"What was that?"
"I think it was, 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'"
"What's so special about cheesemakers?"
"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."
The scene is from a Monty Python movie, and the joke is that a group of people are listening to Jesus' famous sermon on the mount, but they're standing too far back to hear him. And so the profound lesson they learn is, "Blessed are the cheesemakers."
I don't recommend The Life of Brian. I haven't watched the movie since I've become an intellectually responsible adult--too much making nonsense out of what is sacred to wade through it for the good jokes. But I find myself wondering, as I vacuum the living room this morning, if it might be true. Are the cheesemakers blessed?
It's Wednesday, my work day. It's the one day all the kids are out of the house, and I can do stuff without interruptions. My writing projects all gather in waiting for this day, as well as any complex communications. Today it's just me and the dog and the laptop. And yet, before I can start, I have a date with the vacuum, because I'm serving the grandparent babysitters supper, and the house has to look sanitary enough to eat in.
Is cheesemaking blessed? Is vacuuming honorable? Can there be dignity, can there be value in the inescapable round of work which bears the technical label of "menial?" I really want to know this, because it seems like I can't escape it. I want to build my identity around what I do on my laptop--the sermons or dramas I write, or the events I help create. I don't want it to come from my vacuum. I want to be a peacemaker, on a world scale, or locally. But what I am most hours of the day is a cheesemaker. And it gets worse because, while I do have hope that one day (when the children are all in school) I might make a living with my brain, I know it's no escape. The house will still need vacuumed, the dishes washed. No matter who else I become, I will always have to be a cheesemaker.
Where does human value, human dignity lie? I want so hard to be valued for the things I can produce with my brain, rather than what I can produce with my hands. But if I take the time to unwrap that want, it doesn't look so beautiful underneath. Because as great a treasure as the human intellect is, it is the human heart which Jesus died to save. Perhaps my value to a critical world lies in my power to comprehend or express ideas. But my value to God is in my character. Honesty compels me to admit that it's the vacuum, and not the laptop, that grows my character.
When mankind fell in Eden, and God began the work of redeeming us, the first weapon he placed in our hands was work. "Painful toil" is an accurate translation of the word God used both for tilling the ground and for bearing children. And even today it hurts, and we call it menial. Even with my trusty vacuum and my dishwasher, still, it hurts my pride, knowing I am capable of sublime* things, and yet being kept busy folding laundry, or cleaning the litter box.
It is the vacuum, and not the laptop, which grows my character. Indeed, the very fact that I draw personal value from writing arguably disqualifies it from being an act of character. The exercise of the mind is a good thing, it helps to make us human. Theology is essential to the service of God.** But it is unglamorous work that pushes and stretches, and grows me.
So I guess the irreverent British comedians have this one right. Blessed are the cheesemakers. We are growing in grace.
So I offer my respect to all of you cheesemakers out there. Because there's more to cheesemaking than cheese. What makes your work honorable, what gives it dignity, is you. You are the image and glory of God, and the work you do is not trivial because it makes you more like him. May God bless you!
*at least I think so
**This is very, very, very important. Because I love theology, and philosophy, and storytelling, and I wouldn't ever want to appear to disparage them in any way.