Friday, September 08, 2006

Working With Your Hands

Working with your Hands

The first specific instance of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit of God in the Bible was a craftsman named Bezalel. Through the spirit of God, he was given generous gifts of skill for creating and teaching all kinds of decorative arts.
Exodus 35: 30-35

Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers.

Later when God Himself chose to come to earth, He came as a craftsman, a woodworker from Nazareth. Wood was rare in Palestine at the time of Christ. It was used as a decorative item, for furniture, or for making household utensils. Jesus was probably much more of an artisan than we are commonly lead to believe.

It seems that God has a special place in His heart for people who work with their hands, for people who have devoted the time and energy necessary to learn how to do something well. It pleases God greatly when we use the resources we have to create something beautiful.

In I Thessalonians 4:11, Paul say, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”

My wife and I first became aware of the difference in the way cultures view craftsman on a trip to Switzerland. We were amazed at the quality of even the most mundane things. The door handles and window latches, for example, were of much higher quality than we were used to seeing here. That culture places great value on craftsmanship. One of the shames of modern American culture is that we have devalued the importance of craft. To a large extent craftsman are now considered quaint and relegated to crafts fairs or museums. Except for medical or music schools, only a handful of colleges offer advanced degrees in disciplines where it is required to have skilled hands.

Apprenticeships for things like luthier (stringed musical instrument making), jewelry, fine woodworking, sculpture, and so forth are hard to find and outside the radar of all but the most dedicated student.

A student who wishes to pursue a career where a high degree of learned skill is required is often discouraged and directed to more cerebral pursuits. As a result, only those not considered “college material” are encouraged to learn a trade and college graduates are discouraged from learning a craft.

Because of this, the highest skilled professions are disappearing. Only a relative handful of people can build a violin, cut a diamond, or restore a painting.

I have heard it said our quality of life is determined by the skills we have. This is certainly true. Another definition I’ve heard is that a laborer is a person that works with his hands, a craftsman works with his hands and head, an artist works with his hands, head, and heart. By this definition we should all strive to be artists.

A lot of the problem is economic. Many of the highest skilled vocations don’t earn much money compared to the effort needed to learn them. Whereas other less skilled jobs pay much more. Example: Assembly line workers in the automobile industry make more money than a craftsman that restores classic cars. The autoworker could be trained in a matter of hours while the skills needed to restore classic cars take years to obtain. Should a person who writes contracts make more money than a person who writes songs?

There is no easy solution. It comes down to society’s attitudes and values. We value efficiency and productivity over creativity and workmanship. All of us suffer the consequences in the lack of quality in the products we buy, the music we hear, and the art we live with.

Of course times change. Not all professions need to live on. I once knew a man who built his own television from scratch. I doubt if anybody would do that today. But try getting a car stereo repaired now. It is surprising at how few people know anything beyond taking out the old one and putting in a new one.

If God has given us the desire to create wonderful things with our hands, no matter what form they may take, develop the proficiency to do them well. Give God the glory through the item and the way it was created.

Jim Mathis