“Great Love”

imagesRod Dreher opens his book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, with this quote from St. Therese of Lisieux: “What matters in life are not great deeds, but great love.”

It is so easy to lose my way when I am constantly surrounded by co-workers, clients and advisors  working on “important projects” with “hundreds of millions of dollars” at stake.  It is so easy to think what I do is “very important” simply because so many big companies, big banks, big law firms and big industry players are hyper-focused on, and negotiate tooth and nail over, every detail of the project. It is so easy to convince myself that I am doing “great deeds.”

That’s nonsense in every way.

Especially, if I don’t do any of it with “great love.”

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Why Work? 5

imagesWhat is a worker’s first duty?  

Well meaning Christians might respond, “to serve the community.”  But Dorothy Sayers says, no, it is “to serve the work” in Why Work?

If you aim to serve the community through work, you run into three problems, says Sayers.

First, “you cannot do good work if you take your mind off the work to see how the community is taking it,” and such “work will not be good.”  (Work that is not good serves neither God nor the community; “it only serves mammon.”)

Second, if you aim to serve the community, then “you begin to have a notion that other people owe you something for your pains; you begin to think that you have a claim on the community.”  “But if your mind is set upon serving the work, then you know you have nothing to look for; the only reward the work can give you is the satisfaction of beholding its perfection.”

Third, “if you set out to serve the community, you will probably end by merely fulfilling a public demand” “instead of doing the work as its own integrity demands that it should be done.”  “The work has been falsified to please the public, and in the end even the public is not pleased.”

This is why Sayers concludes “the only true way of serving the community is to be truly in sympathy with the community, to be oneself part of the community and then to serve the work without giving the community another thought.  Then the work will endure, because it will be true to itself.  It is the work that serves the community; the business of the worker is to serve the work.”

As for the role of the church?  “It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves.”  Thus, “if work is to find its right place in the world, it is the duty of the Church to see to it that the work serves God, and that the worker serves the work.”

Why Work? 4

imagesIn Why Work?, Dorothy Sayers has choice advice for pastors: “particularly 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.”

She observes the church has failed “to understand and respect the secular vocation.”  “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.”

It has also “forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.”  It has for instance “forgotten that a building must be a good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”

It too often takes Christian workers away from their proper calling into “churchly” activities.  “The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word.  But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.”  Instead, “when 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.”  ”If you take him away from that, he will exhaust himself in an alien technique and lose his capacity to do his dedicated work.”

Some things haven’t changed much in the last 75 years!

Why Work? 3

imagesIf work is indeed not “a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do” as Dorothy Sayers says in Why Work?, it implies work is more than just a means to gain.

Sayers also says, as a corollary, both employers and parents should more routinely ask, “what type of worker is suited to this type of work?” rather than finding the cheapest employee or best-paying job for children.

It also means “we should no longer think of work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure.”  Leisure should instead be viewed as “the period of changed rhythm that [refresh] us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work.”

Finally, “protests and strikes” would not only be about “pay and conditions” but also about “the quality of the work demanded and the honesty, beauty, and usefulness of the goods produced.”  For in Sayer’s mind, “the greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.”

Why Work? 2

imagesIn Why Work?, Dorothy Sayers says “the Christian understanding of work” is that “work is the natural exercise and function of man — the creature who is made in the image of his Creator.”

This means “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.”  And the satisfaction in work comes “in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has made and finding it very good.”  “He is no longer bargaining with his work, but serving it.”

Unfortunately, once we begin to look at work “as a means to gain,” this all falls apart for us.  Work becomes “an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to be extracted.”  We end up demanding that “we should always get out of it [i.e., work] a little more than the value of the labor we give to it.”  Soon, we “persuade ourselves that society is always in our debt” and leaves us with “a grudge against society.”  (Having been an associate at a law firm where folks talk so much about how much bonus “we deserve,” this sounds depressingly and eerily familiar.)

Why Work? 1

imagesWriting during World War II, Dorothy Sayers asks in Why Work?: “shall we [after the war ends] go back to that civilization of greed and waste which we dignify by the name of a ‘high standard of living’?”

For her, “that [meant] going back to the time when labor was valued in terms of its cash returns, and not in terms the work.”  It meant asking the wrong questions about work: “will it pay?”  “What does he make?”  “Can we induce people to buy them?”  “How much a week?”  It meant reverting to the ingrained “habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money.”

Instead, the proper questions are: “”Is it good”?  “What is his work worth?”  “Are they useful things well made?”  “Will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”  The proper view is to think about work “in terms of work done,” and “taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work — our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure — and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people.”  

In other words, as Miroslav Volf suggests, the proper view of work is to see it as having an inherent value rather than having solely an instrumental value.

Work in the Spirit 26

imgresMiroslav Volf concludes Work in the Spirit by stating, “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, hints at the same, referencing Dorothy Sayers who once said “the worker’s first duty is to serve the work.”

Volf comes to this conclusion by examining “human nature as God desires it to be.”

If the purpose of human life is either reflection (as in much of philosophical tradition) or worship (as in much of Christian tradition), then work can have only instrumental value.  One works in order to keep alive, and one lives in order to think or worship.  But if work is a fundamental dimension of human existence, then work cannot have only an instrumental value.  If God’s purpose for human beings is not only for them to ensure that certain states of affairs come about (the cultivation and preservation of the Garden of Eden) but that these states of affairs are created through human work (tilling and keeping), then work cannot be only a means to life whose purpose exists fully in something outside work, but must be considered an aspect of the purpose of life itself (emphasis in the original).  

Therefore, “if I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end it itself.”  We should “not turn a fundamental aspect of life [that is, work] into a mere means of life.

This is very much contrary to how we often perceive work.  We strive “to produce things most efficiently [and are] not interested in work at all, but in the product of work.”  “The unreachable ideal” that we nonetheless strive foolishly for is “to have the product without the work.”  But the original design for work was not so.  “Human beings are called to achieve something efficiently as well as gifted to enjoy the process of achieving it.” And we were intended to work “without inconvenience” and “as it were, in play and with the greatest delight.”

So we come to Volf’s conclusion again: “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  This means:

…every good worker goes out of herself and loses herself in her work.  Without such “self-forgetfulness,” in which the inborn egoism that twists everything into means for our ends loosens its grip on us, there is no true joy in work.  The opposition between the self-forgetfulness in work and self-realization through work is only apparent.  Just as “everything else” will be added to us when we seek the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), so will self-realization be added to us when we seek good work, when we serve others by self-forgetful, enjoyable work that does not violate our personhood.