My grandson likes nothing better than a good project, so on our days together, he and I are a force to be reckoned with. He has saved me many a bend in the tomato patch, and when he pulled orange carrots out of the ground with quivering joy, each fistful was a miracle to behold. Even at three, he enjoys meaningful work, and I think that Jayber would approve of the way we spend our time when we’re together.
In Chapters 24-26, Jayber the “married, ineligible bachelor barber” shares his favorable opinion of Athey Chatham’s relationship with his grandson, and treats us to his reckoning on many other topics as well:
- the beauty of little jobs and the prideful air of a man who is too big to “fiddle around” with them;
- the instinct for complaining which requires the knack for “making much of oneself” (263);
- the “Ceceliafication” of the world in which one despises any place she can afford to live.
Perhaps it’s because I read the complete works of Dr. Seuss on repeat when my children were little, but Jayber’s lamentations on the modernization of the farming industry, the impact of the interstate road system and school consolidation on small towns, and the vicissitudes of growth in The Economy brought to mind these lines from The Lorax:
“I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.
business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.
I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering… selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered by money, which everyone needs.”
Writing from the vantage point of 1986 when The War had gone underground for a few years, Jayber reminisced on the loss and small-town sorrow that came to Port William when The War “broke out” again, “this time in Vietnam.” (286) Jayber was feeling the loss of a foundation and a cutting loose from historical moorings in which “the necessary work of the world” was always done in the same way with predictable outcomes and according to the “dignity of continuity” in which what was known to one generation could be passed on, known, and loved by the next.
Unfortunately, with the “biggering and biggering” of barbershops in America, Jayber was once again subject to the whims of “the man across the desk.” Again, he came to a parting of the ways, and his friend Burley was there to ease the transition.
When Mattie came to Jayber asking for help, he rose to his secret calling and rejoiced in the doing. His involvement in her family life, ministering to Athey, providing support to Mattie with her wayward son, “was something [he] might have prayed for, if [he] had thought of it . . .”
I am also the recipient of many unforeseen blessings I didn’t have the sense or the optimism to pray for, and maybe that makes them all the sweeter. Truly, I find Jayber’s thoughts on prayer to be refreshing and helpful, and as the plot unfolds following his having prayed “the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done,'” (252) we can see the wisdom behind his also having prayed for strength.
After Jimmy Chatham’s death in Vietnam, Jayber found himself unable to pray while at the same time imagining prayers for restoration that demonstrated incredible faith in the power of God to make things right. He recognized in himself the terrible tendency to “advise God” and likened it to the kind of mockery that Jesus received from the lips of the chief priests and scribes: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Jesus did not take them up on their dare because, in mercy, He saw my sin, but also “from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then.”
Jayber’s words are a corrective to my desire for a “vending machine” God who responds in predictable and controllable ways to my requests.
Another Great Moment Lost
After delivering a zinger to his despised rival, Jayber could have rested on his laurels and made favorable comparisons between his own repartee and Athey Chatham’s hammering comeback to Hiram Hench, the racist. (214)
Troy had just finished a tirade against the communists when Jayber stopped cutting hair, looked at Troy, and said:
“‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. ‘Where did you get that crap?’
I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’
And Troy said,’Oh.'” (287)
A stunning triumph for the Sermon on the Mount. However, Jayber is learning to see himself; he is being schooled in the self-awareness of love. And so, standing in the momentary spotlight of our admiration, he comes clean:
“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”
Amen and amen.
How easy it is to love “the world.”
How difficult it is to love the annoying person who stands before us in the moment.
Questions to Ponder and an Invitation for Your Insights
I will confess that I am often grumpy about technology, but I am determined to persevere, knowing that the other option is to become obsolete. As I read Jayber’s observations about the building of roads, I remembered my annoyance at highway noise around many of the places we have gone camping. I guess if we want to tent in the company of crickets and owls, we have to do it in our own back yard. How are you managing change and progress? Even with all its obvious blessings, is there some aspect of life in the 21st century that particularly rankles you?
Have you ever found yourself “listening to yourself with some interest” as you shared a dream or a plan out loud for the first time? (296) This was an example of Wendell Berry’s brilliant characterization alongside his clever turn of a phrase.
A quick mention of Troy at his son’s graveside service was poignant and cautionary:
“Afterward, it seemed for a while that Troy had been almost unmade by his grief, but then, having nobody else to be, he became himself again and continued on.”
How sad if we do not allow ourselves to be unmade and then remade by the hard things that come into our lives. Reading this observation of Troy leads me to pray for grace and strength not to waste any of my grief — past, present, or future.
And so with Burley passing on “the use” of his little camp house to Jayber, we’ll spend the next two weeks following Jayber’s observations from the banks of the Kentucky River.
I’ll be listening for your thoughts “with some interest” as I look forward to reading them, either in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!
I’ll be here next Thursday (November 9) having read Chapters 27-29.
Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:
Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32
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