The Human Touch – Craftsmanship and Artistry

That we live in a changing world is hardly breaking news. There is, however, one element of change that has been persistently infiltrating the human experience with its murky fingers, mass production.  There was a time when if you wanted a new table you would either build it yourself or purchase it from a craftsman (craftsperson if you prefer). Today you can still buy from a craftsman, but most people will buy mass produced items, perhaps from a big box store that specializes in “boxed” furniture.


In the past, the craftsman’s table was easy to pick out by simple observation of the quality of work. He or she was master of their craft. Today, factories turn out a steady stream of high quality products with a consistency unheard of a few centuries back. Yes, there are exceptions to “high quality,” but let’s face it, there are a lot of good products coming off assembly lines. In an odd twist, today we often can only tell a craftsman’s work by some minor inconsistency or imperfection. Of course, dedicated craftsmen still ply their trade, but many turn to one of a kind pieces, works of art if you will.


Speaking of art, portraits were once the domain of dedicated artists labouring with brushes and pigments. Now you can go to the “portrait studio” in your local “we sell every thing” department store where they will snap a predictable photo and if you like, print the common photo on canvas. Painters too have gone print crazy in attempts to maximize profits (although there is a backlash against this in the art world). Then there is factory “art”; those mass produced home deco prints you find in bargain stores. From a pure visual aesthetic perspective, the mass produced table, portrait or print are pleasant enough. Sometimes they are very pleasant.


So why do people still seek out “craftsman” furniture, sit for long hours to have a portrait painted, or pay the high price for other original works of art?


I am not sure of the answer, but let me toss out a few thoughts. First, there are those who either for investment or ego delight in owning the craftsman’s or artist’s work. Perhaps this is some sort of latent aristocratic impulse. Whatever the case, these are the people who often keep food on the table of craftsmen and artists. Whatever their motivation, they are willing to pay the price that craftsmen and artists rely on to survive.


I do believe, however, that there is a deeper, more “human” reason. We all benefit from mass production (understand that I am not speaking here against mass production although it is a worthy topic to consider). The question here is, “what is missing” in a “boxed” table, a digital print portrait or factory art? The answer I believe is what we so often lack in our hectic and isolated lives—a human touch.


I have a pen. It is one of many, but there is something different about this one. My cousin handcrafted this pen from olive wood. Sure, there are a few “factory” pieces that make up the pen, but he turned and polished the wood. We don’t see each other very often—not often enough. Yet, when I pick up that pen, I think of my cousin. He cared enough to spend the time and effort to make something special. It wasn’t a job. It was a work of love. There is a little part of the craftsman in that pen. There is a human touch.


Perhaps that is what makes a craftsman or artist’s work so valuable. Knowing that he or she has spent hours in a labour of love, making the table or painting the portrait, a sense of connection with the one who created the work. There is a human touch that makes the table or portrait much more valuable, at least to those who will slow down and let it speak to them.



PS – Perhaps that is why we have some of the environmental problems today. On the one hand, the paintings of the old masters are valued because of who painted them. On the other hand, the boxed table is disposable. Likewise, if the Creator isn’t valued, His creation is treated as disposable. We need to slow down and let the Creator speak to us through His creation.

Believe “In” Or Believe “What”?

I have often pondered what it means to “believe” in Jesus or to be a “believer.”

I recently read David Ausburger’s book Dissident Discipleship. Even if you do not agree with all of his strong Anabaptist perspective, it is definitely a thought provoking, worthwhile read. One of the most poignant statements for me was a quote from Clarence Bauman.

Correct belief about Jesus, important as it is, or pietistic experience of believing in Jesus, meaningful as it may be, only point one toward discipleship. Becoming a disciple requires actually believing the Master and slowly coming to believe what the Master believed. [1]

The belief we are called to is far more than just accepting by faith a set of theological propositions about Jesus. We are called to believe the very things that Jesus believed. Belief that Jesus is, is not enough. Agreeing with the teachings of Jesus is far different from believing in them as right and necessary way to live. We are called to embrace the very things Jesus embraced.

To believe in electric light is very different from turning on the lamp to  read in an otherwise dark room. The goal is not to just live as Jesus lived, but to be totally in agreement with Jesus, in belief and act. It is to embody the sermon on the mount. It is to embody the way of the servant. It is to embody grace, mercy and love. It is to reflect what it means to be a reconciled, redeemed and sanctified person.

I am not suggesting that we do not teach about Jesus, but Bauman’s thesis that we must believe what Jesus believed pushes us from an observers seat into radical participation. Being a disciple demands that we do not observe the world with detached piety, rather that we engage the world as Jesus entered into the world.

[1] Clarence Bauman as cited by David Ausburger, David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God and Love of Neighbor (Grand Rapids, MI: BrazosPress, 2006), 39.

Reflections on Discipleship

For some time now I have been thinking about discipleship. I have not been able shake or satisfactorily answer the question “what does a disciple of Jesus Christ actually look like in our contemporary North American context.” In theory, the question is easily answered in Biblical terms. In practice, full schedules and programmatic thinking often relationally impoverish our lives, leaving little time for the kind of life sharing seen in the Gospel narratives. 


So what is the answer? Does showing up at church on Sunday define being a disciple? I hope you would agree that it is not enough. Some suggest “Bible Study” or “care” groups are the answer. For others it is evangelism and others social action. I find none of these answers all that satisfactory. I humbly suggest that we need to begin thinking in terms of discipleship communities


Discipleship communities are groups of people who are committed to the Spiritual growth of one another. These are groups of people who learn together, worship together, pray together and serve together. These groups look inward to love one another and look outward to love their neighbours. They look inward to care, encourage, heal, grow and challenge one another. They look outward to care, encourage, heal, share the Gospel message and thoughtfully challenge their neighbours to consider the deeper eternal things in life. In other words, these groups are outwardly what they are inwardly. 


In practice, this is easier said than done. The need to build intimacy must co-exist with open doors. It means risking personal vulnerability while protecting others. It means offering grace and mercy to those who may not offer it in return. It means “breaking bread” with those who may betray us. It means re-evaluating our priorities and stepping out of the ordinary into the life offered to us by Jesus Christ.