Posts tagged with: civilization

arion_press_printing_san_franciscoThroughout its history, the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven.

Given our newfound status, manual labor is increasingly cast down in the popular imagination, replaced by white-collar jobs, bachelor’s degrees, and ladder-climbing. Whether due to new avenues and opportunities or a more general distaste for the slow and mundane, work with the hands is either ignored or discouraged, both as vocational prospect and consumeristic priority.

Amid this sea of new efficiencies, the art of craftsmanship is at a particular disadvantage. Whereas things used to be made with a certain individual artistry (out of necessity, no doubt), so much has become industrialized and systematized. That shift has led to unprecedented blessings, to be sure, whether in time, money, energy, and convenience, and for those fruits we should be grateful and rejoice.

But even in an economy such as this, there remains a need, a market, a knack for the slow and steady. There remains room not just for the magnificence of a well engineered microchip, but for a masterfully carved table and an artfully tailored suit. Creative service comes in all kinds, and God has a plan to both meet our immediate needs and fill our bodies, souls, and spirits with beauty and wonder. (more…)

DeKoster-3-dimensions-of-workLester DeKoster’s short book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, sets forth a profound thesis and solid theological framework for how we think about work.

Although the faith and work movement has delivered a host of books and resources on the topic, DeKoster’s book stands out for its bite and balance. It is remarkably concise, and yet sets forth a holistic vision that considers the multiple implications of the Christian life.

The book was recently re-issued, along with the new afterword by Greg Forster. In it, Forster outlines DeKoster’s underlying framework, which “invites us to view work as a complex, three-dimensional reality.” Each of these dimensions is summarized as follows (quoted directly from Forster).

1. Objective-Subjective

One dimension of our work is defined by the distinction between objective and subjective. No matter how pious your feelings about it are, it still matters to God whether your work is actually having a beneficial effect on other people. At the same time, human dignity and the shaping of the self for God can only be lived out if we do our work with the right sense of identity and motives. We see this dimension most clearly in DeKoster’s twofold understanding of God’s presence in our work—that we love God in our work by serving our neighbor (objectively) and shaping ourselves (subjectively).


Work-New1Originally written in 1982, Lester DeKoster’s small book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, has had a tremendous impact on the hearts and minds of many, reorienting our attitudes and amplifying our visions about all that, at first, might seem mundane. More recently, the book’s core thesis was put on display in Acton’s film series, For the Life of the Worldparticularly in the episode on creative service.

Christian’s Library Press has now re-issued the book, complete with new cover art and a hearty new afterword by Greg Forster.

In the afterword, Forster revisits the book in light of the broader faith and work movement, noting DeKoster’s keen awareness of the struggles and hardships we often experience at work, and the hope of Christ in the midst of such struggles.

Although the book applies to every occupation and vocation — from the Wall Street executive to the independent artist to the stay-at-home mother — one of DeKoster’s primary audiences in his own life was blue-collar workers, who he routinely taught in night classes at Calvin College. “His message of hope to them is an outstanding model for our movement today,” Forster writes.

Indeed, DeKoster realized that without a proper understanding of God’s ultimate purposes, we will find ourselves trapped in a “wilderness of work,” lost and without meaning. But when we understand God’s grand design for all things, everything changes. (more…)

Braekeleer_Ferdinand_de_A_Peasant_Family_Gathered_around_the_Kitchen_Table_Oil_on_Panel-largeWith the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal empowerment and vocational choice. This is a welcome development, and it can be seized for good in any number of ways. But it also comes with its own risks and temptations.

As with any surface-level “freedom,” unless we seek God first and neighbor second, our action will quickly be steered by pleasure, pride, pursuit of power, or plain old personal preference — leading to shackles that may be looser, but remain shackles nonetheless. Such illusions are nothing new, and lurk no matter what the sphere of our stewardship. But if modernity has wielded a tangible, visible blow to one area in particular, it’s that of the family.

Over the last few decades, marriage has increasingly been misunderstood, and our misaligned approaches to business, education, and politics haven’t helped. Rather than a basic starting point, a foundation of a flourishing society, the family has become just another optional perk in the worship of narrow self-fulfillment.

“Oh that? It’s not for me. Not now.”

As a result, marriage is increasingly seen as a mere contractual arrangement, a 50-50 partnership for the purposes of personal pleasure rather than duty and sacrifice. In turn, culture and family have “evolved” accordingly. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and those who do are doing so later and later and having fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Divorce is routine. The basic definition of marriage is constantly questioned. (more…)

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

poor-working-class-family-after-the-days-workCapitalism is routinely blamed for rampant materialism and consumerism, accused of setting society’s sights only on material needs and wants, and living little time, attention, or energy for much else. But what, if not basic food, shelter, and survival, was humanity so preoccupied with before the Industrial Revolution?

As Steve Horwitz argues in a preview of his forthcoming book, Hayek’s Modern Family, our newfound liberty and accelerated activity in the Economy of Creative Service has actually freed us to devote more to other spheres of stewardship, not less: