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Archive for December 2014

“No Crooked Table Legs or Ill-Fitted Drawers ever…Came Out of the Carpenter’s Shop at Nazareth”

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My cousin-in-law tipped me off to Dorothy Sayer’s little essay: Why Work? It has some really fabulous tidbits in it about a Christian view of work which may help guide one’s thinking, particularly about secular jobs. She writes,

The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean 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 for all our judgments about things and  people.”

I don’t think Sayers means by this that we must have the same affection for our paid work that we have for our unpaid work. I may work as an attorney, yet gain a great deal more enjoyment out of building things or writing music or penning poems. Rather, I take her meaning to be that I should do my work as an attorney, butcher or teacher for the sake of the work itself, with the same attitude toward quality and excellence that I would take toward my work in building things on the side. The fact that I get paid to be an attorney should not affect the manner and enthusiasm by which I go about it at all.

Sayers says that one of the questions we should ask of work is not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” She analogizes to wartime production, stating that,

“In war, production for wasteful consumption still goes on: but there is one great difference in the good produced. None of them is valued for what it will fetch, but only for what it is worth in itself. The gun and the tank, the airplane and the warship have to be the best of their kind. A war consumer does not buy shoddy . . . He buys the thing that is good for its purpose, asking nothing of it but that it shall do the job it has to do.”

This is the kind of work that has real value, according to Sayers. It is the way we should do work in peacetime as well. She says that this is not really an economic issue, but fundamentally a religious one.

Sayers goes on to provide three principles which she says make up a Christian understanding of work.

(1) “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.” One consequence of this way of approaching work is that we will view the relationship between leisure and work differently. As Sayers says, we will stop seeing work as something to “get through” so that we can get to our leisure. Rather, we will see leisure as a necessary time of refreshing ourselves so that we can get back to “the delightful purpose of getting on with our work.” This also presupposes that work is not a curse, not a burden imposed on us by man’s fall into sin and condemnation, but rather, a blessing which God fitted man to engage in from the very start, in the perfection of the Garden of Eden. We were created for work, not eternal idleness.

(2) “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.” In other words, the Bible knows of no “secular-sacred” divide when it comes to life, and work in particular. A man or woman “must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.”

Sayers asks the question: “How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?” This was something I was confronted with as a high school Bible teacher. At the Christian school there was constantly lurking this premise that “full time Christian ministry” was the real work of ministry, and that impact for the kingdom of God was somehow going to be greater if one became a worship leader, pastor or high school Bible teacher. Men are “called” to be pastors, we are told. No one ever said, “I’m called to be a tool and die maker.” Even the terms “vocational ministry” or “full time Christian ministry” are misleading.

Sayers really finds her stride when she starts talking about how the Church allows itself to excuse shoddy workmanship  as long as that workmanship is “Christian” or done at the hands of Christians. She writes:

Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.”

Sayers gives her reason for why this is, namely, that we have forgotten that God’s truth and nature is expressed in good work, not just any old work. I would say that it also comes from a modern theological position which relegates large swaths of life, work included, to the designation of a “means to an end.” In other words, all of our work is going to “burn up” in the end, so work is therefore only good insofar as it gives one a chance to verbally share the gospel message, make money to provide for one’s family and advance the full-time ministries of the church. But I wholeheartedly agree with Sayer’s contention that “work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.” It is not good enough for a Christian filmmaker, say, to hire actors on the basis of their Christian character, even though they are marginal actors. Incompetence brings ill-repute on the Church, says Sayers.

Sayers goes on to emphasize that work should be the main thing we are engaged in:

It is your business, you churchmen, to get what good you can from observing [the secular worker’s] work – not to take him away from it, so that he may do ecclesiastical work for you. But, if you have any power, see that he is set free to do his own work as well as it may be done. He is not there to serve you; he is there to serve God by serving his work.”

(3) “The worker’s first duty is to serve the work.” By this Sayers means that workers should not aim to “serve the community,” but rather, to serve the work. She gives three reasons for this: (a) If you pay attention to how the community is receiving your work, you lose your focus on the excellence of the work, and “work that is not good serves neither God nor the community; it only serves mammon;” (b) If you try to serve the community first and foremost, rather than serving the work, “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;” and (c) If you try to serve the community, you may lose the goodness and integrity which the work demands by playing to the ever-changing whims and demands of the community. “The work has been falsified to please the public, and in the end even the public is not pleased. As it is with works of art, so it is with work.”

