By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
Every so often I am reminded that I live in a different world than that of my father—and am amazed at the accelerated pace of change that has taken place from one generation to the next. During my formative years, when my father went to work, he toiled, returning home with grease and grime under his fingernails and embedded in the deep crevices of his rough workman’s hands. During my own children’s formative years “going to work” for their dad meant, more often than not, going downstairs to the study in the den, risking a blister on the finger from furious typing on a keyboard or a paper cut (at best a long shot at that).
My father’s craft included the impressive ability to dismantle an office typewriter (remember those?) piece by piece, tossing each part in a large galvanized bucket of cleaning fluid that smelled like kerosene. Each piece, from striking key to tiny spring or screw, plunked into the bucket and sunk to the bottom with a metallic clink. They sat in that caustic bath overnight to allow the grime and grease to dissolve from the metal. The next day dad would rinse out the bucket, pull the pieces out one by one, and reassemble the typewriter part by part.
As someone who worked with his hands for most of his life (he later would enter a more pastoral life as a minister) my dad appreciated craftsmanship. Through his eyes I developed an appreciation for things well-crafted, from an artifact to a well-crafted sentence in a novel to a finely turned phrase in a sermon. Few things today catch my eye or imagination than something that is well-crafted,and my appreciation for those has only increased over the years.
It was with interest, then, that I read Roger Scruton’s review of The Craftsman by Richard Sennett (Allen Lane) in The Times Online Sennett defines craftsmanship as “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” But Scruton argues that others have recognized more clearly that “craftsmanship is more than the desire to do a job well for its own sake. It involves the desire to make a gift of the result, a gift to God, and to the community that has sought God’s protection.”
As an educator whose interest includes faith formation in congregations under the rubric of “educating in faith” I appreciated that in various places, Sennett points to the importance of religion and ritual in the transfer of tacit knowledge. Scruton wrote,
Craft, as Sennett sees it, belongs to the category of “social capital”: knowledge and skill that are accumulated and passed on through social interaction, and which are easily lost when social customs change.
That perspective provides a promising corrective to the prevailing remnants of the egocentric individualistic “me generation” that is exemplified, as Scruton writes, by the “kind of ‘look at me expressing myself’ that has led everywhere to the death of those virtues—humility, piety, obedience—without which no tradition of craftsmanship can really survive.” A situation the Church has not avoided in its anxiety-driven attempts at marketing itself to the “seekers” by chucking Tradition and embracing “coolness.” He states,
Originality and ‘doing your own thing’ have replaced obedience and perfection as the standards to live up to, and this is everywhere to be observed in the deskilling of modern societies and in the marginalisation of those who truly know their job, and know it as something more interesting than themselves.
Civic pride counted more than domestic contentment, and the crafts themselves were fully incorporated into the religion of the town, taking their place among the rituals and sacraments whereby the community renewed its sense of legitimacy and its devotion to God.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.