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Getting a handle on things


Pastor Christian writes:


There is a corner of the shop that always gives me a twinge of good Lutheran guilt whenever I walk by. It is the place where all the broken handled tools are piled up and leaning against each other like misfit toys on their way to the island. Some of them simply wore out over time, others suffered abuse at the hands of eager workers. Regardless of the method of their demise, there they were, gaining dust and rust with each passing day.


The long awaited moment came at last–too cold to work outside, I was sequestered to the shop and it was time to set about the work of mending the misfit tools. I began where we all do when we have a DIY project never before undertaken–watching video tutorials. To sum up, the first step is to remove the broken piece of handle that is stuck in the metal shovel, rake, or fork. The second step is to fit the new handle snugly in place by cutting, sanding, scraping and then pounding the new handle in. The final step is to peen a rivet or nail through metal and wood to lock the new handle in place.


Having had some time to reflect on the process I realize that there is much to gain by repairing your own tools. There is the opportunity to gain material intelligence with wood and different metals. Also, a satisfaction in sparing the broken tools the fate of ending up in a scrap yard or landfill. But more than an opportunity to reduce, reuse, and recycle, here is an opportunity to resist the predominant ethos of a throw away culture.


There is not much of a cost savings to replacing a broken handle. A new shovel costs upwards of 15 dollars and the replacement handles start at 10. The real opportunity here is not just self sufficiency or environmental stewardship, but to join with God. I know it sounds like a stretch, but hear me out. Jesus observed that whoever is faithful in very little will be faithful in much (Luke 16:10). Certainly, it is a small thing to save a broken tool from the landfill, but in doing so we live out a theology of embodied ecology–an incarnational theology.


It was no accident that Jesus traveled with those who knew how to catch and prepare food–who caught fish, mended nets, made wine, and kneaded dough. It was intentional on God’s part that Christ would be more than a disembodied spirit who could not eat, drink, touch, heal, walk, and rest. Jesus was the in-the-flesh manifestation of God dwelling with us and no task in that dwelling place was too small or unimportant. And it was no accident that Jesus is drawn to the outcast, misfit, those whom their society has thrown away. It was no accident that Jesus came to a place that was a backward flyover country that tramping armies and international traders exploited as a corridor to get from one seemingly important place to another.


Jesus came to what the powerful and prestigious of his time deemed as a throw away place, among a throw away people, and showed a new way of being that redeems from the trash heap those people, places, and things that have been cast off. An incarnational theology co-creates and co-redeems from the trash heap those things that have little or no value to empires and economies. An incarnational theology starts by being faithful in very little–a broken shovel, a scrap of metal, and a pile of what seems like waste and transformed into precious plough shares, pruning hooks, and good fertile soil.


The ethos of redemption in the Way of Jesus starts in our shops, sheds, homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and one will cover the globe in order that nothing, no one, and no place may be lost. Fixing the handles on tools may not be a life hack that saves time or money, but it is an embodied practice of faithfulness. It is a practice that puts to work the muscle memory that mends, keeps, heals, saves, redeems, and preserves–a practice that defies the prevailing modus operandi of a throw away culture and embraces an ethic of embodied salvation and incarnate redemption.


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