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 2) Soldering iron; ready to do business.
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 4) The aftermath of me going crazy with solder and wire so that all points are so interconnected it’s stupid.
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 6) Rewire the modified clip back to the wires that run to the bulb.
Photo 7) Victory. Lesson learned: perseverance eventually leads to success.
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.