Lessons learned from time in the woodshop…Reflections 18 years after 9-11

Scripture makes references to Jesus as a carpenter in the Gospels describing His life. We know that His earthly father, Joseph, was a carpenter and likely taught Jesus the skills of this trade before beginning His ministry work.

How did Jesus use his early childhood exposure and possible apprenticeship in his Father’s woodshop?  How did the lessons learned in the woodshop influence how Jesus understood life? 

I learn by “doing”, and I have had the privilege and great good fortune to be able to enjoy time learning the skill and craftsmanship of a Master Woodworker from a very patient and gifted teacher, Ben Harrison. Ben owns and operates Southern Joinery here in Rome, and has crafted many fabulous, unique, and custom pieces of furniture for clients across the United States. Ben invited me to come to his woodshop and observe his work, and then invited me to “try my hand” at making furniture.

Some important lessons learned in the woodshop –

       #1 – Have both an idea and a plan to implement

       #2 – Understand the process for the design, concept, crafting, building and finishing the piece (of furniture)

       #3 – You can’t rush the process

       #4 – Accuracy in measurement is both critical and essential in making furniture.  The fourth lesson involves learning about tolerance.When making a fine piece of furniture, the way the individual pieces “fit” together is determined by the method of joining them together and the placement of the “joint” or point of connection,  I learned from Ben that less is more.  The standard of tolerance that Ben uses in his woodshop when making a mortise and tenon joint is 1/100 of an inch. Imagine the thickness of a dollar bill, that is @ 1/100 of an inch.  Not much at all…The secret to a good mortise and tenon is minimal tolerance.

 I go to the Woodshop as a part of my Sabbath experience. While working in the Woodshop, we have the opportunity to talk, not just about woodworking but about the stuff of life…Ben has keen insights and has a unique theological framework for understanding the created order.  His appreciation for the Created Order is evidenced by his ability to apply engineering concepts in the making of fine pieces of furniture that transcend their function and become something greater than their individual component parts…

As I think about my time in the woodshop with Ben, I believe I have a greater appreciation for the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Colossians  - I witness a compassionate heart filled with kindness, humility, meekness and patience as I watch Ben work and listen to him as he interacts with others.

John 13:34 –I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”



noun: tolerance;

1. the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.


forbearance, toleration, sufferance, liberality



2. the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.


endurance of, acceptance of; resistance to, immunity to, non-susceptibility to, resilience to



3.  an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, especially in the dimensions of a machine or part.

synonyms deviation, fluctuation, variation, allowance, play, clearance, leeway; inaccuracy, imprecision.

Thinking about the level of Tolerance involved with making fine furniture and comparing the level of tolerance required to interact with people, I was drawn to a book written by Johnathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion.

In the first part of the book the author uses research to demonstrate social intuitionism, how people's beliefs come primarily from their intuitions, and rational thought often comes after to justify initial beliefs. He cites David Hume and E. O. Wilson as thinkers who gave reason a relatively low estimation, as opposed to more popular thinkers who give reason a central place in moral cognition, such as Lawrence Kohlberg and his stages of moral reasoning.

In the second portion of the book he presents moral foundations theory, and applies it to the political beliefs of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians in the US.   Haidt argues that people are too quick to denigrate other points of view without giving those views full consideration, and attempts to reach common ground between liberals and conservatives. He makes the case in the book for morality having multiple foundations (more than just harm and fairness) and [religion and politics are]… expressions of our tribal, groupish, righteous nature".

In the third part of the book, Haidt describes a hypothetical “hive switch,” which turns a selfish human “chimp” into a “groupish” human “bee.” Cultures and organizations have techniques for getting people to identify with their groups, such as dancing, moving, and singing in unison.

In moral psychology, social intuitionism is a model that proposes that moral positions and judgments are: (1) primarily intuitive ("intuitions come first"), (2) rationalized, justified, or otherwise explained after the fact, (3) taken mainly to influence other people, and are (4) often influenced and sometimes changed by discussing such positions with others.[1] 

What if…as followers of Christ we were able to use our intuitive consciousness and be informed by the power of God’s Holy Spirit to hear not only with our ears, but with our heart, mind and soul?  And what if we were able to engage with others with a desire to hear and understand rather than to be heard or to be understood?


Pictured here is an old wooden mallet and a bronze age chisel…maybe similar to the tools Joseph used to teach Jesus in his woodshop.  The crudeness of the tools did not matter when used in the hands of a true craftsperson.  Maybe Jesus learned about the margin of tolerance for making the items that were built in His earthly Father’s woodshop, and then as He started his public ministry, He invited His listeners and followers to Love One another the Way He Loves. 

Jesus has a Zero tolerance policy when it comes to Sin. (Sin = that which separates us from God) 

Maybe the greatest Sin of All is not doing what Jesus Did and what He invites us to do …Love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength and to Love ALL God’s People as Jesus has Loved us…

As we approach the 18th anniversary of 9/11, may we seek to remember those who died in that horrible tragedy of intolerance and seek to live into the promise and possibility of being Sisters and Brothers of Christ and Children of God.

Thank You for tolerating my “ramblings” – I look forward to seeing you in Worship and out “in the streets” sharing God’s Amazing Love and Grace.


Robert ><>