Make Good Tables!

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957), the articulate writer, public speaker, and apologist, argued passionately for the relevance of orthodox Christian doctrine to the living of a truly Christian life. On April 23, 1942, she spoke in Eastbourne, England, about society after World War II had ended. To rebuild the country, a proper attitude towards work was necessary. As Sayers puts it, work and religion must not “become separate departments.”

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. The Church must concern herself not only with such questions as the just price1 and proper working conditions: she must concern herself with seeing that the work itself is such as a human being can perform without degradation—that no one is required by economic or any other considerations to devote himself to work that is contemptible, soul-destroying, or harmful. It is not right for her to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.

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 a 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 on 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 . . . 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 work will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.2

Footnotes :

1 An appropriate wage for work.

2 Dorothy L. Sayers, “Why Work?” in Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), 56-57.

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