I have a son whose answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” was simply, I want to be a worker. These words were spoken in that kindergarten accent of all kindergarteners.
In Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, there is great estate called, Chesney Wold, owned by Sir Leicester Dedlock and stewarded by Mr. and Mrs. Rouncewell. Mrs. Rouncewell has endured the unfortunate experience of having given birth to a son who becomes, … a worker.
“Her second son would have been provided for at Chesney Wold, and would have been made steward in due season; but he took, when he was a schoolboy, to constructing steam engines out of saucepans (Penguin, 2003, p. 106) …”
How unfortunate for her. Indeed, her son continued to pursue the making of things, mechanical experimentation that would take him north into the heart of the industrial complex of Victorian England. He was an inventor and, by all accounts, successful. Yet as a youth, the uneasy Mrs. Rouncewell found her son’s propensities most unwelcome:
“… the doomed young rebel (otherwise a mild youth, and very persevering), showing no sign of grace as he got older; but, on the contrary, constructing a model of a power-loom, she was fain, with many tears, to mention his backslidings to the baronet. ‘Mrs Rouncewell,’ said Sir Leicester, ‘I can never consent to argue, as you know, with any one on any subject. You had better get rid of your boy; you had better get him into some Works. The iron country farther north is, I suppose, the congenial direction for a boy with these tendencies (107).’”
Even later in his life, as the father of her grandson, Mrs. Rouncewell still felt of her son as “a very honourable soldier, who had gone over to the enemy.”
Who wants to be a worker? Some 50 times or more the Christian worker is referenced and more than 150 times the act of working appears. These may not be instances of turning wrenches or erecting smokestacks or building hydraulic systems activated by birds reaching for birdseed (like Mrs. Rouncewell’s son).
In the Bible, working is an important part of the Christian life. A worker is someone who employs energy, a doer of actions. The New Testament is full of people called fellow-workers, which is perhaps a more palatable expression. It is the kind of title indicative of those who engage in spending energy and doing action for the congregation. Who wouldn’t want to be this kind of worker? In fact, being a fellow-worker isn’t really work at all, is it?
It is. In the New Testament, work is work. Performing good works is performing a task that may take, sorry, work. What about doing a good deed, that feels different. Nope. In the Greek it’s the same word: work. Work is work, labor is work, deeds are work.
That’s the thing. Being a fellow-worker for the church, offering a good deed to a neighbor, while these sound like enticing and serviceable endeavors, these are still things that require work. You are, by virtue of being united to Christ, a worker. The average factory of Industrial England was what you would expect: “there is iron-dust on everything; and the smoke is seen, through the windows, rolling heavily out of the tall chimneys, to mingle with the smoke from a vaporous Babylon of other chimneys (953).” But this is the place of work, populated by doers and spenders-of-energy, and work is a particularly Christian endeavor. And work, we must.