Finally, Sayers says that, for the Christian, work must flow from who we are; “as we are so we make.” Thus, the Church exists to make us Christians, and once we are Christians, our work will flow from this. Our work will be “the expression of ourselves.” But the Church does not exist to tell the worker the manner in which to go about his or her work, “except to insist that the workman should be free to do his work well according to its own integrity.”

Obviously Sayers’ essay is not the only word on work, and I did not agree with all of her musings on what produces a thriving economy. Further, she does not comment at all on how so-called domestic work might fit into her paradigm (though one can imagine what she might say). That said, I found the above portions good meat to chew on as I go about the sacred task of my daily secular work under God’s rule and reign. I heartily recommend her piece.




Written by Michael Duenes

December 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics, Work

Epistemology: Every Person’s View of the World is a Faith Position

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“If a person says, ‘I want to base my whole worldview on reason,’ I would say, ‘Why do you do that?’ When he turns to give me a reason, what’s he doing? He’s flipping open his Bible.”  ~ Douglas Wilson, in the film Collision

The Bible states clearly that, “the fear of the LORD is beginning of knowledge.” The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is the God “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” This means that in order to truly know anything, our epistemology is dependent on God’s revelation in the Scriptures and in nature around us. Humans are not able to know anything apart from an epistemological foundation in God’s revelation. When a person rejects the Bible as the ultimate source of knowledge, and then attempts to render a judgment against the Scripture’s reliability and truth, that person must have some basis for rendering this judgment. He or she must have standards by which to judge the Scripture as something other than the inerrant, eternal, completely trustworthy truth from God.

But from where does she get these standards? If she claims to get them from “reason” or “rationality,” then she will have to provide some epistemological basis for demonstrating and justifying the position that, (a) she is the kind of being that possesses “reason” or “rationality,” and (b) her reasonings are reliable. She cannot simply pull “reason” out of thin air, take it as an unproven given or “hang it from invisible skyhooks” as Douglas Wilson would say. Truth is, apart from God, she will not be able to demonstrate that we are reasonable creatures. Godless, purely material/physical forces do not produce rationality. She will have to take it on faith, just like everything else. Every position is a faith position.

In real life, most people who reject the Bible simply borrow heavily from the biblical epistemology which is our cultural inheritance. That is, they borrow Christian capital, as it were. They use a biblical basis for their judgment of rejecting part or all of the Bible. They do not acknowledge that this is what they are doing, for that would be fatal to their unbelief. We want to live in the “thick” epistemological world that God created, but without being accountable or thankful to God for it. This is what St. Paul means when he says we “suppress the truth in our godlessness and wickedness.” We ought to understand the nature of this business we’re engaged in.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 26, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Christmas and Gratitude

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I took my sons out this morning so they could run their new remote control cars. They were doing more whining than enjoying, and some of their ingratitude has been true to a greater extent than I would like since they opened their multitude of gifts on Christmas. Now I grant that they are kids, but they have received quite generously in their young lives, and I admit that their ingratitude sometimes bothers me.

But their ingratitude had the good effect of causing me to consider my own heart. I may not whine out loud about my situation, as they do; but there are plenty of times when I am whining in my heart about not having this or that. Further, I’ve been given many times more things and stuff in life, along with comforts, than they have. And much of my receiving has gone on without proper thanks to those who gave, and to the ultimate Giver, God himself. What if God dealt with me according to my thankless attitude? If I am seeing a lack of thanks in my son’s hearts, how much more does God see the great lack of thankfulness in my heart?

It made me think of Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Granted, Jesus was not talking about gratitude, but he tells the parable about the master who forgives the massive debt his servant owes him because the servant has begged him to. And then the servant goes out and throws his own debtor in jail for not repaying the pittance he owes him. The master, seeing this, and recalling how forgiving he had been toward his own servant, has the servant thrown into jail until he can repay all of his debt.

I am like the unforgiving servant, only in the sense that God has given to me so generously – often without thanks from me – and yet I would be hard on my sons who are ungrateful over less. I certainly need Christ’s forgiveness, and this makes me think about how to teach my sons gratitude with a soft and patient heart. God does so, and much more, with me.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 26, 2014 at 10:04 am

Posted in Duenes, Thank the Lord

Schaeffer: Downstairs and Upstairs Knowledge

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schaefferIn addition to talking about “universals” and “particulars,” Schaeffer discusses what he calls “downstairs knowledge” and “upstairs knowledge.” Downstairs knowledge is that which has to do with “mathematical knowledge,” that is, what we might think of as scientific knowledge. Of this “downstairs knowledge,” Schaeffer writes:

In the downstairs area, which modern man ascribes to rationality and concerning which he talks with meaningful language, he can see himself only as a machine, a totally determined machine, and so he has no way to be sure of knowing even the natural world.

