Jeff Haanen


Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomy

Consumerism: What Do People Really Want?

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Consumerism Gone Wild. It was first published on 

Perhaps the best response to wealth disparity in America today can be summarized in two words: Karla Nugent.

Karla NugentKarla is the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting in Denver. In 2014, she won the Denver Business Journal’s 2014 Corporate Citizen of the year award. Why? Denver’s economy is booming, and as the economy has required more skilled laborers, Weifield has hired more electricians. In the building boom, Karla saw a chance to serve.

Behind Karla’s leadership, Weifield opened up a philanthropic arm that donates to four communities: women & children, head of household, military and “less fortunate.” But they also brought the needs of the community right into their company. She created an apprentice program in partnership with Denver Rescue Mission, Stout Street, and Peer One – local nonprofits that work with the homeless, formerly incarcerated and other at-risk communities.

Weifield hires people coming out of homeless or other at-risk situations to work in a pre-fabrication process. If new trainees can complete the process, Weifield will pay for 100% of their education to become fully certified electricians. Thus far, 43 out of 45 apprentices have made it through the program.  Many have gone from homelessness to making an average of $50,000/yr.

After an in-house graduation ceremony for new electricians, a mother approached Karla in tears and said, “Everybody had given up on my son. But you believed in him. You gave him a new life. Thank you.

Fury or Faithfulness?

Debates of wealth disparity in modern American life can generate a lot of fury.

There’s fury over the 1 percenters. How can CEOs make so much money while the wages of lower and middle class Americans stagnate? Isn’t capital bound to accumulate in the 21st century – unless we levy steep taxes on the wealthy?

There’s fury over plans to redistribute wealth. Haven’t government schemes to redistribute wealth trapped people in the welfare system – and been even less effective when given as aid to developing nations? Who is the government play Robin Hood – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? Doesn’t it do more harm than good?

There’s fury over wasteful consumption. How can we pay so much for new houses, cars, cable TV plans, and trips to Cancun — while racking up ever more debt? Doesn’t our uncontrolled spending ignore the plight of the poor farmer in Nicaragua or the working single mother in Detroit, just looking for a chance to “make it?”

Much of this fury is understandable. I’ve felt it too. But is there a better way to heal the growing economic divide?

After observing people like Karla, I’ve decided to ask a different question: what do my low-income brothers and sisters really want? When we actually ask the poor what they really need, the answer is resoundingly clear: We want a good job.” 

Jim Clifton, the president of Gallup, says in The Coming Jobs War: “Of the 7 billion people in the world, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they desire a full-time job. Only 1.3 billion actually have a good job” (Gallup defines a good job as one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.) Which means that 1.7 billion people are just looking for a good job to support their families. 

When it comes to wealth disparity, the biblical testimony clearly has a central role for generosity (Mk. 12:41-44, Js 1.5, Matt. 5: 45, 7:11; Eph. 5:1, 1 Tim 6:6). God himself is generous. He gives freely to us, and we are to imitate his generosity with our time, skills and financial capital.

But the Bible also places an emphasis on allowing the poor the dignity of working to provide for their own needs. 

Take the Old Testament practice of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10). First, land owners were to leave the margins of their field unharvested. Second, they were not to pick up whatever fell to the ground. And third, they were to harvest their fields only once. Why? To allow the poor and resident aliens (immigrants) the chance to provide for their families through working the field and collecting enough food to support themselves.

It is not only through charity, but through work, that God had always intended to heal the inequalities of society and provide for the needs of the world.

So what would it look like to do this in modern American life? Let me suggest three ideas:

1. Create space for both generosity and gleaning in your company. Give generously of your profits. All mature Christian business owners I know do this. But also consider a program like Weifield Group’s apprentice program – whereby you reserve a portion of total new hires for the difficult-to-employ. My friend Wes Gardner also does this at Prime Trailer leasing – to the benefit of both the new employees and existing employees, who are energized by a renewed social mission of their company.

2. Teach, trust, give time. This the mantra of Julius Walls, former CEO of Greyston Bakery. Greyston provides the fudge brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and also practices “open hiring.” Applying the concept of the biblical jubilee, Walls’ employees can be hired no matter their background. How can this work to hire ex-cons and former alcoholics? Teach, trust, give time. Teach them to do the job well; trust that they can do it; and give them time. Trust is key. Walls found that he was often the first person to have ever really trusted them. And the results were transformative.

