This afternoon, I went with our math teacher and the twelve kids that make up our little high school to a machine shop which is owned by the parents of one of the students. The teacher wanted the kids to go so they could see that math gets used in the real world. I went because I like seeing cool stuff and it meant I didn’t have to teach fifth and sixth periods.
I had never been in a machine shop before. The owner took us all through the 25,000 square foot plant, explaining what they did and showing us a bunch of pretty amazing machines and the amazing people who ran them. One machine, which was twenty feet long, had a tray into which they fed fifteen foot long stainless steel rods, which were about an inch and a half in diameter. The rods met up with a rotating head that held twenty different tools. Every minute and a half, the machine would produce a finished piece, about two inches long, that had a flat top, a threaded side, and a hollow core; it was used in fire suppression equipment on the underside of buses. They make about 10,000 of them a month. The little piece was a work of art.
Later on, we were in the room where they cleaned and packaged the various pieces for shipment to their customers. There was a box of the same pieces we had seen made.
“We are washing these by hand right now,” he said, “but you’ll see in a minute what we are making so we can clean them in our sonic bath” (it used sound waves in the water to do the cleaning). Sure enough, in the next room there was a guy operating a big machine that was drilling holes in a piece of half-inch plastic to make a tray to hold the first pieces so they could go in the sonic bath. I asked why they needed to do that. The owner went on to explain that at the company that uses them there are a group of about fifteen women who put the parts together by hand. They expect the pieces to be a certain way and, if they are not, they women get upset. Recently, it seems, there had been some problems with the consistency of cleanliness, at least to the women who were receiving the parts.
“I’ve known the owner of that company for twenty years,” he said, “and we’ve had that account a long time. But if I don’t make sure those women who deal with the parts are happy, it doesn’t matter who I know. We’ll lose the account.”
I was glad to hear who had his ear.
In the last couple of days, the news has come that our government has passed a law allowing horses to be slaughtered and sold for human consumption and another allowing the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens without charges. Even this week, Congress is flinching at extending the payroll tax holiday though they had no problem making sure their tax breaks for the elite rich in our country were extended last year. The Occupy protesters have been run out of their camps in parks around the country as though they were some kind of threat, and many arrested, though not one of the bankers and financial people who brought the country to the point that people had to protest have even been charged. In this machine shop that is our country, no one is listening to the women, or the men, in the supply room. Our leaders appear to hear and see no one but themselves and those who write big checks.
Too political for Advent? Sorry. The connection for me is that the entire drama of the Incarnation unfolded in the supply room. From Mary to Elizabeth to Joseph to shepherds to innkeepers and immigrant star-gazers, Jesus was born among those who were not policy makers or job creators or people too big to fail. I know I am far from the first to make this observation, nor is it the first Advent it has crossed my mind, but something about thinking of that one woman complaining to the point that it changed the way the companies did business gave me hope, even as I sometimes despair at the lack of leadership and vision in our country.
I don’t think America will save the world or that it is essential for us to stay “the greatest” for the world to survive. I do think the love of God that had the audacity to become incarnate in a poor couple’s kid will save us all if we are willing to find our way to the manger. Whatever happens in our world, more will be changed by people camping in parks together and eating dinners together and sharing food with one another and looking out for each other than by any grandiose gesture of government or multinational conglomerate.
The Bible tells me so.
P. S. — After I posted this I read that the Senate killed the proposal in the bill that would have allowed for indefinite detention of US citizens outside of the country (as in Guantanamo) but the Senate defeated an amendment that explicitly said it was illegal to do so.