Why Work? Part 2

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. – Dorothy L. Sayers

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/denverjeffrey/

Yesterday, I began putting up some excerpts from a fascinating and challenging article by Dorothy Sayers called “Why Work?”  In these excerpts, Sayers laid out the first proposition of her argument:

The first [proposition], stated quite briefly, is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

Today, I want to add the second proposition and some explication.

My second proposition directly concerns Christian as such, and it is this. It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work.

Yet, according to Sayers, the church has not done this, not at all well:

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.

But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie. [emphasis added; What a great line!]

And here are a couple more gems:

The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery, or sewage farming. . . . .

[W]hen you find a man who is a Christian praising God by the excellence of his work – do not distract him and take him away from his proper vocation to address religious meetings and open church bazaars. Let him serve God in the way to which God has called him.

“But wait,” the church leader in me wants to cry out, “if we let everybody think their work can be their vocation, that they can serve God in the workplace, then how will we get people to attend religious meetings, not to mention usher, teach Sunday School, lead mission trips, and staff the church bazaars?”

More from Dorothy Sayers in my next post on “Why Work?”

  • Evan

    Perhaps I am once more jumping the gun on you, Mark, but we are imperfect humans and imperfect humans often embrace imperfect theology.

    How many clergy have used Paul’s observations about works being tested with fire in the last day to make the point that only the religious works are the ones that do not burn up? That the only heavenly crowns awarded to believers are for soul-winning and other religious deeds?

    In “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye wished he could be rich so that he would not have to work and could “discuss the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day, and that would be the sweetest thing of all.” Since he is not rich, however, he cannot take the time for the religous activities he would prefer. It is a hard sell to insist that milking his cow in a godly fashion is the same thing to the Almighty, especially when there are legions of clergy who strenuously disagree.

    There is a conflict and a tension that runs through preaching, culture and human experience. What conclusion can be drawn when one feels the presence of God more acutely in church or at Laity Lodge, than while working?

    Reconciling all of this is a tall order. Since it was God who gave tending the garden as a job to the unfallen Adam, it is clear there is a connection there, but the sheep and the goats did not get divided in the parable over how well they did their jobs. I would guess that most folks feel they will find favor with God only after a certain threshold has been passed in religious activities, and that their work is at best a tack-on to all of that.

    I suspect that fleshing all of this out will require a good bit of exposition on your part. :)

  • Ray

    Several years ago I read a book by Bob Briner titled “Roaring Lambs.”  The premise of his book was that Christians should embrace their “secular” vocations, if indeed those vocations are their true callings, and they should endeavor to be the absolute best they can be in those callings.  For example, if a Christian is called to the field of music, make the best music possible with the talents God has provided.  And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the call should only apply to “Christian” or religious music.  In general, only Christians are impacted by Christian music (maybe the cliche “preaching to the choir” fits here).  The culture is impacted by music that is heard by the populace.  Mr. Briner’s point is that we are called to reach the culture, and the way to do that is to rise to the top of whatever vocational field you find yourself.  I think Calvin would probably have agreed.
     
     


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