If you did not hear Friday’s Hillsdale hour with Victor Davis Hanson, you really should give it a listen, or read the transcript. It was deeply insightful, particularly on the cultural divides in our nation. As I rethink it and try to summarize the conversation, the heart of the divide is between those that make things, and those that derive an income by other means. This divide is most apparent when VDH discusses the conversation he, a college prof, had with a guy fixing a pump on his farm. Consider also Salena Zito’s description of “Black Monday” in the Mahoning Valley from the weekend just prior to this one.
The guy fixing the pump and the steel workers of the Mahoning Valley are makers. They produce things from the earth. Maybe not directly, there are dozens of steps between the sheet steel of the plants in the Mahoning Valley and the iron ore where it originates, even more steps between that ore and the oil from which plastics are made to the pumps that service the VDH’s farm – but ultimately both jobs involve reshaping creation. VDH is a bit of both, when being professorial he is deriving his income. But when farming he is most definitely making. People can be both – there is a spectrum between making and deriving.
I was once asked by a good friend why I worked as hard as I do at my woodworking hobby. I sort of shrugged and mumbled something about enjoying it, but the more I think about this, the more I think it is more important than that. Prior to woodworking my hobby was a largish vegetable garden, but then I lost the borrowed urban land I was using and my father passed away and I inherited his woodworking tools. I have always had hobbies that involved making in some fashion and I feel incomplete if I am not. My profession, engaged primarily with regulation, is anything but making. My business started helping manufacturers (makers) with regulation, but as manufacturing dies a slow, painful and ugly death in California, my business is transitioning and I am less and less engaged with making professionally. And my hobby becomes more and more important to me.
God is a maker. He created. I think making keeps us in touch with God on some level, for in it we mimic Him, we reflect in some sense God’s image.
Identity politics overrides so much these days. As the host and Chuck Todd discussed this Thursday past, presidential politics has now become an entire “cult of personality” deal. (You really should have that Hughniverse subscription) That’s about identity. I think if we derive our identity from making in some fashion, we are a step closer to God than if our identity derives from something wholly created by man.
There is an old joke; I have written of it before. Man challenged God to a creating contest insisting that man could now make life. God accepted the challenge, and when man scooped up a bit of dirt to begin, God stopped him and said, “No, wait, get your own dirt.” Making – properly understood – helps us to understand our place in the created order. Making, done well, should keep us humble.
But so many consume now and never make; they do not even derive. A recent study shows that the average 19 year old is now as sedentary as the average 60 year old. That’s a pretty frightening stat. Minecraft is only pretending to make. Worse it is pretending to make from nothing, and can give one the impression that they have become God, for only God can actually create ex niliho. That kind of pride is a problem.
Last Sunday in church one of the scriptures preached upon was astonishing to me:
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
There is something about making, about working with the stuff God made to make something else, that can reach us in our innermost being. Woodworking is not about bending the wood to my will, but working in cooperation with the properties of the wood towards a desired result. If I reflect that God gave wood those properties, I am humbled and some truth finds its way to “my innermost being” through that process. There is deep wisdom in learning I am not the master of all about me.
Maybe it is time to think of “making” as a spiritual discipline.