Crossing the Jordan…

Craftsmanship requires a domain. By design, they have dominion over a certain area of expertise, where the master craftsman exercises authority and rule. So in order to become a craftsman requires developing disciplines of study and practice within that domain to develop the skills and habits necessary to be a great steward. The craftsman never stops discovering, learning and honing, and it is from this stewardship that true value and worth are realized and even increased.

In the distant past, which seems foreign to most of us now, those who exercised dominion were referred to as lords. Their dominion was typically defined in geographical measurements. As an example, Ceaser’s domain extended as far as Britain. So too, a craftsman will set up his workshop, which exhibits the extent of his/her dominion and their stewardship of that domain.

Richard holding one of his works.

I recently had the privilege of visiting the workshop of a luthier. Richard Young has set up his workshop in Eastford, CT. He learned his craft under the teaching of a Russian luthier. You can see pictures of his work here. One of the things I discovered is that Richard takes great joy in crafting every element of his classical guitars. Like any craftsman, the ability to repair is in the same continuum as creating from scratch, and so Richard offers his skills in repair of stringed instruments as well. It was within this workshop that I got to witness first hand this concept of a domain, and it was truly a sight to behold. His workshop is a beautiful mix of humble honesty and genuine gift, a true reflection of Richard himself.

I grew up in the Christian tradition and after my days in college football, I found myself working as a youth pastor. During the next decade of my life I became fully engaged in the world of natural fibers and custom processing for farms around the country. At first I didn’t see how these two worlds informed each other, but in recent years, I’ve slowly awakened to the dynamic reality that Yahweh and His creation are more fully comprehended via the metaphor of craftsmanship. I’ve come to realize that Yahweh is the quint-essential Master Craftsman, and all of creation is His Workmanship. So much of what I will spend doing for the next however long will be in discovering how the craftsman creates things by design with great intention and purpose. I want to observe what happens when tools are placed into His hand and skillfully used – a redemptive tour de force.

In the Bible there is this unfolding story, that is so wild and bizarre that it’s much easier to imagine it as a fantasy than factual. I’ve come to realize that it reveals implications for our lives that are nothing less than astounding when they are embraced and practiced. What caught my attention during my time in Richard’s workshop is reflected in part of this story from the first book of the Bible called Genesis. Where I’m picking up in the story is several millennia into the narrative and the people of God find themselves in the midst of a great exodus. They are on the edge of the wilderness in which they have wandered for a generation. As they stand on the shore of the Jordan River, they can see the promised land. It is a land that they describe as flowing with milk and honey. But it also has its share of heartache and challenges ahead, even after they find a way to get a million plus people across the river.

So back in Richard’s workshop, I saw the reality of this story in real life. As a craftsman, Richard has spent much of his life advancing his ability to craft and searching for this “promised land” – where he can have mastery over a domain and others could see the value of that which he creates. Over the years he has ventured through the wilderness and experienced many things that parallel an exodus. As we sat and talked shop and craft I couldn’t help but connect mentally how his story was similar to the Israelites standing on the shore pondering how they might cross the Jordan River over into the land that was flowing with milk and honey.

For the craftsman, often their journey is filled with stories of how the surrounding world is oblivious to the stewardship, worth, and value that is latent within the craftsman, and what should be realized in the things that he creates. But I could see in Richard’s shop this true work of art – a quality of sound that matched the physical beauty of the classical guitar itself and it was embodied in Richard through and through. While I’m sure that Richard might scoff at the mention, I was reminded of one of the great luthier’s of antiquity, Antonio Stradivari. I have no intention of taking anything away from Antonio’s work, or drawing extra attention to Richard, but simply to acknowledge that a luthier is measured by the instruments they create. One doesn’t have to even see the Stradivarius, just hearing it played – the sound speaks for itself.

Much of the conversation that afternoon centered around the harsh realities of being a craftsman in our modern age. How cheap seems to reign over quality and longevity. How disposable has become the “hallmark” of most of our purchases. And how this creates a culture which is very hard to make a living as a craftsman.

It’s almost a guarantee that what I just purchased will be short-lived. A company advertises to us something that is new and necessary. But given enough time (which seems to continuously shrink) it will be seen as almost worthless and discarded or at least disregarded, and a new thing purchased. Our current economy seems to thrive off of this model. A model in which a craftsman searches to find relevance.

Because of this, whole industries have shifted their mode of design and construction to center around obsolescence – both planned and perceived. Where companies make their money convincing others that what they have is no longer of much value and this new thing is infinitely more valuable. The idea has been taken even further to create things by design which break down after a certain period of use, forcing the consumer to purchase the next thing – ironically just after the warranty has expired. But a true craftsman cannot even begin to entertain this kind of design.

You can imagine how refreshing it was to read this statement on Richard’s website…

“I guarantee my guitars for my lifetime as a practicing Luthier for any defects in workmanship. Guitars damaged by mis-handling, abuse, temperature extremes or humidity issues are excluded from this guarantee.”

Which brings me to the final thought. The Israelites are standing on the shore of the river Jordan. In their midst is a character named Joshua who saw himself as the workmanship of the master craftsman. He identified fully in the epic unfolding story of Yahweh and postured himself as a tool in His hand to be used skillfully. The Lord used him to lead His people bravely across the Jordan and take possession of the promised land and create a new domain.

to which I find myself asking…

Do we live in a time of great freedom or deceptive slavery, worshipping gods who have no true value? Is it not time for a great exodus in our day? Are we willing to leave the modern construct of obsolescence and deceit where men value being crafty instead of being craftsmen? Is there not a great blessing to live in a land where there is beautiful workshop whose dominion is the Master Craftsman himself? Can you imagine a place where things are never designed to become obsolete, outdated and no longer used, but instead eternal, cherished and honored – people, places, and things?

O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
    my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
    from the ends of the earth and say:
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
    worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods?
    Such are not gods!”
2“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”

From the prophet Jeremiah. [Jeremiah 16:19-21]

Yes, Lord! This once would you make us know your craftsmanship and cause us to see you as Lord of all! Until then all of creation will groan under the cruel oppression of the evil one… who has sold us nothing but deception and lies.

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