Book Review: Your Work Matters to God
(Click on that "copyrighted" image above to buy the book directly from the seller who "copyrighted" it on Amazon.)
Author: Doug Sherman and William Hendricks
Length: 286 pages
Quote: “[Y]ou may sell insurance, yet you may have no idea whether or not God wants insurance to be sold. Does selling insurance matter to God?...We think your work matters deeply to God.”
That is, however, as far as Sherman and Hendricks care to go toward answering the question of whether ethically conscious people can encourage anyone to participate in the insurance gambling scheme. Their book is about work in general. It's a good first book on the topic; I'm not trying to discourage people who've not thought about the spirituality of work from reading it when I say that it could have been a more satisfactory book for people who've thought about the spirituality of work as much as I have.
For a book about work in general, I don’t believe Your Work Matters to God is as good as The Mind of the Maker. Dorothy Sayers' book is a classic; Sherman’s and Hendricks’ is a bid for the yuppie market. This is only partly because Sayers was a professional writer who had made a lifetime practice of treating every writing job, whether it was ad copy, detective stories, translations, stage plays, or religious essays that can be read as sermons, like an offering to God. It’s also because Sayers didn’t shrink from the difficult question of whether whole job fields, including the advertising field in which she’d spent her youth, had any moral right to exist. She didn’t go into a hand-wringing tizzy of remorse that she had been young and poor in a world where there were “silly luxuries and...sillier ads to convince people to buy them,” but she did admit that the “austerities” of war and postwar in England had helped people practice better stewardship.
Most people do not have the mental and moral fortitude of Dorothy Sayers. Sherman and Hendricks seem to assume that their audience can’t be told about a moral continuum on which selling sensible shoes rates above selling nylon stockings. They vapor on about the need for some sort of “moderate” position in between the extremes of believing either that all work is inherently “secular,” or that only church work can be considered a ministry, or that Christians who have to do secular jobs must “redeem” their jobs by preaching at their co-workers until the co-workers get up a petition to have them fired.
Sherman and Hendricks reprint more of the Bible than is contained in The Mind of the Maker...but they leave reflecting on the practical applications of the texts to the reader, while suggesting that readers discuss this in groups. Meanwhile, as Buddhists are aware, in order to have a spiritual life people must practice “right employment.” Sherman and Hendricks do advise readers who are feeling some spiritual compunctions about their employment to take their families’ needs into consideration. Certain lines of work, such as selling insurance, or strip-mining, or building bombs, may be inherently other than “right employment,” but there is nothing “spiritual” about welfare cheating either.
Some might say that Sherman’s first career, flying military planes, was inherently not “right employment.” Possibly this is why Sherman is so sensitive to the feelings of the strip miners, strip dancers, and bartenders who may be reading this book. He and Hendricks discuss the New Testament’s advice to slaves, but don’t directly state what I would consider the most useful application of this advice to a theoretically democratic republic: If your quitting your day job and pursuing your Real Vocation would cause your children to miss meals, or to depend on handouts from the church or state, you are the modern equivalent of a slave. Do what is required of you by the job that has become your “masters,” and pray for help to find a better job.
I also miss any discussion of the idea that a spiritual person might have a real vocation to use what s/he has learned from modern-style wage “slavery” to build an ethically acceptable alternative. Almost any Christian would say, if asked, that a barkeeper could upgrade to keeping a wholesome restaurant, a prostitute could put her outgoing personality to better use in a customer service job, or a telephone sales pest could at least annoy people for a good purpose as a bill collector. Christians have been slower to consider the possibility of building ethically acceptable savings and loan companies that don’t depend on an inflationary spiral of interest payments, or ethically acceptable financial coverage systems that don’t depend on gambling to finance outrageous payoffs to cheaters. Few Christians dare to dream of adopting a voluntary rule of loyalty that would “market” believers’ good work more efficiently than any number of annoying billboards and jingles would do, although religious groups and even social clubs have accomplished that.
So, to me, Your Work Matters to God doesn’t seem to go far enough to be useful, but there are people who’ve never thought of their ordinary jobs as ministries. For these people, Your Work Matters to God would be a useful first book, if they read it as a first book. It may not answer their questions but it will give them a base of biblical instruction they can use while seeking answers to these questions.
And it's a Fair Trade Book...if you buy it from me, by sending $5 per copy + $5 per package (+ $1 per online payment) to either address at the bottom of the page, Sherman and/or Hendricks and/or a charity of their choice will receive $1. (Can you use that Amazon gift card widget to pay with an Amazon gift card? This web site encourages real-world payment with U.S. postal money orders, but we'll take Amazon cards.)