Posts tagged with: manual labor

arion_press_printing_san_franciscoThroughout its history, the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven.

Given our newfound status, manual labor is increasingly cast down in the popular imagination, replaced by white-collar jobs, bachelor’s degrees, and ladder-climbing. Whether due to new avenues and opportunities or a more general distaste for the slow and mundane, work with the hands is either ignored or discouraged, both as vocational prospect and consumeristic priority.

Amid this sea of new efficiencies, the art of craftsmanship is at a particular disadvantage. Whereas things used to be made with a certain individual artistry (out of necessity, no doubt), so much has become industrialized and systematized. That shift has led to unprecedented blessings, to be sure, whether in time, money, energy, and convenience, and for those fruits we should be grateful and rejoice.

But even in an economy such as this, there remains a need, a market, a knack for the slow and steady. There remains room not just for the magnificence of a well engineered microchip, but for a masterfully carved table and an artfully tailored suit. Creative service comes in all kinds, and God has a plan to both meet our immediate needs and fill our bodies, souls, and spirits with beauty and wonder. (more…)

georgia-prison-welding-class_1With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.

As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.

Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.

According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.

And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:

One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.

By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God —  these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.

Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?

As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.

What a blessing it truly is.

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, December 4, 2014

In light of my recent posts on boyhood and the formative power of work, a new holiday ad for UPS does a nice job of illustrating a key point: something deep down in a boy longs for work, and that basic desire ought to be guided, encouraged, and discipled accordingly, not downplayed, distorted, or ignored.

The ad highlights one of the company’s youngest fans, a boy named Carson, who is fascinated by UPS trucks and relishes the chance to perform deliveries in a miniature model of his own. It’s funny, charming, heart-warming, and all the rest. (HT)

Girls are created for work as well, of course — subject for another ad, another day — but anyone who is parent to a boy knows that the shape of Carson’s excitement has a particular arc and aim. Boys love things that go, enjoy working with their hands, respond well when given big-red-button ownership, and so on. Yet even as we perceive these basic tendencies, it can be easy for us to sideline them as mere Vroom-Vroom Stereotypes, cute and quaint as a blue baseball cap, but not all that meaningful or distinct in the grand scheme of things. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 6, 2014

cutting-roomCan something as simple as a shoe build civilization?

I recently had the pleasure of touring the Red Wing Shoe Museum in Red Wing, Minnesota, home of the Red Wing Shoe Company, and the answer became quite clear.

Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoes has from the very beginning focused on producing boots and shoes for those who “work on their feet.” At a time when blacksmiths, carpenters, lumberjacks, and farmers had few options for footwear, founder Charles Beckman grew frustrated with the status quo, and responded by building “purpose-built” footwear to meet the needs of manual laborers.

Their slogan: “Work is our work.”

The company quickly gained a reputation for high-quality shoes and boots, and still maintains its status as a premier shoemaker for specific trades, supplying footwear for everyone from snake handlers to skyscraper builders to oil rig workers to restaurant chefs. Although most of us wouldn’t think to look at the feet of those who provide such services, the company continues to quietly empower labor of all kinds across the world. (more…)

Exodus36As economic prosperity has increased, and as the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven, manual labor has been increasingly cast down in the popular imagination.

When our youth navigate and graduate from high school, they receive pressure from all directions to excel in particular areas and attend a four-year college, typically in pursuit of “white-collar” work. The trades, on the other hand — including brickmasons, plumbers, butchers, and carpenters — are not high on the minds of many, whether parents, pastors, teachers, or politicians.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen offer a challenge to this trend and the supporting stereotypes, arguing that the church has a particular precedent to build on when it comes to the ways we approach “work with the hands.”

Not only does a thriving economy and society need craftspeople, but the Bible elevates these occupations as filled with worth and dignity. Craftspeople are image-bearers, they argue, reflecting “the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new”:

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. (more…)

In his Acton Commentary today, Jordan Ballor writes,

All work has a spiritual dimension because the human person who works in whatever capacity does so as an image-bearer of God. “While the classic Greek mind tended to scorn work with the hands,” write Berghoef and DeKoster, “the Bible suggests that something about it structures the soul.” If we derogate work with the hands, manual and skilled labor, in this way, we separate what God has put together and create a culture that disdains the hard and often dirty work of cultivating the world in service of others. The challenge that faces the church and society more broadly then is to appreciate the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work, to celebrate it, and to exhort us to persevere in our labors amidst the unavoidable troubles that plague work in this fallen world.

This point—the need for a renewed appreciation of “the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work” and “manual and skilled labor” in particular—reminds me of the following story that I recently reflected on elsewhere from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”

Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Very often it is difficult to see in any concrete way how our work really means anything at all. The drudgery of the daily routine can be numbing, sometimes literally depending on your working conditions. What is the purpose, the end of our work?

How can we properly value that aspect of our vocations that involve daily work? How can you and I, in the words of the manager in the movie Elf, “make work your favorite”?