Dovetails

Early into my woodworking experience of using hand tools, I was intrigued by the thought of cutting dovetail joints by hand. I had always loved the look of the dovetail joint but had never made any. There are jigs and templates to cut them with a router, but that seemed cumbersome and didn’t interest me. The first time I watched someone cut dovetails by hand, I was hooked. I wanted to learn.

So, to YouTube I went, looking for instructions on how to cut and fit perfect dovetails. I discovered that everyone had a different approach to cutting them, some with slight variations, some with significant variations (i.e. cutting the tails first versus the pins first). Interestingly, some see the tail/pin preference worthy of controversy, while the practical woodworker admits it’s a personal preference.

The Dovetail Joint

One of my go-to woodworking teachers for laying out and cutting dovetails is Chris Schwarz. He suggested learning by doing – cutting a dovetail a day for about 30 days. So that’s what I embarked on doing. I had the basic tools – a dovetail saw, a coping saw, and a set of chisels. Using pine 1x6s, I started in. Day 1 was indeed practice – cutting the dovetails felt awkward. I cut on the wrong side of the lines so it didn’t fit. On day 2 I concentrated on cutting on the correct side of the line, but overcompensated, so the fit was sloppy. The iterative process continued day after day with minimal improvement, so I discontinued the practice after a couple of weeks.

I then got the idea of making 19th-century replica school boxes for each of my four kids for Christmas. The design of the boxes required dovetail joints – lots of them! What better way to learn than to jump in…

As you can see, the boxes had a lot of dovetails – 24 each, so 96 total. I was wise enough to cut the dovetails on the backside first, knowing they would be far from perfect, hoping that by the time I got to the front they would look better (which turned out to be a good plan). Marking the dovetails was pretty straightforward. Sawing them, not so much.

As I took my dovetail saw in hand, sawing still felt awkward, and continued to feel awkward for a time. Then about halfway through the cutting of the 96 dovetails, something happened. I realized that I had become comfortable with the saw in my hand. It didn’t seem to be something that extended out from my hand anymore. Rather, it seemed to feel more like an extension of my hand! It’s hard to explain what happened, but sawing became more effortless, almost second nature.

Over the years, it’s been fun watching our children and now grandchildren develop various skills as baseball players, BMX racers, swimmers, gymnasts, and musicians. In those early days of learning and development, they looked and sounded awkward. Things were much different after a few years of practice. The baseball glove appeared to be an extension of the hand, “touch-typing” the keyboard or guitar fret became the norm, awkward cartwheels became natural-looking round-offs, BMX track berms negotiated at top speed, etc. With practice, what was once awkward for them to do (and watch πŸ™‚) became second nature.

N.T. Wright, in his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, talks about “second nature” as it applies to Christian virtue (character). With time and practice, disciplines like reading scripture (especially the Gospels πŸ™‚), praying (Dallas Willard: Talking with God about what we are doing together), loving our neighbor, etc. become second nature. We don’t have to think about them. They become part of the rhythms of our life.

Time and practice and rhythms

N.T. Wright: “Character is transformed by three things. First, you have to aim at the right goal. Second, you have to figure out the steps you need to take to get to that goal. Third, those steps have to become habitual, a matter of second nature.”1 Time and practice for which there is NO shortcut.

Here’s the very good news. With time and practice, some of the character-forming disciplines not only become second nature, but they also become rhythmic in nature. We can’t not practice them. I think of my grandsons walking through the house swinging “air bats.” They can’t help themselves, they can’t not do it!

N.T. Wright was once asked in an interview how important daily prayers and scripture reading were to him. He responded, “I don’t know how to answer that. It’s like asking how important breathing is to me.” Rhythm. It’s the stuff of life!

I think of Eugene Peterson’s rendition of Matthew 11: Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with meβ€”watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).

Focused on the Master and with time and practice, we learn unforced rhythms. Who doesn’t want that?

1 Wright, N. T., After You Believe (p. 29). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Enamored

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Kevin a couple of weeks ago that keeps ruminating in my mind. I first met Kevin four years ago when he left a 25-year career of church planting and pastoring to join our local Young Life region to help develop ministries in new communities. As a church planter, it was a natural fit for him.

During our conversation, Kevin was reflecting on his past years of ministry. He said he’s begun to realize, in recent years, that something seemed “off” in his previous 25 years of ministry leadership. He felt like he had been “selling Christianity as a package, with Jesus as one part of the entire product line.” Through his continual engagement with Young Life, he said he’s become increasingly amazed and enamored with Jesus. For him, Jesus has become the whole package that he gets to offer to others.

Enamored. Not a word I use often, but for some reason, it resonated with me. The dictionary definition would point one toward something romantic – affected by strong feelings of love, admiration, or fascination (Merriam-Webster). A synonym that further enhances an understanding of enamored is captivate. Captivate suggests being influenced or dominated by something irresistible.

As you may be aware, when disciplining or mentoring (mostly younger) people, I have them read the Gospels repeatedly – for all kinds of reasons, but mostly to “hang out” with Jesus, knowing its transformative value.* The Jewish understanding of becoming a disciple of a rabbi was to become like the rabbi and join him in his mission. They become captivated and fascinated with the rabbi and pattern their life accordingly. I think becoming enamored with Jesus is the exact right outcome of one spending continuous time reading the Gospels.

