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I've made a bat that didn't bat, but I've never made a guitar that didn't guitar!

I fancy myself as a luthier--a maker of guitars and other stringed instruments. Many things in life stress me out, but guitar-making is not one of them. In fact, I have a rule in my shop: there are no mistakes; just design opportunities. This has helped me keep my sanity when something ends up being sawn a little too short or winds up somewhat off center. Indeed, I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how to turn a mistake into a work of art.


I also make wooden baseball bats. However, unlike guitars, bats are a little less forgiving, believe it or not. Some mistakes with a bat just cannot be corrected. If you cut the bat too narrow, there's no way to add wood. If you cut it too short, there's no way to add length. If there is a weak spot in the wood, there is no way to strengthen it. If the bat ends up the wrong shape, and you've taken it off the lathe, there's really no way to get it to the proper shape. When bats end up with a mistake that cannot be corrected, they are called "blem bats," and they are cast away, never to be used on the diamond. And, yes, I've made some of these "bats that don't bat" in my time. In fact, one sits in my bedroom even to this day. It looks ok at first glance, but I know that it is imperfect and unworthy of the game.


Why are simple wooden bats so easily "unredeemable" while complex guitars provide so much room for error? Well, I believe it is because the complexity of guitars leaves the luthier with options. At any given point, the guitar says to the luthier, "Where do you want to go now? There are many diverging paths; which would you like to take?" Thus, when the luthier makes a mistake that closes down one path, he simply takes another. The bat, on the other hand, is so very simplistic (just one solid piece of wood) that it provides very few options at any point during its build. There are only so many ways to make a bat! So, if the bat-maker makes a mistake that closes down one path, there may be no other paths to take. In such cases, the project is lost.


When I think about guitars vs. blem bats, I cannot help but think about the contemporary church. Though many churches and Christian organizations (e.g., Christian universities, charities, etc.) could act as guitars and be design opportunities--works of art in the hands of the Master luthier, ready to be taken down different paths as they encounter the various setbacks of life--they instead operate as blem bats--unredeemable because they willfully accept simplistic, monolithic existences. Blem bat churches and Christian organizations too narrowly focus on prestige, financial gain, political clout, or other selfish, self-serving endeavors that, when they fail, leave the churches or organizations with nowhere to go. Guitar churches and organizations, on the other hand, focus on the things of God, which leaves them a lot of room for growth, lateral movement, failure, and change without "giving up the ghost." Guitar churches and organizations never get relegated to the blem pile because, well, they never blem. They just become something new.


I have made quite a few woodworking projects in my day. And I have made some bats that didn't bat. But I've never made a guitar that didn't guitar. I'm kind of sad about the former, but the latter gives me a great deal of peace. I guess God can say the same about his church.


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