures.
As I have often said, the very first theologian I studied under was my dad.
My mom and dad were also heavily involved in our church. When she retired, my mom had been their administrative assistant for more than 40 years, and my dad had served as the head usher of the early service until the congregation decided to discontinue it just a few years ago.
My dad’s ability to call BS on some of the stuff that was said in church, always had a profound impact on me. In fact, that became the filter through which I run just about everything — sermons, youth lessons, devotions, and now podcast episodes.
Is it accurate? Does it make sense? Does it apply to real life?
I think I’m in good company here.
No one would ever accuse Jesus of being simplistic, but his teaching style was very simple. He didn’t have much time to argue the finer points of the Law with some of the religious leaders of his day. Instead, he told stories to regular folks. Stories about things everyone already knew about, like fishing, farming and cooking. He told stories about trees, vines, and flowers in a field. He talked about baking, wedding banquets, and what we do when we lose things. He told stories about people, not what they said or thought or even what they believed, but about what they did, like taking care of one on the side of the road and running toward their sons who finally decide to come home.
Simple stories, but so not-simplistic that pastors have been unpacking them every Sunday for 2,000 years.
Jesus taught everyday people about God, faith, love, and life. He took it out of the hands of the religious leaders — which is one of the reasons they gave him so much trouble — and taught everyday folks what it looked like to follow Jesus. Folks like you and me. Folks like my dad.
Jesus’s first followers were, for the most part, what we would call blue collar people. Sure, there was the occasional rich young man, the curious religious leader or the Roman soldier who sought him out for affirmation, wisdom, or healing. But those closest to Jesus, had no such advantages.
Peter, James, John and several others were working as commercial fishermen when they were asked to drop their nets to follow Jesus. Before accepting Jesus’s invitation to “follow me,” they spent their days on the Sea of Galilee, hoping their nets would be filled with enough fish to feed their families and to sell at the market.
They knew financial insecurity — what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. Some days, even some seasons, must have been good. The water was calm, the fish were plentiful, and the money was rolling in. But there must have also been other days. Times when despite their best efforts, they caught nothing.
Luke tells us as much when he tells us the story of Jesus meeting Peter who was washing his nets on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus tells Peter to throw out his nets one more time, Peter protests. We’ve worked hard all night, he says, and caught nothing.
I wonder how often that happened. Had they been out all day and caught nothing, which drove them to keep fishing all night, and they still caught nothing. Were there regular seasons when the fish just weren’t there for these guys?
Additionally, there must have been days when their time on the water was cut short by inclement weather — we know from a couple of gospel stories that they weren’t too fond of being on the sea during a storm. Or days when they were beached because their nets needed mending. And maybe there were weeks when their boats were drydocked for repair.
No matter the season, these were people accustomed to getting up early every morning and staying at work until the job was done — even if it took all night. There were no paid sick days and no paid vacations. When they didn’t work, they didn’t get paid. And if they didn’t work hard, they wouldn’t make as much as they could—as much as their families needed.
When we see depictions of Jesus’s early followers in paintings, statues, Sunday school cartoons or stained glass windows, they always look so put together — like they’re ready to pop into the pulpit and give the sermon for the morning. But that’s probably not very accurate.
They had spent a lifetime outside, doing physical work that would have resulted in calloused hands, tight muscles, and sun-dried skin.
These first followers of Jesus worked what we call blue-collar jobs.
Jesus could relate to them. Before following his call to serve as a traveling rabbi, he lived a blue-collar life also.
His dad was a carpenter, though some are quick to point out that the Greek word used to describe Joseph, tekton, actually means craftsman. So he probably wasn’t a carpenter in the way we think of them today. He wouldn’t have been framing houses or adding decks or porches to his neighbors homes.
He was probably more like what today we might call a woodworker, a craftsman who made beautiful things. Maybe he fashioned furniture—tables and cabinets. He may have made tools and utensils, or fixed things that were broken and hung shelves inside of homes.
Like the fishermen, Joseph probably also knew seasons when there was enough work to fill his every waking hour. And other times when the lack of work kept him up at night — wondering when things would pick up again.
