The mysticism of the maker culture: Break open and share
Our liturgy celebrates important moments in Jesus’ early life. But when meditating on Jesus prior to his ministry, how often do we consider his livelihood? The Gospels of Mark and Matthew describe Jesus as a tektōn, traditionally translated as “carpenter” or “wood-worker.” Modern scholarship translates this Greek word as “craftsman,” “artisan,” or “builder.” Or, to adopt a term that participants in a growing movement today use — Jesus was a maker.
If you search the web for “maker movement,” you get myriad definitions for this most recent iteration of the do-it-yourself culture that includes designing and building techniques, from textile to technological trends. That it is difficult to define the maker movement underscores the point I will try to make: There is a mysticism of maker culture in which followers of Christ can encounter Jesus the Tektōn.
At San Diego’s annual Maker Faire the devout atheist and maker movement darling, Adam Savage of “Myth Busters,” gives his annual speech to the maker community. Makers have titled this anticipated event the “Sunday Sermon.” Though meant tongue-in-cheek, the title speaks to the religiosity of the annual in-gathering that has spawned a global movement. The religious person in general, and the Christian specifically, has something to gain from understanding this modern sub-culture in which a tektōn would feel at home.
Many makers value their technological and revolutionary roots in the hacker culture of 1970s garage clubs. Some are business people who see the movement as the newest mode of entrepreneurship. Others, hoping to break from a throwaway culture, see it as a rejection of mass production and return to when people built and repaired the things they needed and used. Then, there are those who simply delight in the act of making; like one maker I met at Kansas City’s 2017 Maker Faire who “just likes to make things that move.”
No matter what or why one makes, what binds this community together is a fundamental belief that we are all makers. We are made, after all, in the image of our Maker. Makers accept this existential truth and embrace the creative power within. Burdened only by imagination, they eagerly respond to life’s challenges and the world’s needs.
The maker movement welcomes all sorts of makers — builders and bakers, crafters and costume designers, engineers and electrophysiologists, farmers and funmakers. It draws people with different interests and skills from all genders, races and nationalities. It is an open system model with an open-source ethic.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of open-source “denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.” Beyond the borders of Silicon Valley, an open-source ethic has become the moral code of the maker movement, in general. This “maker’s code” stems from the belief that the things we make are meant, quite literally, to be broken open and shared. This is opposed to the “black box approach” employed by commercial manufacturers where the inner workings of their technology are inaccessible and hidden from consumers.
The open system and open-source ethic of maker culture is not unlike the catholicity of the early church. Evangelists like Paul also had an open-source sensibility. The Gospel spread and the body of Christ was “redistributed and modified” with each newly-founded Christian community. The freely shared experience of Christ not only transformed existing cultures, but shaped the Christian creed in ways unimaginable to the apostles.
Has the evangelizing mission of the church today remained open to the chaotic Spirit present at Pentecost? Or do we favor a controlled black box? Maker culture is defined by what it builds and remakes. Do we as church define ourselves by this same standard or by what we tear down and throw away? If the latter, we have lost sight of Jesus the Maker who builds the kingdom of heaven and remakes our relationship with God. I believe that the decidedly secular maker culture can help remind the modern church of who she is.
We are the imago dei — made for life, not for mere existence. In a tangible, intentional and sacramental way, we are creative participants in the unfolding of reality. While the maker movement’s mission is to make more makers, our mission as disciples is to make more disciples. We do this by demonstrating that all people are created in God’s image, that in Christ they are still being made, and that in communion with the Spirit they have the power to create a life-giving world.
Makers regularly gather together for show-and-tells. The casual observer would be mistaken to think the point is the project presented. The emphasis of maker culture is on the person of the maker and their story. Essential to the maker’s story are their failures and successes. These are not separate experiences but are intrinsically intertwined. Some projects die, giving rise to new knowledge, new methods and new projects.
Hope lies in the eventuality of a completed project that is yet to be fully imagined. Jesus the Tektōn understood this. This is our life in Christ and the paschal mystery we celebrate in our liturgy.
Celebration Publications - November 2017