When I was 28, I discovered for the first time the limits of my ability to ‘do things’ about technology. Here is what happened. The exhaust manifold on my car blew a gasket. I thought “This can’t be too hard to change! Just undo the bolts, put in the new gasket with some sealant and re-bolt the gasket to the block.’ So I began to undo the bolts. As I did, water began gushing out of the block onto the floor and into the cylinders! Arghhhh! What I had not realised was that in between working on my other cars, and working on this car they had change the system. Now, in order to pre-heat the incoming mixture of fuel and air, and thus improve combustion, some of the hot water from the engine was re-routed into the inlet manifold! Hence the gush! So I had an embarrassed trip to the garage to ask what to do. In the end I did the job, but from then on, all the mechanical work on my cars has been done professionally. I gave up ownership of being able to ‘do things’ to the engines of my cars.
The book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ talks about the way that giving up this power to be able to ‘work on’ our machines alienates us from them, and so makes us somehow ‘less’ than what we could be. Being able to take a broken thing and fix it is
There is more. Karl Marx expanded the idea of ‘alienation’ into the material world. Here is my summary of his idea. Human beings are made to ‘go out’ into the world. We have ideas and we make projects. Even the word ‘project’ can describe the activity itself, or the idea of ‘jecting’ (throwing) ‘pro’ (forward). In
having a ‘project’ we ‘project’ ourselves into the world. This going out is scary because we don’t know what will
happen. But unless we do it we die. Even at the most basic level, hunting and gathering is a form of this kind of ‘project’. Going shopping is the same thing, but so is trying to fix things.
Workers too, in their work do this ‘going out’ on behalf of an employer.
But the process doesn’t stop there.
‘Going out’ is a form of going away from
ourselves. That is why it is scary. The technical term for this is ‘alienation’. The end of the project is the ‘return’: it is seeing the finished or repaired object, it is coming home and showing others what we have bought, it is the ‘sailor home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.’
Being able to ‘own’ the end of a project is as much a part of being human as the ‘going out’ into the world in making projects. That is why Marx thought that the way work is organised is de-humanising, because those who alienate themselves in ‘going out’ never get to see the benefits of their work, because it is those with capital who then have the right to
dispose of what is made.
This problem is a chronic part of clergy life. If you are like me, you want to do ‘projects’ as part of being a priest. It could be, as is our ‘main thing’ to keep thinking about how we might become a ‘missionary’ (going out, being sent,
apostolic) congregation. But the time frame in which these things work is very long, years in fact. I need a long term, almost geological time scale about is realistically achievable. The results are not quick.
Take our membership for example. I would love for us to be a growing congregation. We are growing, but it is slow. Gradually our character is changing so that I could gladly report to the
Archdeaconry conference this week ‘We are looking more and more like the Church I can recognise.’ But the demand for immediate results is always present. If there are critics of our ‘project’ they will say ‘Look, you have changed X or Y and we have not grown as you had hoped! So lets go back to the way it was.” But because of the ‘humanising’ nature of ‘the project’, it is the very act of ‘going out’ of trying something rather than not trying anything which is the first step on the journey. Being willing to experiment is the first step of being on pilgrimage. The ‘flesh pots of Egypt’ are not available to us. W may be in the wilderness, feeding on just enough to get by (manna), but the direction is always toward the Promised Land, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
I remember the Television Series
‘Monkey Magic’. This series tells the story of a group of pilgrims, wanting to bring Buddhist scriptures from India to China, and because the pilgrims were all, to some degree ‘animal spirits’ they were being ‘humanised’ on the way. Once, the band found themselves digging their way through a cave in order to get to the
other side to continue the pilgrimage. It was slow, hard work. Monkey went around to the other side and using his ‘magic’ bored a great hole right up to where they were digging. On the other side the pilgrims ‘broke through’. But for that, Monkey was banished from the group for a long time. Their leader,
Tripitaka, says something like ‘It is the journey which is important. So long as we are heading toward the goal, we learn to be human by going.’ Quick fix is not part of the clergy life.
But in this world of slow progress, I need to be on the look out for signs of progress so that I don’t get too disheartened (which is easy). That is what
building each other up in love is about. So long as we are faithful in ‘going out’ in the direction that is likely to achieve our goal of becoming more like Christ, then we ought not to let our anxiety about ‘not getting there yet’ make us knock one another down. That is Advent. That is the power of the season because it teaches us to sing songs of encouragement, while we are waiting.
The other thing that comes to me about the waiting is Jesus’ words from Luke. He says at the Ascension “It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’ Note the power! We have the power to make projects, we have the power to wait. Because we have been transformed and experienced something of Christ himself, we have the power to bee witnesses to what he has done for us. Like the hymn:
Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
The rest comes after the consummation, not before.
A month or two ago while trying to
connect up my lap-top to the TV screen, I fried the mother board! With the help of YouTube I took out the old one.
Yesterday I put in the new one. It works.