Prologue: So What?

4 12 2012

Once upon a time, an executive of an up-and-coming publishing company accepted one of my novels. More than fifty-two weeks have passed, and the firm has failed to follow through. It’s not because the business is itself failing. Indeed, it appears to be thriving, releasing the works of many other authors, all of whom have their own dreams and visions and callings. No need, therefore, to lambast a publisher that’s benefiting others, so I won’t name it. But what’s to be done with my neglected work?

I’ve spoken with Kurt, and we’ve agreed to shove the novel through a gang saw, polish the pieces, and work it back into a log to be rolled onto the Worldwide Web. Such an arrangement actually approximates the novel’s genesis: a set of family stories told by a grandfather to his grandchildren during meals, just before bedtime, and while walking in the woods.

I suspect you remember hearing stories from those in the Builder generation about their childhoods. Certainly you have by now heard the cliché, “I used to walk to school every day in sub-zero weather, in knee-deep snow, two miles uphill, both ways.” Woodcraft is a sequence of such stories, though told from a Boomer’s perspective. The text shares reminiscences of childhood experiences dating back to the late 50s and early 60s.

From time to time we ask ourselves: which of the aspects of our past ought to be relegated to the rubbish heap of history, and which are valuable heirlooms that ought to be passed forward into the future?

Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old”  (Matthew 13:52 NAU). Not everything old-fashioned is old. Not everything old is old-fashioned, which is to say that not everything old is obsolete and out-of-date. Indeed, some things old are better than the same things new.

Consider a tree. What’s an old tree got that a new tree hasn’t? Plenty. More leaves for air-conditioning shade and for the generation of air-improving oxygen. More wood, and often more wood of a higher quality, for the production of lumber. More sap for the manufacture of syrup or naval stores. More nuts, more fruit for use as food by wildlife and by humans and their livestock. More seeds for the reproduction of forests.

Woodcraft does more than ring contemporary American chords of nostalgia. It looks back not just to induce good feelings of old vibrations. It also reminds that some things old ought to remain because they are vibrant and vivacious and vital, because they remain new.

Woodcraft may itself be a new kind of writing in its blend of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. It deals with facts of faith, with theology and philosophy and ethics. It also touches upon a number of other subjects: German-American history, mathematics, music, carpentry, woodworking, forest ecology, plant physiology, silviculture, and popular culture now half a century old. The entire story celebrates education in matters both natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual.

Radio producer David Isay has said that, in a culture that idolizes athletes, popular singers, movie stars, and fashion models, it’s good to hear the stories of ordinary people because their lives and contributions are at least as important, if not more so. Certainly, while celebrities may stand in the limelight, the people who stand in our memories with greater significance are parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, best friends, and mentors. Most of these people have likely been what Bill O’Reilly calls regular folks, and yet they have been the ones who made big differences in our lives.

The big difference in Woodcraft is this: a grandfather employs lessons in arboriculture to teach his grandson the meaning of “I in Christ, and Christ in me.”

For those who don’t cotton to Christianity, try tolerating it here. If nothing else (and that’s a big if) remember that Christianity has been woven into the warp and woof of the American experience from the first days of the Plymouth Colony. Recall how fundamental Christianity has been in the lives of great Americans, from George Washington to George Washington Carver and so many others before and after them. Realize the past pervasiveness of Christianity in the cultures of various communities. The culture of the state of Wisconsin, for example, cannot be appreciated without at least apprehending the massive influences of Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christianity. Consider this reading, then, an exercise in cross-cultural appreciation.

If you like what you read, do tell others. And feel free to let these blogs inspire you to tell your own stories to the members of your own household, stories that edify and encourage and enlighten.

woodcraft 6

 

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