common good, economic wisdom,faith and work, alexander hamilton

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Faith and Work and Alexander Hamilton

What the musical Hamilton taught me about faith, work, and the need for community.

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By now, you’ve probably heard of the smash-hit rap musical, Hamilton. From set design to casting, song-writing to choreography, Hamilton offers a fresh perspective on the birth of a nation, boasting a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations, and world-wide cultural appeal. With its new arrival to Disney+, the musical has re-entered the mainstream conversation a few years since its debut. Five years ago, you would have heard me on any given day belting out the words to “The Schuyler Sisters” or “Wait For It,” and today it’s like nothing changed. However, these years down the road have given me a new perspective on the faith and work conversation, and a recent listen to the Hamilton soundtrack sparked my curiosity in a new way.

Alexander Hamilton's early work

As I listened — and sang along — for the nth time, a new line struck me in the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton.” Political rival Aaron Burr narrates the early life of the young founding father, and acquaints listeners with one of Hamilton’s first jobs: “At fourteen / they placed him in charge of a trading charter.” This particular line piqued my interest. There’s a lot to learn from Hamilton. A man outspoken about his Christianity, there’s allegorical truths to his political rise, his adulterous fall, and the way grace and redemption are woven throughout his story. He is a complicated man, as we all are, who offered America a framework for how a new, multi-ethic state could not only survive, but perhaps even thrive. But this little line seemed significant in a new way. I took it upon myself to do a little research and, indeed, Hamilton took a job at an import-export firm, Beekman and Cruger, at age 14. He worked with currency from all over the world, tracking shipments and charting courses for goods coming in and out of the Caribbean, where he lived. This was one of his first jobs, a job that was mentioned only once in the opening number of a three-hour musical, but one that profoundly shaped the work he would later be called on to do.

Your first job matters to God

Most of us remember our first jobs. At the time, they never seem that important. If anything, they feel like a struggle, or maybe a rite of passage. Low wages. Bad hours. Physical and emotional toil. Whether it was babysitting or fast food, tutoring or technical work, you probably remember the humbling nature of your first season of work. Looking back, do you remember thinking of your first job as an important one? All work shapes our path, whether we know it or not. Many of us — myself included — go through seasons where we believe small jobs are only a pit stop to the “finish line” — to our dream job. But what if instead of pit stops, we looked at those first jobs more like stepping stones? What if we believed there was something to learn from every job we take? Not only the inherent value of washing a car or rolling silverware (though those matter, too), but in how the work we do, even at a young age, can shape our lives in the future. Hamilton’s story gives us a true picture of just that.

If you haven’t watched or listened to the show by now, I’ll fill in the rest of the story for you. Eventually, Hamilton wrote his way out of the Caribbean, rose through the political ranks, and became the nation’s first treasury secretary. He established a central banking system that allowed America to gain financial fluidity and power in a way a decentralized state system couldn’t. Many called Hamilton a master of financials, gifted in both words and numbers. People said his financial system was a “work of genius” that carried the country through to its next chapter. Hamilton’s unique knowledge and experience of handling money, banking, and credit (which began at the age of 14) offered the struggling nation a firm foundation on which to build, shape, and grow.

Community is essential

All that to say, there’s a piece of Hamilton’s story I love the most. With all his ability and talent on display in such magnitude, I love highlighting a few unnamed people that deserve some credit. Recall the lyric “Well, the word got around, they said, this kid is insane, man // Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland.” Pause, right there. There are a few nameless heroes to recognize. Realizing young Hamilton’s talents, his community in the Caribbean saw his potential, and knew he would thrive with a proper education. Combining resources, they pooled their money to offer Hamilton a way out of his hometown, providing him a new path forward to the new world where his talents could be cultivated and curated. Though the show is named after Hamilton himself, I love that his story wasn’t only his own. It was his neighbors, his community, the generous people around him, those who leveraged and wielded their power to uplift and encourage. It wasn’t solely Hamilton’s effort to “pull himself up by the bootstraps,” but a greater economic network of people, power, and resources that influenced the man Hamilton would one day become.

Pastors, the implications of this story for your congregation are immense. Vocational discipleship should be practiced in tandem with spiritual growth for your people. As a pastor, know your influence to recognize and encourage those in your parish. Get to know your sheep. Call out their talents. Put them in positions where they have the ability to learn, grow, and thrive. We may not know who will eventually write our story, but rest assured God weaves all stories together for his glory, small and big alike. History has its eyes on us.

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