The Table Video

Stanley Hauerwas

Habits and Formation in Brick-Laying and Theology

Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Divinity and Law, Duke Divinity School
June 2, 2017

Learning the craft of laying brick as a youth informs how Hauerwas understand the work of theology.


Let’s talk about some of your own life experience. You came from lower middle class.

It was working class.

Evan: Working class.

Yeah. I was raised a bricklayer [clears throat]. My father took me out on the job when I was seven and I labored until I was, I guess 15 or 16, until I started learning to lay brick. My father was a craftsman and when you’re in the crafts, you must learn all the subsidiary skills to moving up to being a bricklayer. So I labored for many years.

That labor, that early life, do you categorize it as just neutral labor or was there an element of suffering in it?

No. It was hard work. One, at that time, of course, we were a segregated society. Africa-Americans labored, white men laid brick. So, for many years I labored with African-Americans. And when you are engaged in unbelievably hard work, it creates a bond that is really quite remarkable.

So there was no suffering in it. I mean, your body was filled with pain, I can assure you. But there’s a joy to hard work. It finally gets to you. My father laying brick all of his life, it just destroys your body. By the time I was in my twenties, I was still working, I would have to help him out to the truck everyday and at the end of the day. Just kills your back.

Did any of that early labor help to shape your theological perspectives?

It helped shape my habits that made the theological work possible. I always thought that the formation of habits to develop the skills necessary to know how to lay brick are not unlike the formation of the kinds of habits necessary to write a good sentence.

What kind of habits ought a theologian to have?

First and foremost, humility to recognize that you’ve been given a task to say what you can say of God with the kind of care that reflects the fact that we know God primarily by what God is not. So, it takes humility not to say too much. And then, the sheer joy of being given that task for the people of God in a way that testifies to the glory of God.

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