I think of Jim Rayburn (Young Life’s founder) always saying that Jesus is the most fascinating person in the universe. What a great starting point for becoming enamored with Jesus. I suspect that our western Christian cultural approach is not to be enamored with the most fascinating person in the universe. Rather, we are enamored with what the most fascinating person in the universe can do for us (i.e., pave a way for us to go to heaven). Does that mean we are more enamored with heaven than with Jesus? Wouldn’t that be a form of idolatry? (NT Wright always reminds his readers/hearers that heaven is big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.)

What does it mean to be enamored with Jesus? Here’s a great question to ponder: What did Jesus’ disciples see in him that caused them to walk away from their work to follow him? I have always suspected that Jesus didn’t “cold call” people when inviting them to follow him – especially when we think of those first ones – fishermen Peter, James, John, and their local tax collector, Levi. I have to believe that Jesus had spent time with these guys, taking an interest in their work and engaging in their world. I suspect that these guys were fascinated and captivated by this different kind of rabbi – they were enamored. Enamored enough to drop what they were doing to discover more. Jesus was irresistible!

How does one become enamored with Jesus?

I don’t think it’s something we can make happen. I think it’s a natural (organic) outcome of focusing on Jesus, the most fascinating person in the universe. Focusing on who he is – his character, mission, interactions – not just on what he can do for us. It’s hanging out with him, becoming more and more fascinated and captivated by him. Like Kevin, it changes our perspective on everything else.

One of my favorite books is Jim Collin’s Good to Great. His team researched companies that experienced a transformation of growth that outpaced the stock market trends of the time. He studied the companies in an attempt to discover the cause of the growth. Most fascinating to me was the chapter recaps describing “unexpected findings.” I suspect an “unexpected finding” for Kevin was becoming enamored with Jesus!

I think that periodically it’s healthy for us to ask the question, “What are we enamored with? What fascinates and captivates us?” The answer to the question will shape the “package” we have to offer the world around us.

* ADDENDUM 1/31/2023: Annie F. Downs has created a podcast that will help listeners experience all four Gospels twelve times during the year 2023. It’s called Let’s Read the Gospels. Enjoy!

Perspective

Several years ago I facilitated a training session of volunteer youth ministry people in the community in which I lived. We talked about how perspective is important to what we do and to the outcomes we hope for. In an earlier post I included a worthy saying that reminds us that perspective affects how we see things, which in turn affects what we do, which naturally impacts outcomes. My point was this: If we want to experience different outcomes in life or ministry, that only happens with a changed perspective, not just by doing things different.

To drive the point home, I showed the group the drawing of the woman below. The participants were given the task of planning an evening with her. What might they do and talk about? One younger person said she would ask this older woman what life was like as a teenager “back in the day.” An older gentleman (60ish) in the group, looking puzzled, said, “I was thinking of asking her, as a young woman, what she thinks her life might look like when she is my age.” Each person planned an evening for the woman based on their perception of her age. What they planned to do was based on their perspective.

Old or young woman?

Our perspective as to why Jesus came to our planet has a huge impact on how we do life, on all that we do. Of course the orthodox understanding is related to our salvation (or soteriology, to use the theological term). I suspect the overarching soteriological perspective of western evangelical Christians is this: Jesus came to save us so that we can go to heaven when we die. Actually, it probably sounds more like this: Jesus came to save me so that I can go to heaven when I die. We call this good news because it is. But the Good News of Jesus is much bigger.

If my perspective is “Jesus came to save me so I can go to heaven when I die” then what do I do with the rest of my life while I wait to go to heaven? If I have already accepted Jesus into my life or given my life to Him (or whatever terminology we choose to describe how we participate in his saving work), then what is there left to do? I suspect if we are honest, far too many of us simply live out life, waiting to go to heaven, maybe wishing we could go sooner than later. We hear it all the time – life will be so much better in heaven.

But then guilt sets in. We should be doing something, shouldn’t we? We hear a sermon that suggests we aren’t doing enough. Or we read a scripture that suggests a need to change something we are doing (or not doing). So we try to make changes to what we do. We work on changing the behavior that seems to need tweaking (we all need to change, right?). Problem is that behavior modification leads to moralism and moralism doesn’t work!

What if our perspective is wrong or, at least, incomplete? What if being a Christian is much bigger than simply going to heaven when we die? What if heaven is only a slice of a bigger pie? NT Wright would suggest a perspective amiss: “people often imagine the main purpose of Christianity to be getting people to heaven and teaching them to behave along the way.” * He goes on to reminds us that heaven is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.

So, what perspective did Jesus want his followers to come away with after hanging out with him for three years? It’s important to understand because it affected all they did and said as they went “into all the world.” Jesus did not tell his disciples to go into the world and tell people how to get to heaven. It was never his message. Read the Gospels – its not there! Jesus did not leave his disciples with a self-focused perspective of simply getting to heaven.

Here’s the thing – A theological perspective that Jesus simply came to save me so I can go to heaven when I die will not serve me well in this world. Nor will it serve those around me. Moralism is the natural outcome. Moralism doesn’t lead to loving neighbor well. And it certainly doesn’t lead to loving our enemies. We all would agree that American Christians don’t love our enemies well, which should tell us something is amiss. I would suggest it’s our perspective. The result? The Good News simply becomes good advice and the world is left wanting.

* Wright, N. T. (2017). Simply good news: Why the gospel is news and what makes it good. New York:Harper One. P. 22, Kindle Edition