3. Think big. John Coors was born wealthy. Heir to the Coors beer fortune, John has often felt a deep obligation to care for the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner (he has 10 kids , 6 adopted.) After seeing many donation-based schemes to help Africa’s poor collapse, he created 1001 Voices, a private equity fund in South Africa investing in high growth potential businesses in South Africa. Their first investment was in RedSun, a South-African raising processing business. It’s expected to create 3,700 jobs in 18 months, and provide workers with an average salary of $4,916/yr, in a municipality where the average household income per year is $2,625.

I can understand all the fury around modern wealth disparities. But instead of stirring up more online ruckus and partisan blame, let’s ask a different question. What would it look like to follow Karla’s lead and give to others the same gift God has given to us: the gift of work?

Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

The Handcrafted Gospel


Recently I bought a small, red cabinet for my wife and kid’s homeschool books. It was from IKEA, so how hard could assembly really be? Yet in only 20 minutes, I had managed to drill three holes in the wrong side of the red cabinet door. My wife took the project away from me, and  assembled it for herself. I have concluded that I not only lack a manual and spacial intelligence, but that I’ve significantly undervalued those who build just about everything I see.

My respect for our culture’s craftsmen has grown – especially since Christ Horst and myself recently did an article for Christianity Today entitled “The Handcrafted Gospel.” The editor chose the subtitle “Meet the craftsmen reclaiming the honor of manual labor.” In our culture, “honor” and “manual labor” don’t often go hand in hand. We steer our students away from ‘tech schools’, believe thinking is for the office, not the shop, and have precious few “faith and work” events for electricians, contractors, carpenters or plumbers. Yet there is a huge skills gap and labor shortage for skilled manual labor in the US.

We have a problem.

Here’s a sneak preview of our theology for the craftsmen. Enjoy.

“I’ve always enjoyed building and fixing things,” says Brandon Yates.

After high school, Yates became an electrician. A fast study, he advanced quickly through the first two electrical certifications, apprentice and journeyman. Finally, when he became a master electrician in 1999, Yates founded KC One, an electrical contracting services company based in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Craftsman is a lost word in our day,” says Yates, now 37, who aims to change that by recruiting hardworking high-school graduates with an aptitude for making things. KC One’s apprenticeship program provides on-the-job training and certifications for one or two young electricians each year. “Society teaches these kids that they’ll become losers if they become electricians. My job is to unteach them.”

The perception that the trades offer less status and money, and demand less intelligence, is one likely reason young people have turned away from careers in the trades for several generations. In Yates’s school district, officials recently shuttered the entire shop class program. In our “cultural iconography,” notes scholar Mike Rose, the craftsman is a “muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” Thinking, it’s assumed, is for the office, not the shop.

But considering that Scripture identifies Jesus himself as a tektōn (Mark 6:3, literally “craftsman” or “one who works with his hands”), we think it’s high time to challenge the tradesman stereotype, and to rethink the modern divide between white collar and blue collar, office and shop, in light of the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new.

Apprentices and disciples

Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness.

Likewise, some of the most important New Testament figures worked with their hands…more

Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

How We Lost the Craftsman


It was a crisp, winter morning and I stood outside Manual High School, traditionally one of Denver’s lowest performing schools. Along with twelve other seminary students on an urban ministry site visit, we listened to our professor. “Manual is one of Denver’s oldest institutions,” he said, pointing to the brick edifice. “It opened in 1896, and was named Manual because it was originally intended as a vocational school to train students for manual labor.”

We quietly shook our heads in disbelief. How could educators have such low expectations for their students? Didn’t the founders believe all students could go to college? So great was our 21st century disdain for manual labor that we naturally connected Manual High School’s low academic performance with its original intent: preparing students for the manual trades.

