The Necessary Work of the World: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (9)

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.

Unforeseen Blessings

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 themeither 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 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32


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36 thoughts on “The Necessary Work of the World: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (9)”

  1. Well this is a three course meal then, isn’t it? Starting with the tussle with modern life, the war with the upside and downside of moving on toward something that promises to be an improvement even as we leave behind that which so efficiently got us here in the first place. Then a serving of the reminder that we are more capable of loving the vague as an ideology but, in practice, we choke on love in action as a reality.

    Then this for dessert – “I am also the recipient of many unforeseen blessings I didn’t have the sense or the optimism to pray for…”

    In my two a.m. wake up call to prayer this morning, I was explaining to God how I felt about prayer as a habit – how I am not good at formulaic anything. I reminded Him that I know full well that I can’t walk to the mailbox praying that the check is in there waiting. I never ever want my prayers to be so lame. My prayer life morphs with time. Of late I am reduced to praise and ends with supplication for deliverance from evil. In this tornado of not quite awake thoughts I concluded that, we are admonished to ask for what we desire and yet understand that we can trust He knows best so we can rest on what He decides to do.

    And then I went back to sleep. And then I woke up, got my coffee, and read this. Somehow it all seemed related.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, first, I’m happy to be “related” to you in any manner, so I guess I’m honoring the uncertainty of life by mentioning my “dessert” first.
      I wrestle with prayer as well, and, oddly, most of my wrestling occurs behind a steering wheel because I’m tethered and quiet there. Coming back to the model prayer and to Paul’s prayers for his spiritual children always helps me when I’m groping for words — or questioning my motives.
      It’s always so good to hear from you, Meema.


    2. Seems to me, Meema, that you have come round to what God wants in the first place–someone who will talk to Him, and listen…and recognize His surpassing worth! I have abandoned lists for now and find that my prayers are shaped by the Word I’m reading and whoever comes to mind that would be helped by its truths. Paul’s prayers are quite the models as well. But I am still learning this talking to God about what is on my mind, as I would a friend… Thanks for chiming in here. Love the analogy of a three course meal, and dessert! ( :

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Michele,
    I am always so thankful for the uplifting summaries you bring to these chapters! Somehow, my heart always gets stuck in the heavy and weighty thoughts that Jayber brings up. So, here’s my post with those thoughts:
    I hadn’t thought of the similarities with “The Lorax,” but you are so on target! I thought of those disgruntled feelings with technology as it relates to Social Media’s rehashing of all of the world’s grievances to the point of overwhelm! I am eager to read of Jayber’s return to the River over the next 2 weeks! Thank you again for being such a great hostess and teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, good – I’m glad you didn’t think I was waaay off base with my Lorax comparison. And I’m looking forward to hopping over to your place and reading your analysis of Jayber’s “weighty” thoughts. He’s definitely a deep thinker.


      1. I am so eager to hear everyone’s thoughts on the ending. I have it running through my head on repeat since re-reading it.
        And I do think this upcoming section on River Life is among my favorites. Of course, as C.S. Lewis said, the best part of any bio is the early years, and I guess that may be true of this fictional memoir.
        Heading over to read your words a day late. The adorable grandson is here on Thursdays, and I’m incoherent by days’ end.


  3. As usual, thank you for the thoughtful reflections! I found Jayber’s words about Christ so poignant this week. Made several notes to refer back to in future writing and studying. I laughed out loud reading Jayber’s Biblical response to Troy….but was also certainly humbled by his admission right after. How true of me, too. It’s easier to love “the world” than the person bugging me.

    Although I tend to process internally, it’s a delight when processing externally I also find myself ““listening to (my)self with some interest.” However, it’s one of my favorite things to hear others doing this!! Watching someone be taken by surprise by themself is such a joy. I was smiling for Jayber as he did this!

    Matt’s more auditory, so he is unlikely to sit and read, but I’ve told him so much about Jayber (their thoughts on progress and outlook on things are quite similar) that I think I’ve *almost* convinced him to read the book!

    Bettie’s observations on desert above ring true, too. Heading over to her place….

