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Friday, February 08, 2008


i am a carpenter.

This is an oversimplification, of course.  But i don't think we have time right now to philosophize out my whole identity and issues regarding such.  For now, suffice it to say, that whatever i really am is not as important to the story as the fact that for some fourteen years now i have engaged in swinging a hammer for my bread, bed and britches.  
Don't say that last bit three times fast unless you are fully comfortable with cussing accidentally.

i don't particularly like being a carpenter but i find it more rewarding than being ... well, than a lot of other things which are just fine for the fine folk that do them but wouldn't suit me very well.  One of the things that i do cherish however about being a carpenter is the hammers.  i like hammers.  They're like coelacanths or better yet, sharks.  Ancient monsters from the medieval period that haven't lost their power or relevancy.  Hand to hand combat weapons that somehow hang on into the age of gunpowder.  Since this is how i view them, it should not seem odd that i collect them as well, or would if i could justify spending money on more tools than i have a justifiable need for.  i am also searching for the perfect hammer.  One that is exactly the right length, the ideal weight: light enough to be fast and easy to swing but heavy enough to do violent, permanent alterations with said swing, balanced, graceful in flight, terrible in anger, precise, ruthless, crushing, relentless.  If the weapon is the soul of the warrior then the hammer is the soul of the carpenter.

i tend to idealize hammers.  Or is that idolize?
Potato, PotAHto, hammers are cool.

i started with some wooden handled models, around twenty, twenty-one ounces and this worked for me for some years while i used them mostly for striking and building but when i became a remodeler i started using hammers as tools of prying, breaking, hacking and demolition just as much as the striking and building.  The wooden handles became something of a weak link.  So one year for Christmas, my boss bought me an Estwing.  

Now, Estwings, so you know, are the industry standard.  Walk on to any job site, anywhere and guaranteed, if there are three guys there, at least one of them has one of these distinctive blue handled, slender necked critters hanging from a loop on his belt.  They come in all sorts of weights and lengths but the most common seem to be the twenty-one or the twenty-four ouncers, about seventeen inches long.  My boss at the time had several.

Now, i dunno if it was a joke about my size or insecurities, an insult or an honest attempt to find something i liked but my boss got me the only thirty-two ounce, eighteen inch Estwing i have ever seen.  He dropped it in my belt and it nearly pulled my pants off, as it was i fell over to that side.  Which was bad, because i was on a scaffold, two stories up.  As soon as i was able to right myself, i climbed down the ladder, tossed that unwieldy, clunky monster as far as i could which nearly pulled my arm from it's socket and picked up my own hammer out of the mud where my boss had casually let it drop.  i did all of this in a blizzard of curses and epithets about how i didn't want an Estwing, didn't like Estwings and was perfectly happy with my own wooden anachronism, thank you very little.

i was a bit of a jerk.  But it was the truth.

i think i hurt my boss's feelings.  Though he would never have said so.  In all honesty, i think he was making an awkward attempt at being my friend.  He wasn't the most social guy and we were not really too friendly at that time.  He just left the Estwing where i had flung it till he had a chance to pick it up and said he thought it was a fine hammer and would keep it himself.
A long while later, my wooden handle broke again and so had something in me.  i went out to the truck and found the unwieldy, clunky monster down in the bottom of the truck box where it had languished since that day and i took a few test swings with it.  Alright, hammer, look, i don't like you and i'm pretty sure you don't like me but we gotta work together now so let's just bury the hatchet and go bash some plaster, what say?

Turns out there is a certain ornery and perverse pride in being the smallest guy with the biggest freaking hammer on the job.  That monster would pound a nail with a sidelong look and could reach out and touch one on the other end of a sheet of plywood.  But it was demolition work where she really sank her claws in and showed her true metal.  She didn't bend, she didn't break and she never met the structure, joinery, material that ever won an argument with her.  It wasn't long afore she was more mascot than tool and she earned her name...
the Truth.

The Truth and i had a rather long and enjoyable career together.  i hated what i did for a living and she provided an outlet for my frustrated wrath.  i only cheated on her once, when Estwing introduced these supposedly ergonomic hammers that looked more like long necked rabbits in a high wind.  But it wasn't long before those went in a tool box and the Truth slid back into her rightful slot on my hip.  

i don't carry the Truth anymore.  i lost her a year or two ago.  i know not where.  That saddens me, though i think her love love was killing me.  My whole right arm feels torn in several places along its length and i'm not sure that will ever heal.  But i miss her anyway.  She deserves a hanging display on my wall with a single lamp shining on her scarred body.

i'm reading a book that i highly recommend by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz.  Don't worry, the jarring juxtaposition is intentional and will hopefully be resolved shortly if not satisfactorily.  Donald Miller's book is full of truth.  Simple, elegant, well said truth.  Donald Miller's truth is wielded not with violence and anger and self-righteousness but with kindness, humility, love and a childlike wonder.  i was reading his book and i was suddenly struck and convicted with the truth he reveals.  i was struck with the way i had been using truth: to make others feel small, to make myself seem smart, to be right.  Even when i have tried to follow Christ i have picked up the truth and swung it with uncaring force.  The truth hurt me.  i wanted it to hurt others.

Don didn't use the truth.  He just real carefully, gently led me to it.

As a remodeler i can tell you that before you take a thing, whatever it is: a deck, a bathroom, a whole house, whatever, before you can take that thing and make it something beautiful you have to tear away all of the useless vestiges of what was there before, gut it down to what's real, what's solid, what's useful and from there and only there can you begin to build.  The truth is good for that, the truth is good for building also.  It is also a good thing to build on.
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through me."  This verse has been used as a hammer.  To exclude.  A hoop to jump through.  A harsh truth that has beaten down many who wished to have someone love them as they are.  Which is exactly what Jesus wants to do.  This verse isn't an exclusion, it's an invitation.
i think i got some apologies to make.

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