Several weeks back, I found myself in Vancouver with nothing to do. So I left my hotel room to wander around the city and made it about fifty feet before stumbling into The Paper Hound, an amazing boutique used bookstore. The surprise of finding such an excellent shop along with the fine selection of books made me go tharn. I determined to return to my room for a few minutes to collect my wits and mentally prepare a list of titles to search. This is how I discovered my hotel room rested directly above the bookshop. The serendipity was irrefutable. I knew I had to spend time and money below the floorboards of The Victorian, where I was staying.
Over at Alan Jacobs’s Text Patterns blog, I have been following his technological history of modernity project. The thought occurred to me that so long as I was in Canada, I might try searching for a Canadian author in a Canadian used bookstore. Jacobs recommends Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology. She was German but made her life and scholastic career in Canada. Good enough. So I trotted out of my squeaky-floored hotel room, down the hall, past the fire escape, out of the front door, down the stairs, around the corner, and into the lusty smell of The Paper Hound’s book stacks, where I took my time getting to the section I figured would contain Franklin’s book. It did.
Ursula Franklin is my new favorite Wendell Berry. That sentiment, however, must wait for another blog post. (Though, I hope it has piqued your interest enough to rush out and find a copy of The Real World of Technology to read.) For now, I want to get down an out-of-the-way quote from an early chapter and then ask a question. In this passage, Franklin is describing how we do things in certain ways and the way we do things can identify who we are. Here is what she says,
On another occasion I sat in the back of a large meeting room, listening to a long and boring discussion. I began to knit. A young woman came over, sat down next to me, and whispered, “I’d like to talk to you. You knit just like my mother.” Of course, her mother was also German, and there is a German way of knitting.
I began to wonder, does anyone ever see me doing anything and recognize the way I am doing it, like how Ursula Franklin knits like a German? I am Italian but aside from belching like my grandfather, I do not suspect anyone would ever notice me doing anything like an Italian. Being from San Diego it is possible my casual demeanor might give me away as hailing from Southern California. But do I do things like a San Diegan?
Especially on my heart and mind, do I do things like a Christian? If I were at a conference for my work in digital marketing, could I imagine someone crossing a meeting hall to sit next to me: “I’d like to talk to you. The way you take notes in your Moleskine reminds me of my dad. He was a pastor.”
There is a cynical way to think about the Christian way to do things. I am skeptical when it comes to the Christian versions of coffee shops and clothing. It is possible, I am sure, to open a Christian coffee shop or create a Christian line of clothing. But that is not the kind of doing that Franklin is talking about or that I am wondering about. When she began to knit, she did not declare herself to be a German knitter. She just was, and it was noticeable. A Christian way to do things might include declaring belief, like adding an ichthus under the name of the coffee shop or on the label of the clothing. But in that example someone would notice what is declared, not what is done. In Franklin’s example someone noticed what was done, not what was declared.
In the same way that there is a noticeably German way to do knitting, is there a noticeably Christian way to…? There could be many ways to complete that sentence. How about this one. In the same way that there is a noticeably German way to do knitting, is there a noticeably Christian way to do art?