Americans today devalue manual labor with an almost righteous indignation. We can see it in our economy, in our schools, in our entertainment, and even in the church. And it’s causing all sorts of problems. Let’s take these one by one:

Economy. Consider these statistics. The average age of today’s tradesperson is 56, with an average of 5-15 years until retirement. As skilled laborers retire in masses, America will need an estimated 10 million new skilled tradesmen by 2020 (such as a pipefitters, masons, carpenters, or high-skilled factory workers). But even today, an estimated 600,000 jobs in the skilled trades are unfilled, while 83% of companies report a moderate to serious shortage in skilled laborers. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and BusinessWeek have all recognized the huge shortage we have of skilled laborers.

Schools. Across the US, as the need for skilled laborers has increased, the number of classes in “tech ed” – traditionally known as “shop class” – have all but disappeared. For example, in Jefferson County Public School District in Colorado, only three remaining schools have any kind of “tech ed” programs – of a district of over 84,000 students. And in Denver Public Schools, there are only two shop classes remaining – and one of them is currently selling all their equipment to local buyers. As high schools prepare youth to be “knowledge workers,” they unload lathes, table saws, and other “vocational ed” equipment in droves.

The assumption that every student should go to a four your liberal arts college has almost become sacrosanct for urban, suburban and rural students alike. Going to a two-year trade school is seen as a path for “average” to underperforming students.  As educator Mike Rose has said in his book The Mind at Work about the cultural image of the tradesmen: “We are given the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” Real thinking, our schools have taught us, happens in the office, not the shop.  And today have a veritable mountain of student debt – an estimated $1.2 trillion in the US alone – and the lowest labor participation rate since 1978.

Culture. Even in entertainment, we’ve persistently devalued trade schools and community colleges. NBC’s satirical TV show “Community,” portrays American community colleges (which train many skilled tradesmen, among other professions) as the pit of the academic world. The show takes place at Greendale Community College, where “Straight A’s” are “Accessibility, Affordability, Air Conditioning, Awesome New Friends, and A lot of fun.” Perhaps community college is “a lot of fun,” but such merciless mocking finds its way into the future plans of high school students – plans to avoid trade schools and community college at all costs.

Church. In the past 5-10 years, there’s been a renewed interest among protestants in the topic of work. Three years ago Christianity Today launched the This Is Our City project, which profiled evangelicals working in various industries for “the common good” of their city. Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has launched a “Center for Faith and Work.” Gabe Lyons’ Q Cities convenes conferences of culturally-minded evangelicals who work in industries like art, media or education. Conferences, books, and seminars on God and work have multiplied, and evangelicals in finance, business, technology, art, science and nonprofits have received renewed attention. But one sector has largely been overlooked: skilled manual labor.

James K.A. Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, recently wrote, “Do people show up to your ‘faith & work’ events in coveralls? With dirt under their nails? No? Then whose ‘work’ are we talking about?” Though surely not everybody in the modern economy will have “dirt under their nails” after a day’s work, he makes a good point: where are the examples plumbers, landscapers, carpenters, and electricians among this renewed interest in vocation? And more broadly, where are the examples of craftsman and “blue collar” workers who are intentionally living out their vocations in and through their trade? Are executives and professionals the only ones privileged enough to wed meaning with work?

All of this is strange for at least two reasons. First, we all depend on the work of craftsmen every single day. Whether it’s your HVAC repairman, plumber, or electrician, heat, clean water and even light flow as a direct result of their work. The work of the trades is of the utmost importance for nearly every aspect of modern life.

But as a Christian myself, this cultural situation strikes me as even more strange. After all, the Bible is replete with craftsmen – masons, goldsmiths, gem cutters, potters and weavers. The Bible even states that the first person explicitly filled with the Holy Spirit is Bezalel, whom God filled “with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts,” (Ex. 31:3-5). And, lest we forget, Jesus was a tekton, translated literally as “craftsman” or “one who works with his hands” (Mk. 6:3).

What has gone wrong here? How is it that we came to devalue the craftsman, to the detriment of our economy, schools, churches and culture? To find answers, we need to look to history.

Losing the Craftsman

Such a disdain for the trades was not always so. In the mid-nineteenth century, craftsmen were an integral part of the professional and scientific community. For example, the Mechanics Institutes of Britain had over 200,000 members, which hosted lectures that satisfied the intellectual curiosity of millwrights, metal workers, mechanics and other tradesmen with evening lectures by professors and scientists.

