Friday, June 19, 2015

Plane Old Work

I'm working on a surprise woodworking project. Thanks to my brother Chris, I have beautiful hardwood boards, but they need to be planed to specific thicknesses. This requires a planer.

I am blessed to have a friend who is very generous with her wood shop, and that shop includes a commercial-grade planer. However, the planer is a 1985 model, bought in 1988. Unintended consequences of the generous lending of the planer are much amateur use (like my own) and not a lot of maintenance. Sara and I used this planer to make the strips for our butcher-block counter top five years ago, and found that the blades had dulled in the middle, causing a crown effect on the planed boards. My current project has little tolerance for such irregularities. Upshot: I needed to sharpen the blades.

Thanks again to Chris (who has more experience with shop tools than I), I got schooled in how to remove and replace planer blades. I handed them over to a local guy who sharpens blades (thanks, Larry!), and brought them back for replacement. However, since I want high-quality work out of this planer, I wanted to make sure the blade adjustments were also high-quality. 

How to make sure the knives were set properly? Although the manual had been saved, the knife-setting key had been lost. This tool is used to make sure that the blades stick out just far enough from the cutterhead to cut wood without breaking the blades. Could I get a replacement key?

After some googling and phone calls, I discovered that the company that made this planer was bought out by another, which was then bought out by a third firm. After a chain of transferred phone calls, I got to Steve, who knew exactly how my model of planer worked and how to repair it. Steve told me both that there was no way to get a new key and that newer knife-setting jigs were available. My knowledge of power tools just keeps expanding--of necessity. Thank God for old-school tech support with a lot of experience!

Thus I found myself in the market for magnetic knife-setting jigs:

After a week for delivery and 10 minutes of tutorial on youtube, I set the knives in the cutterhead. So far so good.

Due to the amateur beating this planer took over the last 27 years, other parts of the planer were also out of whack. So, following the instructions in the manual, I manufactured a gage block, found set screws, and stumbled my way around the underbelly of this Rockwell steel beast. The last piece of the puzzle was finding a feeler gage. Thanks to a friend with a full set of automotive tools, I was ready to evaluate gaps of 0.040". After that it was a matter of following directions.

After about 10 hours of labor to make calls, hunt down tools, learn the machine, and make adjustments, the planer performs like gangbusters. See the auspicious spray of fresh shavings from my test runs:

I'll probably only need an hour of work from the planer for my surprise project. But I find it quite satisfying to know that this old beast is back to tip-top performance, and I've learned quite a bit about another niche of woodworking.

Thanks to Bobby and Mike for their continued generosity with the shop!

~ emrys

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Word of Adonai . . . Thanks be to Elohim!

I have an ongoing project to map out the contours of Christian understandings of inspiration of Scripture. The latest cartographic work I consulted was Karin Hedner Zetterholm's Jewish Interpretation of the Bible: Ancient and Contemporary (Fortress Press, 2012). Since Christianity emerged from the womb of Judaism, I thought it wise to survey the field of how our spiritual ancestors viewed the Scriptures.

Zetterholm provides the perfect intro to Jewish biblical interpretation for someone like me. I knew that Jewish religious life centers around interpretation of and obedience to Torah; and I knew that these interpretations in the historical moment of Jesus of Nazareth formed the crucible from which Christianity poured forth. But right about there my knowledge ended.

Zetterholm's book opened up before me both the wide diversity and the common pith of Jewish scriptural interpretation. Along the way, I received helpful insight into the difference between present-day denominations of Judaism (such as Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform). Zetterholm also elucidated in accessible terms the ever-present quandary of Jewish religious life: with so many rabbis interpreting Torah--and disagreeing with one another from the get-go--how does one know whom to follow?

I appreciated the book's ability to handle the wider, more abstract issues at play and then pair them with specific illustrations. The salt of rabbinic examples flavors the text so that I could see the methods of interpretation at work. Zetterholm defines her terms well, and does not assume too much about the scholarly background of the reader. Occasionally I had to check back on the definition of a term--which I positively expect from books of this kind--but not so often that I felt hobbled. And of course the footnotes and bibliography, if I wished to know more, could keep me engaged for a lifetime.