    I may have gotten too engrossed in this wonderful story and read until the end….(anyone else?!) So I’ll hold the rest of my thoughts so as not to accidentally spoil anything. Thanks, Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this is a pretty tempting slope to the end of the book, so I don’t blame you for reading ahead. I had forgotten the ending, actually, and now that I’ve read ahead, I’m glad I have plenty of time to process before having to write about it.
      My husband is a verbal processor, so he often will talk/think his way through a process, and it’s fun to be part of, but, like you, I process internally, or sometimes on computer keys. 🙂


  4. Your review reminded me of many of my own reflections on this portion of the book. One of the things that I especially appreciated about this book was watching how Jayber grew and developed, how some of the rough edges and judgments were smoothed away with new understanding and new truth. I also agree about what He shares about prayer. I confess that I turn away from most any book or blog that appears to reduce praying to steps and procedures. They somehow remind me of the childish habit of making lists for Santa. I am persuaded that our Lord wants our prayers to be more genuinely real, laced with the sharing one can only do with the safest and most trusted of friends. I believe it is the crux of ongoing communication with One who never tires of our words of whatever sort they may be. Yes, there is a time for praising, petitioning, etc., but I find more and more they flow more easily day in and day out in communion with Him throughout my day (not just in my favorite red leather chair during my quiet time).


    1. What a terrific goal to be pressing on toward: the burying of our secrets in the heart of a most trustworthy Confidante. Jayber certainly has the right personality for that kind of meandering prayer. My tendency is to treat prayer like a meeting in which we’re all sitting around a table, sort of tied to an agenda, and with the idea that something needs to be accomplished in this room. Totally wrong, and so much more “productive” to ditch the outline and have a warm conversation.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Not sure my views are best, but somewhere in my childhood it was easier for me to see God as more distant and full of expectations. This tended to hinder my understanding of His desire for me to relate to Him. It became so clear as I watched Jesus in the gospels in the ways He hung out with disciples many times between His teaching larger groups. Somehow shifting my impression of Him into a relational context such as a trustworthy confidante took my spiritual life into a deeper connection with Him.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It was uncanny to me that the changes in Jayber’s situation were coming about right when some changes were going on in our lives – a change in my husband’s job (still with the same company, but asked to take a different position) and our decision to leave the church we had been attending for 7 years. I’ve come to accept change as an inevitable part of life, and have weathered enough changes to know that after the uncomfortableness, everything eventually settles into new routines. Some changes are even for the better. But there is always an unsettledness for a little while in the midst of it. Some years ago when we first moved here while at the same time our two oldest were leaving the nest, a line from “Be Still My Soul” sustained me: “in every change He faithful will remain.”

    I was struck, too, about how Jayber’s shop had been sufficient as is for years, and people had survived well without indoor plumbing for centuries, and suddenly it was substandard. I certainly love indoor plumbing and wouldn’t want to be without it! (We went to a winter camp one time that had no indoor bathrooms, only outhouses – and it was 20 below outside! Not fun!) But in that time, it seems odd that not having indoor hot water from a “proper” spigot could shut a business down. I, too, get frustrated with the “man behind the desk” who can so impersonally wield such power in one’s life.

    Good thoughts on Troy being “almost unmade” by his grief yet “becoming himself” again. Sometimes one of God’s purposes in our trials is to “unmake” and then “remake” us, and what a sorrow and a waste if we don’t let allow that to happen.

    I don’t remember reading The Lorax, but it’s apt here! It’s so odd that all the progress that has been supposed to save us so much time and make life easier doesn’t seem to have resulted in more time (or just created more to fill the time) and created more problems. I’m not anti-technology – I love my computer and smart phone! But we do need wisdom to let their impact be good for us and to be aware of they ways it could be bad.


    1. I’m sorry, Barbara, that all these changes are hitting simultaneously. We left a church nearly 20 years ago, but I still remember that as being one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make as a couple.
      Your thoughts on Troy’s incomplete “remaking” reminded me of the “undragoning” of Eustace in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia). No matter how hard we try, we can’t lose the dragon’s skin by ourselves, and that may have been what short-circuited Troy’s grief process. He just had to get back to being his old dragony self because that was all that was available to him in his material/self-centered life.
      I wonder if Wendell Berry has read The Lorax to his grandchildren. He and Dr. Seuss seem to be of one mind on a few things.
      Thanks, Barbara, for your always-good insights.


    1. Snowy Day??
      Wow, you are ahead of us in the weather. I was just noticing yesterday that (unbelievably) I still have thriving nasturtiums in some protected corners of the holdings here.


      1. Oh yes! It has suddenly and drastically turned to winter here. Only 6 degrees F this morning! And snowing again. I actually dashed out and had a little ski right out the front door last night. Nearly got frostbite on my hands as I didn’t realize how cold it had gotten! But it was a hoot skiing out the door. (We have a frisbee golf course just below us) That was a first! There have to be some perks to living in such an icebox!


