Friday, November 17, 2017

For Thanksgiving: What I'm Not Grateful For

This week, for the first time ever, I'm posting a rerun. I have an excuse--I had surgery on Wednesday, and the pain meds have been dampening my sense of inspiration.  But I have been contemplating gratitude lately. 

This week's (repeated) blog topic is about something I'm not grateful for. Some of God's best gifts are this kind. They're like socks for Christmas. We don't love them, but we need them to our core.

As we get ready for the holidays, it's another opportunity to enjoy the gift of work. I hate work, especially of the "house" kind. But when I'm most honest, I know it's one of the things that keeps me a decent human being.

So to all of you out there stuck with the vacuum and the laundry, preparing for your company, or your travel, I'm offering this--a little Monty Python and a little philosophy.

"Blessed are the Cheesemakers" :

"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."

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's 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. 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 supper to the grandparent babysitters, 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 we call "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 vacuum. 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.


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  2. If only I knew how to actually make cheese, I would probably devote my life to doing that instead of being what my family calls a "failed writer". I work from home in order to keep my wife who has severe bipolar alive. We're on our fifth suicide attempt (or maybe seven - it all gets fuzzy after 50 or 60 panic attacks). We live VERY simply because those work-from-home jobs never pay more than a tiny fraction of what they say they will and freelance writing is fiercely competitive given the 2 billion or so third world, English-as-a-second-language(or even third based on some things I've seen) would-be writers out there willing to take a thousandth of a cent per word or less for writing jobs and business owners out there who are willing to accept barely intelligible English prose since they themselves flunked out of English in high school and can't complete or recognize a grammatically correct simple English sentence that doesn't end in "Dude", much less produce the Faulknerian paragraph like the one I just wrote.

    My wife, the OCD neatnick (bless her heart), very much values my cleaning off my desk and polishing it far more than she does my erudite contributions to world peace, preventing communism, or my efforts to spread the Three Angels message among the Hottentots on Facebook.

    So I clean when she's awake and write when she's asleep and we both pray for the soon-coming of Christ when all of us will be healed of our crochets and nobody feels the need to weigh the relative value of anyone's work against that of another.

    I know how you feel about the vacuuming thing, although I'm no longer allowed to vacuum since apparently I don't do it right despite having worked as a janitor for 3 years while in college. She still lets me repair the vacuum however as she puts a hundred thousand miles a year on a vacuum cleaner and they aren't really engineered to take that kind of punishment.

    Thank God for the Sabbath is all I can say. We're both exhausted from doing "real" work and I'm a little sleep-deprived from late nights working on my next book.

    I enjoy the blog. - T.K.