Likewise, in the 1884 book The Wheelwright’s Shop, George Sturt relates his experience of making carriage wheels from lumber. Previously a school teacher with literary ambitions, Sturt was enraptured with the challenges of shaping timber with hand tools: “Knots here, shakes there, rind-galls, waney edges, thicknesses, thinnesses, were for ever affording new chances or forbidding previous solutions, whereby a fresh problem confronted the workman’s ingenuity every few minutes.”

Manual labor was not only integral to scientific discovery, it attracted many of the best minds of its day. In the 18th and 19th century, some of history’s finest scientists – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), James Watt (1736-1819), Samuel Crompton (1753-1827)– were also craftsmen who built what they designed, and knew no separation between working with the hands and the mind.

Yet the forces of industrialization were changing the skilled trades. Even as early as The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith marveled at the efficiencies of the factory: “One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head…Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins a day.” The division of labor could produce more pins in a day between ten people than one person alone could produce in a lifetime.

Although the factory had been around for generations, the automation of work took on a new dimension in 1911, when Frederick Winslow Taylor published his Principles of Scientific Management. As Matthew Crawford has pointed out, Taylor’s work focused on gathering the knowledge of craftsmen, organizing it into high efficiency processes, and then re-distributing that work to laborers as small parts of a larger whole. After extensive time and motion studies, Taylor was able to design processes, overseen by management, which allowed employers to cut labor costs by standardizing much manual labor. According to Taylor, “All possible brain work should be removed from the shop and centered in the planning or lay-out department.” Thus the previous harmony of craftsmen and thinker, skilled labor and scientist, began a long process of separation. A “white-collar” labor force of planners and “blue-collar” mass of workers began to emerge.

The positive side of mass manufacturing was unprecedented wealth creation. In 1913, Henry Ford’s assembly line was able to double worker wages and still produce cars more cheaply than his competitors, allowing thousands to afford an upgrade from a carriage to a Model T. Yet the negative side of automation was the monotonous routines for workers, which, according to Ford’s biographer, meant “every time the company wanted to add 100 men to its factory personnel, it was necessary to hire 963.” Skilled craftsmen would simply walk off the line, with a sour taste for work that made them feel like machines themselves.

(Perhaps business philosopher Peter Drucker was right: “Machines work best if they do only one task, if they do it repetitively, and if they do the simplest possible task…[But] the human being…is a very poorly designed machine tool. The human being excels in coordination. He excels in relation perception to action. He works best if the entire human being, muscles, senses and mind, is engaged in the work.”)

At the turn of the 20th century, engaging work seemed like it was being lost in the cogs of industry – and in the mean time, craft knowledge was bowing to mechanical processes.

In the days when Teddy Roosevelt was preaching the virtues of the strenuous life to East Coast elites, many felt education needed to change to ensure the survival of craft knowledge. Only 4 years after Ford’s assembly line, the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 gave federal funding for manual training. Yet because the bill established separate state boards for vocational education, it had the unintended effect of separating the trades from a liberal arts curriculum. General education would be focused on the liberal arts (college), and vocational education would focus on specific job skills (trade schools).

The advent of shop class began to track all “blue collar” work – whether the high skilled tradesmen or the low skilled assembly line worker – into a single category. Over time, shop class meant children of “white collar” workers could make a bird feeder or toy car in shop class, but they had little remaining skills of the craftsmen, which for centuries had been passed on through a process of apprenticeship.

We feel the lingering effects of this division between “vocational ed” and a liberal arts education today. Most of those who graduate with degrees in film studies, sociology, or even mathematics or physics haven’t the foggiest idea how to actually fix a car engine, build a table, or wire a light fixture.

Yet the greater effect is the enormous economic problem we now have before us – there are literally millions of “dirty jobs,” as Mike Rowe, the former host of the Discovery Channel Show, would call them. But swathes of young people would would never consider a career in plumbing or construction, despite evidence that these jobs both pay well and are here to stay. Computers and technology have certainly changed our labor force (and will continue to change the economy, as a recent article in The Economist convincingly argues), but they will never change the fact that we live in a physical world – and we will always need physical things because we are physical beings. We will always depend fundamentally on the physical goods – whether made or repaired – that are the unique domain of the craftsman.