      2. I’m too uncoordinated to ski, but I want to get my snowshoes more active this year than they were last year. Your hail and heartiness is making me want to go crashing through the woods right now on foot with the dog, but this is deer hunting season, and no amount of orange clothing makes me feel safe enough when I hear gun shots in the near circumference!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jayber’s temptation to tell God to ‘rend the heavens and come down’ so to speak remind me that we don’t always know just what we are asking for. When He returns it will be to judge those who haven’t believed, not just to spread peace and happiness around. I was reading in Malachi and a verse that occurs in Handel’s Messiah popped out: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” – Mal 3:2 ESV Of course the answer follows down the page:
    “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”- Mal 3:2, 16-17 ESV

    I think we are doing some of that speaking to one another here ( : Thanks so much, Michele for providing the forum for all this good airing of thoughts.

    I too was struck by the reality that so many blessings come my way that I hadn’t thought or known to pray for…We have a good, good Father.


    1. Jayber definitely has the lingo, but, as you say, I don’t think he always has the essence of some of the things he ponders. This is Messiah Season here in this house, because I can’t bear to go straight into Christmas carols until after Thanksgiving, but Handel sort of warms me toward celebrating.
      I know for certain that I’m glad for your voice speaking into this lengthy analysis of Jayber’s journal. And for the steady presence of Scriptural reminders in your posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Troy’s incomplete metamorphosis was a disappointment. What was the missing ingredient for lasting change? Humility? A soft heart? A willingness? Seems an important thing to note heading into the latter half of life.


    1. Leave it to you, Linda, to find the application point. I sure don’t want to get stuck. I do wonder how much of Troy’s problem was an inaccurate definition of success that was fed by equipment salesmen and agri-businessmen. I had an attack of this yesterday when I was reading about all the things I should be doing to my blog posts to make them more SEO acceptable. Sigh. If I were not clear about my priorities, I might have resigned from blogging yesterday. 🙂


      1. Oh dear! I know, the techie stuff is overwhelming but somehow we hobble along and God directs the traffic. Having said that, I am in awe of all the places your voice is heard and how you make the time to poke your head in at so many blog spots!! I just hummmmm away in my little closet of the web and hope for God’s blessing on the thoughts He inspires. Ha! I guess even on the Web I am mostly a homebody! But yes, one’s definition of success will definitely affect one’s life course and openness to the still small voice that speaks to God’s ideas of success… I’m so glad you are clear about your priorities here, Michele!! ( :

        Liked by 1 person

  8. What an interesting observation about being unmade and then made again by the hard things in our lives, Michele. There was so much in this post that made me pause but that one stopped me in my tracks.
    Thanks for sharing, friend.


    1. If we see our purpose on this planet as coming into relationship with God and becoming more like Him and if we view all our troubles and tragedies through this lens, as having been given for that purpose, it’s sad when we choose to short circuit that process by not allowing the pain to do its scouring and transforming work. Wendell Berry made some great observations about the human heart in this book. Thanks, Marva, for taking time to share your thoughts on this particular item.


  9. I’m coming late again to the party. I don’t know that I can add anything that hasn’t already been said. I’d like to Amen all the previous comments.

    These things touched me this week:

    *The loss of Athey and Jimmy in these chapters. The two similar in nature snuffed out.
    *The belonging of Jayber in the Chatham home for a short season.
    *Troy’s change that didn’t stick; sadness really. I think of those like him in life.
    *Modern conveniences being mandated necessary by “the man behind the desk.” Reminds me of those memes wondering how we ever survived the 1970’s.
    *The world becoming smaller with the highways. The school closing and consolidating with Hargrave and Port William fading away even more than it already had. Progress isn’t always progressive is it? It depends on which side of the highway you’re on. When cars came people went to Hargrave. When the highway came Louisville wasn’t as far away as it once was.
    *Burley once again taking care of Jayber by offering the use of his cabin on the river.

    There’s a lot of mourning in this chapter. For people, home and simplicity. And another new beginning for Jayber. But as he says, “the world goes on.”


    1. I felt the loss of Athey, too, and poor Mattie losing two of her children . . .
      It does seem as if that time span in which Jayber is writing saw the beginning of a rocketing push toward change, and we’re still experiencing it with technology needing to be updated every year in order to avoid obsolescence.
      My hope is to gain perspective on the aging process through Jayber’s eyes.
      I’m glad you’ve joined the party, Christy! You’ve been so amazingly faithful to this process — and can you believe we’re nearly through the book??


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