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A craftsman's hands

The Soul of Work

Eberhard Arnold

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  • Kevin Cushing

    Unfortunately many people and think of work in self-centered, practical terms- a way to make a living economically, a way to advance to a more comfortable lifestyle, a way to achieve more power. Politicians, teachers, parents, college "career" counselors all drill this into the heads of young people , who also tote cellphones and laptops like they're life necessities. Education becomes job training for a "career"- not a way to become a better, more whole person. Even my parents subscribe to that narrow line of thinking. I once took a career class at a local community college who made an impassioned speech about a career being a vocation. Being a former Franciscan friar who takes the term "vocation" to mean something very different, her statement made me wretch. By the way, I never bothered taking the final exam, but she still gave me a passing grade. How different is work seen as a call to service, a fruit of listening to God. I also think of the papal social encyclicals of recent years which dwell on the meaning of work as well as the treatment of workers. This essay runs along those same lines- work as seen as a means to advance God's kingdom in ourselves and in the world.

The only work a person can do with his or her whole soul comes from love. And there is no love that does not get to work. Love is work, work of muscle and mind, heart and soul. This kingdom of love, therefore, this kingdom of the church and of the coming rule of God, must be a kingdom of work. Work – truly ­unselfish work – animated by the spirit of brotherhood will be the mark of the future, the character of the humankind to be. Where all our senses are consecrated and all our tools dedicated; where everything physical becomes holy and all activity in manual work a joy; where there is zest, the bubbling vigor of ­enthusiasm in work, there is the kingdom of the future!

Humans have been appointed to rule this earth, to move the earth with their tools and shape matter for this work. But brutal degradation clings like a blight, a curse, to the tools, the factories, the machines, and the industry of today. People are forced to perform soulless labor for which they have no heart or quickening of spirit, and in which no community results.

We cannot yet tell in detail how this communal love of work with its voluntary nature and joy in creativity will become practical reality. We do not know to what extent mechanized industry will be struck when the works of the devil are destroyed. The evolution of work has arrived at a deadlock: division of labor and victimization of people. Love must also become inventive in the technical area, so that soul, oversight, and unity are brought into every piece of work once more.

To put effort into one’s work, exerting one’s powers, is a good thing even if it makes one sweat. But breathing chemicals, swallowing coal dust, getting lead poisoning, and becoming mentally stultified is an infernal murder, one which we must abolish if we are to become truly human. When the new kingdom comes, that will all be overcome and done away with.

This is not some fantastic, unattainable future; on the contrary, it is the quiet reality of a church already emerging today. God is – everywhere and always. We cannot make the kingdom of God – that is impossible – but we can live in God’s kingdom all the time. Christ comes to us. And as certainly as this is true for individuals, personally, it will be fulfilled as a fact in world history.


Source: “Community and the Future of Work,” unpublished manuscript, 1921, trans. Emmy Barth Maendel (Bruderhof Historical Archive, EA 20/21a).

The repair man and his tools: Arnold Mommsen, a Bruderhof member, salvages a typewriter. The repair man and his tools: Arnold Mommsen, a Bruderhof member, salvages a typewriter.
Contributed By Eberhard Arnold Eberhard Arnold

Eberhard Arnold was a theologian, educator, publisher, and community leader.

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