Signs of Hope

What is to be done about this problem? Although this is a monumental challenge, we can do at least two things. First, praise examples of excellent craftsmanship – from chefs and jewelers to masons and electricians –  that arise from above the criticism and display an ethic of skill, beauty and manual intelligence in their work.

For example, every four years, France hosts the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) competition. One event features a fierce three-day competition between 16 international pastry chefs jockeying for the blue, white and red striped collar that signifies culinary excellence. Chefs are judged on artistry – the visual appearance of the desserts, buffets and, for example, sugar sculptures – taste – entries have very specific size and ingredient specifications – and work – how clean and efficiently the chefs work; including spotless aprons, no waste (exact planning is required), immaculate kitchens. Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, producers of the documentary “Kings of Pastry” said in an interview , “The idea of recognizing excellence in manual trades and elevating them to a status equal to intellectual or academic fields is what is uniquely important about the MOF Competition” (emphasis mine).  Indeed, Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, when translated, is “Best Craftsman in France,” a title won only by the finest chefs exhibiting the highest levels of skill and manual intelligence. And France’s competition isn’t just limited to chefs; there are also competitions for stonemasonry, plumbing, tailoring, weaving, cabinetmaking, soldering, glassblowing, diamond-working, and a host of other trades.

In America, Tad Landis Meyers, a photographer, recently published Portraits of the American Craftsman – a stunningly beautiful photo journal of the work of a “lost generation of craftsman.” Scotty Bob Carlson of Silverton, Colorado makes hand-crafted skis; Nell Ann McBroom of Nocona, Texas cuts, dies and sews baseball gloves; Steinway and Sons Pianos in Long Island New York makes pianos “designed to last not just for years, but for generations.” Meyers’ five year journey of photographing American craftsmen has revealed an almost forgotten way of life, defined by careful skill, mastery of the physical world, and satisfying work. Brett Hull of Hull Historical Millwork in Fort Worth Texas says, “The simplicity of the clean lines or the intricacy of the detail are exciting to me. It’s something that just fills my soul.”

But praising excellent craftsmanship can also be more commonplace. Drop a laudatory comment to the construction worker who’s laying pavement; marvel at a gang of conduit that winds itself above light fixtures; choose to buy a table that will last not for years but generations. The simple act of recognition is powerful.

But second, and most importantly, encourage more young people to go to trade school. That’s what more people are doing around Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They recently announced a $2.5 million dollar grant to expand training programs for high-wage, high-demand manufacturing jobs. And with a a 95 percent job placement rate, minimal student debt, and jobs like an industrial apprentice that can start at $60,000 with full benefits, more students are taking a look at choosing trade school over a 4 year college degree.

I’m not encouraging more young people to be vocational mercenaries (go get the quick money!), but for those students who nod off in British literature (God forbid) but come alive when rebuilding an engine, we must acknowledge that some people are designed to be builders – and that’s okay.  It may even get them a better job than their peers who end up as debt ridden, college-educated baristas who can make a mean latte, but find trouble getting into a career.

The craftsman lives on – yet still in the corners culture more enamored with the virtual world than the physical world. But for the sake of our economy, schools, culture and even our churches, we would profit to once again appreciate our culture’s makers and fixers – the craftsmen.

Photo: American Craftsman Project

This essay first appeared in The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University. Also, Chris Horst and myself have a feature essaying coming out in Christianity Today this summer on the topic of craftsmanship and the gospel.


Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

Knotted Dreams: A Carpenter’s Story


Josh Mabe led me behind his shop. “It’s a mess back here,” he said. What I saw was not your typical Home Depot fare: old railroad carts, wine barrels, deserted barn doors, discarded flooring from nineteenth century homes, planks from the bed of a semi-truck trailer – each piece had a common theme: it had been abandoned by somebody else.

But for Mabe, each piece of discarded lumber is the object of his craft, an opportunity to bring life from decay. Josh is the owner of Twenty1Five, a small furniture business specializing in reclaimed wood located in Palmer Lake, Colorado, nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Josh, a carpenter and craftsmen, has attracted state-wide attention. Rocky Mountain PBS, 5280, a Denver magazine, and Luxe magazine have praised his attention to sustainability and “upcycling” – creating new products from used materials.