“Upstairs knowledge” is the arena of the spiritual, the soul-ish part of man, or what modern man might pejoratively call the “nonrational” part of us, the area where we deal with meaning and values. Schaeffer argues that modern man has largely said that “there is only silence upstairs,” that is, in the upstairs life. . .

. . . modern man is without categories, for categories are related to reason and antithesis. In the upstairs he has no reason to say that this is right as opposed to that being wrong. . . But notice it is more profound and more horrible. Equally, living upstairs he has no way to say that this is true as opposed to that which is non-true.

In other words, the only thing that modern man said we could “know” was mathematical or scientific knowledge, that which could be measured, tested, evaluated with our five senses. Everything else was merely opinion, at best. This loss of moral and/or spiritual knowledge is teased out more thoroughly in Dallas Willard’s wonderful book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge.

According to Willard, moral and spiritual knowledge, “upstairs knowledge,” was “relocated, by subtle increments within a long drawn-out process, into the domain of feelings and cultural traditions, where they could not be taught by the acknowledged institutions of knowledge [e.g., the public schools and secular universities] as a body of knowledge. This is what we mean when we speak here of the ‘disappearance of moral knowledge.'” (emphasis his).

Willard goes on:

     The inner dynamics of a nonphysical ‘soul’ or person responsibly weaving its own life together by choosing to follow rationally grounded moral insights or traditional teachings from the Bible disappeared from possible cognitive view – it was not thought to be ‘scientific’ – and with it disappeared the moral knowledge that had from the beginning taken [the human person] as its subject matter. Moral knowledge naturally disappears when its subject matter disappears. (emphasis mine)

Post-modern man has taken things a step further than modern man, as Schaeffer’s line of thought predicted, leading us to the place where bare mathematical knowledge is about all that appears to be left. Even the scientist has lost his or her epistemological basis for saying much of anything is true or false, fact or non-fact. Science is thus being reduced to a cudgel or bludgeon, a will-to-power by which to impose social policy. Whatever the current cultural elites in power happen to want to impose, they simply say that it is “scientific” or “evidence-based,” (See, for example, climate change, sex/contraceptive education, parenting, health care. Just say that it’s “evidence-based” or “based on science” and that’s supposed to be the end of the discussion). What counts as actual evidence or “truth” is largely left out of it.

The upshot is that we have this great cleavage in our culture over what is considered “knowledge” or “fact” or “evidence-based” and what counts merely as “your opinion” or “your feelings.” Spiritual truth – as presented in the Bible, through the created order, and embodied in the person of Jesus Christ – counts widely today as mere opinion, something you’re entitled to hold very privately. But certainly don’t begin talking about it, teaching it and living it out in the public arena as though it is true knowledge. As Schaeffer says, “In the ‘upper story’ [Wittgenstein] put silence, because you could not talk about anything outside of the known world of natural science. But man desperately needs values, ethics, meanings to it all. Man needs these desperately, but there is only silence there.”

So what is Schaeffer’s prognosis, given the above situation? “Modern man is left either downstairs as a machine with words that do not lead either to values or facts but only to words, or he is left upstairs in a world without categories in regard to human values, moral values, or the difference between reality and fantasy. Weep for our generation!”

We might weep if we felt more deeply the implications, as I believe Schaeffer did. We should also see this as an opportunity, for mankind is still in the image of God. Nothing changes that. Thus, the “God-shaped vacuum” to which St. Augustine referred still resides in us, and there are still men, women and children hungering and thirsting for the life-giving knowledge of the gospel, hungering to know it as “true truth,” to borrow Schaeffer’s term. To be lost in a world without knowledge is to be lost indeed.

As Dallas Willard says, the prescription is that “our opponents,” along with the rest of the world, “must see people and communities of people in which [Christ] lives today.” This is the epistemology of life, grace and truth . . . water for our souls.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 21, 2014 at 10:20 am

Mark Strand (1934-2014)

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The “Clint Eastwood” of poetry has died.  Mark Strand, former U.S. Poet Laureate left behind a body of poetry that has moved me ever since I was introduced to him as a young 20 year old. You would be enriched to explore his work.

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 14, 2014 at 11:47 am

Posted in Poetry, Russell