Sunday, May 30, 2021

In the Carpenter's Hands

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." -2 Corinthians 5:17

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with guitars. Despite my grandmother being musically gifted, when it comes to playing instruments I am all thumbs. That hasn't stopped me from buying, and eventually selling a small orchestra worth of stringed instruments.
Recently repainted bass.

Over the course of the past few years I have tried to develop a couple of new skills and hobbies--whether it is tending a small vegetable patch or curing and smoking some bacon. If you have been following my social media, recently I have been spending a lot of time refurbishing (if you can call it that) old and neglected guitars and basses.

A few streams of thought came together in my head when I began to pursue this most recent interest. As a 'Smith,' I come from a long line of craftsmen, carpenters, and machinists. There is something in my DNA that connects deeply with woodworking. I had many opportunities to learn these skills as a child from my father, but regretfully didn't take them. Making up for lost time I have been spending a lot of my free time trying to learn things like soldering, painting, sanding, basic carpentry etc.

One of my person maxims is that 'missionaries should be interesting people'--one's hobbies and interests are going to have a huge impact on the kinds of people they are going to come in contact with and interact with. As a missionary, I want to be able to meet and share the love of Jesus with all kinds of people--not just those who are willing to set foot into the door of a church.

Japanese people in particular tend to build their friendship networks around their hobbies and interests--that means in order to connect with and build relationships with more people, I need to cultivate interests that overlap with Japanese people outside of the church.

Something like curing and smoking bacon is fairly niche, although undoubtedly a great way to develop friendships--but music is more transcendent. One of my hopes in cultivating this hobby is that it will increase opportunities to interact with both Christians and non-Christians who are passionate about music.

Another selfish reason I have been working on these guitars is that I have been using it to understand better how my mind, and for that matter, my attention works. As a young child I was diagnosed with ADHD, and although I haven't thought about it much since then, I recently did a deep dive into adult ADHD and strategies for thriving.

Replacing a volume pot.
In Japan, pharmacological treatments for adult ADHD are fairly limited, meaning that in order to thrive I need to develop strategies to maintain and focus my attention. This past year of lockdown has been especially tough for me--as being at home has meant being bombarded with distractions, but also lacking a lot of the structures I have used in the past to cope with my attention issues. It isn't possible to go park myself at a cafe for hours the way I used to when I needed to get work done.

If anything, I have realized I can achieve an intense amount of focus, almost a zen-like state when working with my hands (probably going back to the DNA thing), and get caught up in a project, losing all track of time. Obviously a good book, or a new campaign of Civilization VI has a similar effect on me--but it has gotten me thinking a lot more about how to harness that focus onto where I need it--whether that is pursuing ministry goals or strengthening my Japanese.

Jesus was a carpenter, Paul himself was a tent maker, and he encourage Christian men to engage in work with their hands--I think that as much as possible, Christian men should pursue creative and productive hobbies and interests that they can then use to bless others. There is something grounding and refreshing about making something--or remaking something. 

Too much of what passes for modern day hobbies is purely consumption based. One of the early church fathers said that we do good works, because we are imitating God whose every work is good. God is a creator, and Christians should pursue interests that are creative.

Finally, I have been learning a lot of spiritual lessons as a result of pursuing this hobby. Just as Jesus often used agrarian and carpentry related metaphors in his parables and teachings, there are a lot of things that God has been teaching me through fixing up these guitars. Guitars are lovingly made precision tools, created to make beautiful music. When they leave the factory they are without blemish and usually ready to be used.

Ready to play music again.

Over time instruments get broken in--and sometimes completely broken. Scratches, rust, cracks, water damage, electrical problems; some of it because of neglect, some of it because of abuse--intentional or otherwise. There are a lot of parallels to the human condition and our fallen state.

Interestingly, in order to remove scratches in paint or a pick guard, the process is to add many more scratches. By using different grades of sandpaper, gradually working from courser grades up to finer grades, one polishes out the scratches. Just like the refining fire of sanctification, God disciplines those that he loves. Through the furnace of suffering and discipline, God is forming those that believe in Him more and more into the image of Christ--but not without adversity.

There is an incredibly satisfying feeling in taking something that was on a trash-heap and refurbishing it into something that can make beautiful music to the Lord. In the same way, God, in Christ, is taking us and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit making us into true worshipers, capable of singing praises to the Lord.

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