Yet it’s the products themselves that turn heads. His tables are a mosaic of shape, texture and color. He can turn drab boardrooms into a collage of natural beauty, and sterile kitchens into a wild array of Mountain West history. Each cabinet, door, and coffee table is invested with slow, careful skill.


“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands,” Mabe recalls. After college he taught shop class for eleven years at a public school. A retiring co-worker would leave scrap wood behind the school and collected scraps from local contractors – “what people would consider ugly wood.” But Mabe, unable to part with the discarded lumber, took it home and built a table for his wife from the “reclaimed” wood. The table caught the attention of his neighbors, but initially nothing came of it.

Until September 29, 2011.

For financial reasons, Mabe took a job selling insurance. “But I was dying on the vine,” he told his wife, lamenting the confines of an office. “But that day,” Mabe recalls,” I distinctly remember God telling me, ‘Go, make tables. And in two weeks I’ll bring you orders.’” That Monday, he went to his shop and began to build. Orders came in. Word began to spread, and Twenty1Five was born.

This process of restoration inspired the name Twenty1Five, which is from Revelation 21:5, where Jesus says: “Behold, I make all things news.” Their name peaks curiosity with both Christian and non-believing clients. Yet he tells the story faithfully just the same. And so far, sharing the gospel as he shares about his craft has not yet cost him any customers.

Mabe travels to abandoned barns, weary homesteads, and to the forgotten corners of rural Colorado. He works with customers to “source” each piece of discarded lumber, ultimately to be refashioned into a dining room table, door, or TV stand. He offers custom booklets to customers that tell the knotted history of each piece of furniture he crafts in his shop – the lifespan of lumber that served, was forgotten, and finally renewed. And in so doing he shares a subtle tale of redemption – of buying back the useless, of uncovering hidden beauty.

Knotted Dreams

Yet Mabe’s story has not been without challenges. The first challenge was embracing a call to be a tradesmen in a culture that has abandoned shop class and “tech ed” in favor of a virtual world.

Mabe had been a teacher in the Jefferson County Public School District, a district with less than three schools remaining that teach tech ed – and one with more than 80,000 students. As high schools prepare youth to be “knowledge workers,” they unload lathes, table saws, and other “vocational ed” equipment in favor of iPads, smart devices, and entrance into four-year liberal arts colleges.

Though Josh attended college, it was always in the shop rather than the classroom that he found his gifting. “Coming from a school system that so pushes college down kid’s throats —,” Josh paused, as if to remember his first grade son. “I have a son who’s so wired to build…I just want to cultivate that and honor the gift that God has given him.”

Yet even as educators emphasize preparing students for an “information economy,” employers are yearning for skilled tradesmen. In 2012, Manpower Group reported 53 percent of American skilled-trade workers were 45 years of age and older, and nearly 18.6 percent were between 55 and 64. As America’s plumbers, electricians, steelworkers, machinists and carpenters retire, America will need an additional 10 million skilled tradesmen by 2020. Even today, 83% of companies report a moderate to serious shortage in skilled laborers.

But an economic demand for tradesmen doesn’t guarantee a smooth career path. Since our interview in October 2013, more knots have emerged in Mabe’s story. Last fall, his business partner, Randy Valentine, decided to move on. Randy did the marketing and business development, and Josh made the furniture. But now, as the sole owner of Twenty1Five, Josh had to renegotiate his dream. His wife went back to work full-time, and Josh now works part-time. He drives his kids to and from school each day, and fills orders as he’s able.

But the knots in Mabe’s story have not dampened his dreams for Twenty1Five. “I still have big dreams,” says Mabe, “but I now hold them more lightly.” In his earlier days as an entrepreneur, the vision held a tighter grip on his heart. But now, with hands held open, he trusts God will provide and continue to lead the way in his vocational journey.

Thinking back to the advent of his business, Mabe recalls, “What really spurred us on was the story that parallels between our lives and what we do. Most of this stuff,” pointing to a knotted board, “is beat up and has got scars, and is discarded lumber. But if you take that stuff and see beyond some of those scars, you can make something really beautiful out of it.”

Josh Mabe is speaking at the April 11 dinner event with Amy Sherman. To hear Josh’s story in person, you can register by clicking here.

Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

More Than Just Fixing a Headlamp


The spirit of the craftsman is alive and well in Colorado.

