Sunday, May 29, 2016
There are Amish who are still actual craftsmen, guys who use the older methods that are slower but tend to be more durable. One of my favorites is a harness maker. His work bench is pictured above and you can see all of the tools of his trade. Around and behind me are very old tools like a foot operated hole punch and a manual sewing machine that looks like it is 100 years old and weighs 100 pounds. I love going to his shop, he is a good natured curmudgeon most of the time but it is a joy to watch him work with leather, real and synthetic, using tools and techniques that are generations old. He has hundreds of little boxes and drawers containing buckles, snaps and who knows what else but he seems to know exactly where everything he needs is. His shop smells of leather and feel as though you have stepped back in time when you are there. While he and others are the exception it is still wonderful to watch someone make something by hand.
The loss of craftsmanship among the Amish is a reflection of the world around us. We live in a day of the disposable, of the cheap and temporary. Very few people buy stuff with any expectation of it lasting very long. Many of the more "durable" items we own are so expensive to fix that it is just easier to throw them away and buy new when something breaks. Being a skilled worker in our society is repugnant to many people. Who wants to learn to weld or build houses or wire a home or fix plumbing? Those are hard and you get dirty so instead of teaching younger generations how to do stuff, we insist that every kid goes to college or face a life of poverty, as if those are the only two choices. This mindset has left us with a huge demand for skilled workers on the one hand and generations of kids who had no real reason to go to college working service industry jobs that don't require the degree they went tens of thousands of dollars in debt to acquire. How many people do you know that come home from work feeling a sense of accomplishment? Don't most people come home dreading the knowledge that they have to go right back to work the next day or if they are lucky it is the weekend and they get a few precious hours off before shuffling back to their jobs on Monday? Work is a terrible drudgery for most people but they have to do it so they can pay for a house that is more lavish than they need, for a new iPhone, for the occasional vacation and for the college education of their kids who can follow in their footsteps. It is little wonder people are so depressed. Very few jobs in our service economy lend themselves to feelings of accomplishment. Sure every job can be a way to glorify God but it almost seems as if our work world is designed to keep people soporific and pliable and of course dependent.
We need to reclaim work, for the sake of ourselves and our children. We need to find and embrace ways to make work meaningful again, to find work that we can take pride in. You don't need to make leather harnesses by hand or build a barn with just a hammer and a saw but you can still be a craftsmen in a myriad of professions. It might mean, well it will mean, getting off the hamster wheel of American vocational drudgery and finding a path other than that which the world says we must not stray from. Our dependence on the institutions that run our lives in education, business and entertainment has left us depressed and diminished as a people. It is time for a new Declaration of Independence, independence from the forces that seek to make captive an entire civilization with false promises of security and the facade of freedom while profiting in gold and power from the labor of the people of America. We shouldn't have to be trapped in an endless cycle of debt and dependence. It is time for We The People to take back our legacy and our identity but only we can do this. It won't be easy but even though we have forgotten this, nothing worthwhile ever is.