This one's for the soiled jeans and the calloused hands,
For the overall-wearers, for 'the caution vests,'
For those who work in wide-brimmed hats under the sun,
Who hold an axe, or a shovel, or a drill, who stand on a ladder, in the field, on a tractor,
The ones who pull through the McDonald's drive-thru, grinning,
Driving truck and trailer with ladders and lumber,
For those who don't eat until the last animal is fed,
The last crop field swept,
For those who work with livestock, or with plants,
For those high on a roof, and later, in a Waffle House booth,
For those who work construction, destruction, maintenance,
Who weld, or wield power tools or lawn equipment,
Who drive farm machines, who pick all the greens,
For those who only ever use a porta-potty,
For those who don't have an office, but the outdoors,
For those who fall into bed with a deep breath when day is done,
For the laborers, for the one's with deep tans,
For those who make a running slide into death, bodies worn to the bone,
For the 'blue collar' workers,
Every summer.. and just about every time I drive to my parent's brick house tucked against an old-growth forest in Montgomery County, I participate in what some term as 'manual labor.' Family activities have included fence building, painting, tiling, mowing, brush-clearing, pasture fertilizing, all things horse related, and at one time, extended demolition and construction on our now-whole house. Firstly, I must confess that I've complained plenty about this work, but mostly, I love it, or at least, some types of it. Days chipping up tile and painting walls have been some of the richest of my life. Hours splitting wood have been some of the happiest, times when I sat on a hot driveway in the summer rays eating a squished peanut butter sandwich. Maybe it's more about the people you work with than the type of work, but I dunno.
What's the point of this strange love letter to physical work?
There is something objectionable in telling students that the sweetest living is found on the top floor of a skyscraper in a corporate office. If not outright saying this, academia is always willing us towards this in its actions and in the opinions of its education. And I object to this insipid, cultivated tendency to devalue people who work with their hands, whose talents are in other realms, who labor with a different sort of learning experience. We are taught that chasing white hands and cushy salaries is fulfilling, that the most acceptable aim in life is a position in doctor's office or law firm or big business...
This essay is here to object with a few tangled phonemes, to argue that there is value in most every type of labor and trade, that all types of work must be done by someone, and we were all created to be different parts of a body, different and special pieces of a puzzle. Humans are not shaped superior or inferior by their vocations. And we are so much more than a vocation. It's something we do, not who we are.
This is my quabble with higher academia today, this ingratiating sense of superiority.
May it not be so.
There's a punch of truth in the saying that 'the first will be last and the last will be first.'
Far be it from me to devalue learning and thinking and education, but far be it from us to devalue a certain type of work and workers.
To all the college-educated: never believe that you're above digging a trench, changing a tire, pulling a fence-wire.
There is intense beauty and satisfaction in painting a wall, in completing a deck, in splitting a log, in cleaning a house.
This work is essential. This work is good! Boots were made for walking, and bodies were made for working!
Few things can make me sicker than superiority, than for a college student to think of the man mowing the grass on campus as less than him or her, as somehow inferior. They're missing out, like I've missed out. Education isn't everything. It's not kindness, humor, work-ethic, laughter, hope, joy, satisfaction, personhood. Most importantly, it's no Jesus. It's no Savior. A university education, an office job, a nice paycheck, these make up just one possible route in life, and it's not necessarily the best. There's many a farmer, many a maintenance man, or a laughing lady with a cleaning service who is far happier and healthier than many a CEO.
The same sun and moon shine down on us all. The same Jesus died to save us all.
The world will sell us the lie that all we need is currently in stock at its Big Box Store, that customers can get nicely packaged, though dated, fruits of the Spirit in its clearance aisle, that hope and meaning are now found in bigger boxes on Aisle 12, right next to the bakery, behind the real-estate flyers, and that they're served up hot at the company brunch on Tuesdays!
But let's call its bluff. These things are God-given, not greedily grabbed. We were made for more than this world, and the blessings of life aren't sold at Satan's store, truly.
Our meaning isn't found in vocation. Peace and joy aren't found in vocation.
What's the point of life and work anyway?
To be famous? To make the most money possible? To avoid discomfort? To live in a colorless 9-5 work day to make a pile of money that will moulder on your grave? To retire and collect sea shells?
Or is it to glorify God in all that we do and say, to follow Jesus Christ, whether He leads to the school classroom or the warehouse and to love with all your life there, in that place where you're put?
I'm sure you'll find me in Satan's store from time to time, just hoping and anxiously wondering if there might be some products inside that I need to fill my kitchen shelves, maybe perusing the medical aisle for a balm for my aching heart. If so, drag me out, and I'll do the same for you.
Groceries bought there turn straight to ash and dust, as will diplomas and degrees and doctorates and demo jobs and all our other 'decorations' when we stand before the throne of God above, who is enthroned in splendor and glory. He'll see us bare and there, face to face, His Spirit to our soul, all other things aside.
Work is good, so let's not categorize it, idolize it. The same could be said of many other concerns in this life. Let's not be defined and define others by earthly trappings and falsehoods, but live only, and measure only, by the Word of the Lord.
After all, Jesus was a carpenter.
"All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever."
- 1 Peter 1:24