Two weeks ago my brother-in-law stopped over to our house after our kids went to bed. After an 8pm burrito, he said he was planning on doing a 14er (climbing a Colorado mountain that’s greater than 14,000 ft in elevation) with some friends in the wee hours of Sunday morning. In such darkness, he was considering buying a headlamp to light the rocky mountain path. “No problem,” I said, “You can borrow ours.”

I went up the attic to get a headlamp from our camping bin. Hardly ever used, I was dismayed to press the small red button and see it didn’t work. No worries, just needs batteries.

So I headed to the kitchen, and slipped in 4 new AA batteries. I pressed the button again. No luck. “Dang, Brian,” I said, “Doesn’t look like it’s working.” Brian came to the kitchen, and we began to puzzle over what had gone wrong.

At this point, I feigned like I could fix it. So we grabbed a Phillips-head screwdriver and began to look in the headlamp’s intestines. Was it a corroded contact point? Bad button? I had no idea.

After about 15 minutes, I gave up. But Brian was engaged. He grabbed the light and its pieces, tossed it in a mesh bag, and brought it home. “Oh well,” I thought, “It’s not like we use it much anyway.”

The next morning I checked my email inbox. Brian sent me the following message:


At 12:20am I have successfully fixed the headlamp. One may think this was a complete waste of time. However, I haven’t the slightest care…I am victorious.

Photo 1) I removed and cleaned the contacts with electrical cleaner spray and a scotch bright pad. No success, but I was confident this was our issue since the contacts were pretty dirty.

photo 1

Photo 2) Soldering iron; ready to do business.

photo 2

Photo 3) Connected one battery directly to the wires to make sure the bad connection was in the battery clips. It was at this point that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel (pun intended).

photo 3

Photo 4) The aftermath of me going crazy with solder and wire so that all points are so interconnected it’s stupid.

photo 4

Photo 5) Afterwards I realized my conglomeration of wire and solder had completely messed up the fact that the batteries were supposed to be wired in a series. I undid everything and rewired, leaving the batteries in series. I kept things a bit prettier this time.

photo 5

Photo 6) Rewire the modified clip back to the wires that run to the bulb.

photo 6

Photo 7) Victory. Lesson learned: perseverance eventually leads to success.

photo 7

I would have thrown the headlamp away. My wife knows I can barely put together a piece of IKEA furniture, much less fix an electrical problem.

Brian, however, exhibited “the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or make them.”  Michael B. Crawford’s well-known essay “Shop Class as Soulcraft” notes how modern capitalism has depreciated the craftsman, those who display a “manual competence” in fields like carpentry, plumbing, or motorcycle repair. As we’ve prepared students to be “knowledge workers”, Crawford argues we’re unwittingly encourage a kind of “virtualism” that prizes office jobs over manual trades, a “ghostly” view of work divorced from the physical world.

Brian, my brother-in-law, exhibits just such a manual intelligence. Whether fixing headlamps or motorcycles (his real love), he thinks and works best with mind and hand as a single unit. During the day, however, he’s an engineer who mostly answers emails in an office. He got into engineering, however, because of the intrinsic satisfaction of creating, fixing, and bringing isolated parts to life. He showed his engineering acumen with the headlamp. He showed not just fierce perseverance, but also a part of his own design and calling.

Yet perhaps it is the spiritual aspect of his headlight fixing that’s most compelling.  After he sent me the email, I sent him a text, “Do you mind if I use it in a blog post?”. He replied:

“Not at all. I sorta felt the Spirit moving and encouraging me to succeed while doing it anyways.”

A Spirit-led fix. Of course, we know God chooses certain individuals to make artistic designs, cut stones, work with wood, and in engage in all kinds of crafts (Ex. 31:5). He may even fill electricians and midnight tinkerers with his Spirit to solder, re-wire, and repair – and to declare after a hard day’s work, along with the Creator himself, “And then there was light.”

A word to well-meaning parents and educators who see the manual trades as an “unsuccessful” career path: craftsmanship is foundationally important to our hand-made built environment. And it can be a good deal of fun, too.


1 2 3
Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from - Youtube
Consent to display content from - Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from - Google
Consent to display content from - Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from - Sound