Falling Upward: Work


“Work” is the name of this art installation. This being my first post of 2017, it’s not because my writing has gone dormant. If anything, I’ve done my most significant, painstaking, yet rewarding writing this past year.  I’ve been busily casting my story into words, art, and video that I presented at a dinner and art show to celebrate my 50th birthday.

THIS story is one I could ONLY have written now, after 49 years of life, and after going through significant trials of life, and only after experiencing “turn-arounds, ” inflections, and redemption in my life.  Author and globally recognized ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr wrote a book called “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” That book has framed this telling of my story.

In the book, Richard writes that “You cannot walk the second journey with first journey tools.” That so resonated with me that I set out to express my “falling upward” story through five motifs:

  • Miseducation
  • Wilderness
  • Authenticity
  • Husbandhood
  • Work

Through each of these motifs, I wanted to express…

  • that this theme has really taken center stage in my life as I look beyond 50. I will not and cannot be trapped in my past; the art installations served to “commission” me forward and upward.
  • that my times of “falling” and trial have only served to unlock the “upward” path of expressing my passions and what is most true about me.
  • a “farewell” to the first half of life and a “welcome” to the second half (even if I don’t make it to 100)
  • my story of “falling upward” that I could not have been able to tell had I been any younger.
  • in my past, i did not believe there was value to my story. I need to shun the shame that’s held me back. So i wanted to express my story, and especially god’s incarnate power

By faith, I rented a 250 capacity banquet hall last year. By God’s providence, on the day of the party, exactly 250 RSVP’ed, not more, not less. These 250 people were my friends, neighbors, co-workers, ministers, teachers, classmates, and more.

So many contributed to this effort; the mission became bigger than me.  One of these contributors was my artist friend Bethany. She took the black-and-white photos, processed them, and conceived expressions for everything that I had written for this project. If you would like a preview of all five art installations, please visit the website of my friend Bethany.

I created a separate website to capture choice videos and toasts from the party. That can be found here: sites.google.com/site/stevefallingupward

In the meantime, here is the transcript for the video called “Work.” (The words that appear on Bethany’s site were my artist statements. The words here were taken from videos I created for each motif.)

I’ve had a diversity of jobs since my youth: Joe’s Ice Cream, Radio Shack, and worked the concession stand at the Galaxy theater, at one time the newest, hippest multiplex of San Francisco. I also taught guitar classes in addition to working the “rite of passage” job at McDonalds down in So Cal. But the job that’s had the most profound impact of my life? Manual labor refinishing floors in hundreds of homes in San Francisco. When the day was over, my job was over and I did not have any work to bring home with me. I had no idea how therapeutic that would be, and how much I needed to detox from my workaholism.

However, some friends wondered why I was refinishing floors especially knowing I use to work high-tech with all the perks. Seemed like I had fallen on hard times. I don’t blame their concern for me.

But working the floor job was the beginning of my vocational upward journey. For instance, it taught me to see the tremendous honor of manual labor. When I say “honor”, that flies in the face of the Western philosophy of progress I was raised with. Progress meant I got better and better jobs. Manual labor typically isn’t seen as better than the high tech jobs and globetrotting speaking gigs I had. But for me, working the floors was way better and exactly what I needed.

The name of the floor company was Nhance and the management was the best I’ve experienced, ever. They treated me and the crew better than any hi tech job I’ve had, better than any job in the Christian sector even. For that reason, they attracted the highest quality people ever to refinish floors. It wasn’t uncommon for clients to stop us in the middle of our work to inquire “who are you? You’re not floor refinishers. you’re artists!”

Blue collar work, gardening or even prison never defined the great men and women of the ages that I respect. Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Junior, Mother Teresa. My floor job brought me closer to these men and women, but especially to Jesus, superlative of all teachers to me, and his vocational carpenter work only spoke of his accessibility.

The upward journey means my work no longer defines me. I’m doing the Father’s business no matter what I do. And today, I get to pay that forward through my own organization, and to all the people I partner with through my work.


  1. Tamara Owyoung on May 17, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Hi Steve!

    I’m so sorry for the delay. This has been one crazy month. I wanted to be sure I really had the time to sit down and look at these…

    What an amazing display of your journey. These are all fantastic! I *love* the one about being a husband. I’m sure Kathy was very touched by that too. I also related to the ‘miseducation’ installation! That is a very keen representation of knowing vs. “knowing.” I am knee-deep in a paper about that at the moment. This art reminded me of that saying: you live according to the story you believe is true. What a gift to be able to look back on life so far and see your story through the eyes of love.

    Perhaps someday all four of us can come out there and hang out with you guys. We would love that!

    Please give Kathy and Jason a hug for me, Tamara


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