Jayber Crow and a Theology of Work

Every human being has the desire to live a life filled with purpose. Some look to family for their sense of purpose. Many people also look to their career or a job to find a sense of purpose. Others look to their faith as a fulfillment of this desire. Still others, find their sense of purpose in their community. Yet, for many this desire for purpose seems to go unfulfilled. They live their life going to work, going about their daily life and feel as though they are a ship lost at sea. This desire for purpose, however, is not an accident. God has wired each and everyone of us to find our sense of calling and purpose in this world through him.

In his classic book Jayber Crow, author Wendell Berry shares the value of purpose in ordinary life. The beauty of a good book is that it shares the truth about real life in such a way that draws the reader in, yet provides hope as the outlook. Jayber Crow is a book set in Berry’s fictitious Kentucky town of Port William. In this series of books Berry tells the story of a small American, mostly agricultural, town from the time of the late 1800s all the way to the 1970s. He traces this history in genealogies and family stories intertwined within each book. The Port William series is akin to that of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, set an a real life scenario.

The story of Jayber Crow is one of a young man, named Jonah Crow (nicknamed Jayber) who is orphaned early in life, but is taken in by his grandparents. His earliest memories are set on his grandfathers farm with the adventures that a young boy enjoys. Tragically, his grandparents also eventually pass away and he is left alone as a young teenager. With no immediate family he is sent to Louisville to attend a Christian boarding school the Good Shepherd. It is here that Jayber hears the good news of Jesus and begins to ask questions about the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. During this time he senses what we would call today a “call to ministry”. After graduation from the Good Shepherd, Jayber enrolls in a Bible college to prepare for ministry. However, while at this Bible college he realizes that he is not be cut out for the ministry work as he once believed. He drops out and lives a nomadic life to make ends meet. During the course of time he applies for an opening at a barber shop, although he had never cut hair up to that point. While working in this role he discovers that he is not only good at cutting hair, but he also thoroughly enjoys it.

Jayber eventually finds his way back to his hometown of Port William and soon realizes that, to his surprise the town is in need of a barber. So he decides to set up shop in the old barbershop downtown and opens for business. The rest of the book tells the story of how Jayber becomes a fixture in the town of Port William as the town barber. He meets and cuts the hair for many of the men in town. Yet, his role in the community is more than simply cutting hair. He builds relationships with the man in town and even councils some of them on occasion. At one point he even falls in love, but it doesn’t work out and he spends the rest of his life as a bachelor. Upon his retirement, Jayber moves to some family property that he inherited on the outskirts of town and leaves a big hole in the community. To the end of his life many of the customers he had made over his time as the town barber make their way to his new home for, not only a haircut, but for good company as well.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV).

Jayber Crow is a good book, not only because it is a well written story by a classic author, it also has biblical applications for every day life. Many Christians today mistakenly believe that calling is only for pastors, church leaders, and missionaries. Yet, that is not what we see in scripture. God created the world and everything in it. He made it good and called humanity to fill the earth and subdue it. This calling is not simply for pastors or missionaries, it extends to the farmer, the barber, the grocery store worker, the teacher, and any other occupation that brings glory to God and good to society. This is what has been called a theology of work. The belief that there is dignity and value in every occupation, so long as it brings glory to God. In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul puts it this way, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV). God has wired each of us with certain gifts, talents, and abilities to use them for good in the world. Jayber found his purpose not in the pulpit, but in the barbershop.

This then begs the question: what about us? Am I fulfilling what God has called me to do in the world? This is a question that only you can answer. Let the story of Jayber Crow not only challenge, but encourage you. You can fulfill God‘s purpose for your life right where you are. If you are a parent, then parent for the glory of God. If you are married, then love your spouse to the glory of God. No matter what your occupation maybe, if your work can be done for the glory of God and the good of others than you may be right where God wants you to be. Even if you are a barber.

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