My copy of this book is now dogeared and tattered. I didn't write in it and I cannot tell you why. I guess I didn't want my words cluttering his. I know the book was a popular success spending some time on the New York Times Bestseller List. Typically I eschew anything on that list (It's a psychic echo of my Gen-X 1990's. I apologize for it regularly.). Not this time.
There are many reasons I've enjoyed this book. I'll be candid. That I am from Richmond, VA, lived in Chicago, IL, and presently reside in Berkeley, CA made reading this book a special experience. Crawford lives in Richmond, lived in Chicago and was raised in Berkeley. I knew every corner and streetscape. I knew where he wrote about. I knew those places and I guess that's the point. Knowing.
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford is a book (originally an essay) about work. Sure. "An inquiry into the value of work" says the subtitle. Yep. It is. It's more profoundly about how we know what we know and the ethics of the same. Ethics are Crawford's soulcraft. Who we are, how we come to know our world, and how we value such knowing is a measure of soulfulness (the ethics of metacognition, he calls it).
He critiques the American educational system as well as our incessant need to turn every kind of work into an assembly line. Whether it is Ford or Apple, innovation comes from craftwork but industry demands cogs and wheels and knowledgework turns human minds into cogs. No one needs to be a craftsperson any longer. We don't value it. One merely needs to know one's place in the assembly line. Our schools train us to value this "non-thinking." Our schools systems, the administrators and politicians who run them have eliminated shop class right along side art and music. We don't value these kinds of thinking. They are slow and cumbersome. And yet, to paraphrase Crawford, they are perhaps the deepest expressions of our souls.
So, here's another confession of sorts. This is the book I want to write about liturgy. This. This is it. Liturgy is a soulcraft. It's a way of thinking, of problem solving. Individual craftwork in the midst of a community of craftworkers taking as long as it takes to work their way through to the stated goal. It's slow and cumbersome. It takes time to learn and master. It takes time to practice. One reason we struggle with liturgy is because we have not been taught to value it. In fact, we have been taught to value it's opposite which in turn compells us to fashion liturgies that are more like concerts or spiritual assembly lines. Plug us in and crank us out. "Just add water." What kind of Baptismal ecclesiology is that? What are the ethics motivating how we think about liturgy? What are our actual values? Alacrity? Entertainment? Salvation? We need to ask ourselves these questions.
Crawford is more interested in problem solving than I might be, but I understand where he's coming from and it's not too strange to think of liturgy as a problem of sorts. It may not be troublesome, but there are pieces that go together and no matter how concretized our liturgy may be (See: a Catholic missal or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), our communities, their abilities, and the spaces in which they worship demand a certain improvisation, a certain problem solving and thinking.
I could write a book about the book and I guess that's the highest compliment I could pay.
Soulcraft. Yes. This.
Edward Green wrote about the Olympics opening ceremonies: Revolution and Religion. "Grand public liturgy yes – even alternative worship. But also an insight into what it means to be British: Punks singing 'Abide With Me,' bicycles with wings, contemplation, celebration and change, and done on a budget. The British Church offers all these things … except the bicycles."