There were probably days when there wasn’t time to clean his work area the way he would have liked to. And days of killing time by sweeping the sawdust off the floor of the shop and rearranging the tools on the workbench to make things easier when the jobs rolled around again.
I wonder how much young Jesus observed, hanging around his dad’s shop, which may very well have been run out of the house.
One might also assume that young adult Jesus apprenticed under his dad for a time, learning the trade Joseph learned from his dad, who learned it from his dad, who learned it from his dad—for as many generations back as anyone could remember.
Might Jesus’s love for the poor have grown from watching his dad deal with customers who didn’t have enough money to pay what Joseph asked?
Was he bothered by the condescending way some people talked about “the carpenter,” which is clearly used as an insult when Jesus comes back to town to teach. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” they ask when they think he’s crossed a line (Matthew 13; Mark 6).
Maybe there were times when young Jesus sensed his mom and dad’s anxiety when money was tight, yet also knew the rhythms of living with joy in both times of plenty and times of want. That may very well be where he first learned to look to the birds who didn’t farm and the flowers who didn’t sew, and trust that God would take care of us like he takes care of them.
It seems to me that much of Jesus’s wisdom was informed by his blue-collar background and shaped to fit the lives of his first audience — fishermen, farmers and other regular folk we might call blue-collar. Folks struggling to get by. People like us.
He spoke to their worries, their fears, their doubts — everyday stuff that many thought were outside of the purview of God. The same things we are feeling today.
I know we like to think of Jesus as soft and gentle — that’s the image we have so often seen — but it seems much more likely that he was more like his dad and those fishermen than the images we see in our mind’s eye.
Tight muscles, calloused hands, and sun-dried skin. Ready to work from sunrise to sunset and beyond to get the job done. Why else would Peter have listened when Jesus told him to push out and cast his nets into the sea one more time.
A blue-collar kid
Maybe I can relate because I too am a blue collar kid.
I remember my dad getting up early to commute to wherever the job was. He sometimes got home late, sometimes worked nights and weekends (for which he got overtime). Then, for many weeks in the winter, he was laid off, because even a backhoe couldn’t efficiently break through the frozen tundra of New Jersey.
He talks about working outdoors in scorching summers (which gave him a perpetual tan) and how when the weather turned cold, he sometimes sat in the cab of a machine with no heat — which only seemed fair to him because the rest of the crew was working outside. “But they weren’t sitting still,” he would sometimes say with a smile when it was particularly cold.
I saw seasons when there was a lot of work and time-and-a-half pay for overtime or overnight shifts on a busy road that no one wanted to close during the day. And winters of layoffs, lines at the unemployment office, and mom and dad stretching a dollar for everything it was worth.
It made an impression on me that sticks with me to this day.
I don’t work a blue collar job. I am a salaried writer and pastor.
For me, working outdoors means taking the laptop out on my porch for a little inspiration. My only calluses are on my fingertips from my guitar playing days as a youth pastor and worship leader. And the most physical labor I have done are the weeks when I led youth groups on mission trips — painting houses and struggling to build wheelchair ramps.
But I’ve been shaped by those values.
Long before I went to seminary, my first theology teacher shared lessons that still inform my life and ministry today. Wisdom I want to share with you.
We’ll talk soon about heaven, hell, lying and stealing. I’ll tell you what I learned about confession and forgiveness, the importance of taking care of your tools, and our need to ask for what we need — both from dad and from God.
In an upcoming episode, I’ll also share his secret to finding some of the best food at church potluck suppers — there’s no theology there, but it’s brilliant!
You see the life of faith, this whole Christian living thing, not as complicated as some people want to make it — but it’s also not as simple as others want to lead you to believe.
It’s a story of stories that inform our real lives. It’s finding extraordinary truth in ordinary things, like choosing to get off of I-40 in Arizona and taking the motorcycles down Route 66 instead.
Simple, but not simplistic, blue collar wisdom.
If you’re interested, I hope you’ll subscribe and join our conversation about finding deep meaning and great joy in our lives every day.