Perhaps most pertinent to my own quest (and therefore most immediately satisfying to read) was Zetterholm's description of how different groups within Judaism have handled Torah as what "the Lord spoke to Moses and said." Rabbinic tradition, which began to coalesce in the same period as Jesus of Nazareth lived, also had to answer whether the voices of the rabbis were inspired by God, and if so, to what degree. (Christians have a parallel, though I think it is rarely named. They must decide which pastor, preacher, or theologian to follow when grappling with difficult texts. Shall I cleave to Calvin? Wesley? Joseph Prince? Joel Osteen? Even those of us who beg for a primitive application of the bible end up following someone else's lead.)

Zetterholm also interprets, in rabbinic terms, the teachings of Jesus and Paul of Tarsus. While skirting the quagmire of theology, the book recognizes that Jesus and Paul both handled Torah in ways that fit within rabbinic traditions. This treatment reminded me, once again, that the means of their interpretation may provide helpful clues to the nature of the faith we see presented in the New Testament. In other words, not only the conclusions of Jesus and Paul but also their interpretive means may be instructive to the Church that reads them.

I don't think that I began Zetterholm's book anticipating a solution to Christianity's dilemmas regarding Scripture. But I certainly didn't receive it. I did receive some comfort in misery, I suppose: In many senses, Jews and Christians sail in the same boat when it comes to the ground of their hermeneutics. On the other hand, I feel challenged: if we, as Christians, believe that Something unique and cosmos-changing happened in Jesus Christ, then does that Something alter how we view written, historical revelation? Ought we to be, in our interpretation of the Scriptures, just another Jewish sect who happens to have a different mechanism of atonement? Or are we set apart somehow, even in this, from Judaism and every other religion?

The quest continues . . .

~ emrys

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Small Group Resource: Forge Guide on Mission

Our adult Sunday School class just finished this season's class, using a little small-group resource entitled Mission: Living For the Purposes of God, by Scott Nelson (InterVarsity Press, 2013). It is one of a series of five small-group guides (the others are Community, Power, Vision, and Culture, under the series head Forge Guides for Missional Conversation).

I love the thrust of this little guide, which pushes readers and participants toward discovering how they are called to move into the world for the gospel. It encourages looking outward at what the world needs, what the world is suffering, and how we can articulate a Christian response to that need and suffering. It focuses meditation on a single scripture passage (in the case of this guide, 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:1), making that text the inspiration for six weeks of discussions.

At least it's written for six weeks. The guide assumes that a group will have 90 minutes (at least) during a session, and will be able to move swiftly through questions and readings. Our group usually has about 45 minutes, because of how our Sunday morning routine is timed (or not timed). And because of our personalities and familiarity, we don't work through books like this very quickly. So we took a few months to make it through four sessions in the book.

We all felt challenged by the topic, and certainly informed and better equipped by the conversation that rose out of the book. But a couple of things have led us to choose another resource for our class in the fall. First, our group prefers working out of the bible in a more verse-by-verse fashion. The sparseness of scriptural reading and repetition of similar questions in this guide did not suit the character of our group well. Second, the open-ended, abstract questions did not generate as much discussion as I expected when I (rather excitedly) first discovered these guides. For instance, one challenge from the book is "imagine what it would look like for your whole group to be all three vocations: the community, messenger, and servant of the kingdom of God" (p53). When we encountered questions like this, it took us more time to work through the meaning of the question than to answer it once we (sort of) agreed on what the question was asking. That work might be fruitful, but not on the level intended, I think, by the guide.

Perhaps for a small group bristling with creative energies, who has already decided that it wants to spend extra time and energy on personal mission, this book might be more suited. For us, we will turn to a walk-through guide to the book of Acts published by Zondervan, when we get back together in September.

~ emrys