I used to be an avid reader. Lately, I’ve slowed down. I have no excuse, really, other than to say that other things took up my time. Laziness and lethargy set in, and easy entertainment (television, Netflix, YouTube) became my preferred medium. It’s the same old story: I allowed work to wear me out, and instead of coming home excited to learn and expand my mind, I spent my time just trying to wind down before bed.
I’ve mentioned before that in the last five years, two books have changed my life and altered my mind. The Bible is one. The other one is a book on woodworking called “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” by Christopher Schwarz. I’d like to take a moment to explore the latter in this space, because despite the ominous-sounding title, it actually shares some common threads with the former, at least in my own life.
“The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” explores traditional hand tools for working wood, how to use them, and how to build a chest in which to keep them. But at it’s core, it is not a book about tools and chests. It is a philosophical exploration of aesthetic anarchism (more on that in a moment), of moderation, and of being free from society’s expectations–it is about the refusal to kowtow to consumerism.
Growing up, my father and grandfather were always interested in woodworking. I grew up around power-tools, around woodworking catalogs, and around the idea of building my own furniture. I enjoyed it, I suppose. I enjoyed spending time with Dad and Papa, and I enjoyed learning new things, and I think that building is in my blood and bones. I wouldn’t say that it feels like a calling; I would say that it feels like a necessity. But growing up, something was missing.
When I first moved out on my own, the first expensive thing I bought was a fancy tablesaw. I still have it, though now it’s in my Dad’s garage. It is extremely nice–much nicer than a hobbyist needs–and I was proud of it. Then I bought a router table. Then I bought a jointer. Then I got a drum sander, then a drill press, then a band saw. I built a shop in which I could manufacture practically anything.
The key word in that above paragraph is “manufacture.” I was manufacturing furniture, and it was easy. I was essentially machining wood as though it was plastic or metal. The results were fine. Some of the things were ugly, but that was my fault as the designer. The tools weren’t getting in my way. But the entire process was joyless. I was just killing time–largely alone–and manufacturing furniture-shaped objects. I didn’t understand what was wrong.
Then I came across Schwarz’s book while browsing the internet one day. I thought the idea sounded interesting, so I bought a copy and waited for it in the mail. From the absolute instant I opened the book and read the first page, I was completely transformed.
I’ll spare you the details. If you want to read Schwarz’s book, you can find it at Lostartpress.com. I only want to get at the essence of the philosophy here. I promise this is going somewhere.
The book explores what Schwarz calls “aesthetic anarchism,” or “American anarchism,” but what is also known as Individualist anarchism. It sounds disruptive and violent, but at its core, it is inherently peaceful. In the context of woodworking, the essence of this brand of anarchism is that often, what society tells us to do–or buy–is not right for every individual, because many individuals are left behind. Our society is driven by what’s best for corporations, not individuals. Mass-manufacture of goods reduces quality, lowers wages, and stifles individual thought. In short, it breeds greed and reduces humans to dollar-signs.
I realized what was missing in my woodworking: me. My self, my joy, my love, and my point of view. This book jarred me awake. I started working with hand tools, and finding joy and satisfaction in my hobby again.
After starting to read my Bible again some short weeks ago, I recently came to the same realization about what was missing in my life: me. My self, my joy, my love, and my point of view. I was sleepwalking, and I wasn’t me. I was conforming to what society thought of me: I was a cog in the machine. Because I was participating in the consumerism and conformity, and because my relationship with God had fallen to the wayside, I had forgotten my own value.
This verse, where Jesus speaks to his disciples, was instrumental to waking me up: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
Even the very hairs of my head are numbered! That is my value to God as an individual. That is my worth. I am so precious to Him that He treasures every single hair on my head. I am so precious to Him that an inconceivable sacrifice was given for me, and for all, so that we might live.
As I remembered the joy in my hobby five years ago, let me remember the joy in my own life today, for it is truly precious.
Prayer for the morning:
Holy Father, I am humbled and filled to the brim that You see my value, and that value comes from You. I hope today to see that value in myself and seek joy in Your name.