What have I been doing during the pandemic? Chopping wood. Sure, I’ve been teaching online like every other college professor, I was even fortunate enough to receive tenure and a promotion to full professor, but social distancing has given me the opportunity to expand my marketable skills. To celebrate I bought a used chainsaw and a splitting axe. So, I’ve been chopping wood. This past week I started a second wood pile, cutting some trees felled by a tornado a few years back. Under a blue Minnesota sky, with a warm southern breeze pushing the temp into the 70’s, I chopped wood. There’s nothing more fulfilling than a good solid cut—hitting the log’s sweet spot, splitting it into nice pieces of firewood. The physical exertion, including the inability to move later in the evening, is life giving. So, too, is building the wood pile. I’m a novice, so my piles are a work in progress, but I’m not searching for perfection, just looking for connection.

I am an academic, so reading and writing is an important part of my life. In between cutting up trees I’ve been reading Kierkegaard, reflecting on the difference between the “knight of resignation” and the “knight of faith”. The first abdicates responsibility for this world by focusing solely on the eternal, the transcendent, the “life to come”. The second goes further, insisting that God’s promise is for this temporal world, not the next. Faith is not found in empty religious rhetoric; faith is found in an obedience to God that pushes us back into this world, back to the lives of real people and temporal, material, life.

Recently, I bought the book Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. The author quotes Henry David Thoreau: “Every [person] looks at the wood pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and more chips [around the chopping block] the better to remind me of my pleasing work.” There’s a beauty in chopping wood that reminds us of our humanity during this time of fear and anxiety. It also serves as a wonderful metaphor for a faith that cuts through the pious distractions that are everywhere during this time when the knights of resignation reign. What can we do during this time of pandemic? We can chop wood, build stacks, lead diaper drives, share food with our neighbors, love our kids even as we drag them to the end of the school year, and we make a difference in the lives of real people. The life of faith is not glamorous, it’s not ladder climbing, it’s not even making a difference that is acknowledged for all to see. True faith is the journey to Mount Moriah, and it’s the way of the cross. True faith is about this temporal life, so please, wear a mask.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

3 Comments

  • stan seagren says:

    Thank you Jason!
    Fitting words for Ascension Day as we do God’s will “on earth as in heaven.”
    I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time” about 2 lumberjacks out of work who come along to have Frost pay them for chopping wood, work he does for the joy of it:
    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

  • Clyde Rinsema says:

    Enjoyed your reflection. I cut wood back in Pella for my wood burning stove. Also still enjoy the Beatle’s song by that name. Hope you are doing well. Congratulations on tenure. Blessings!

  • Nolan Palsma says:

    Russian proverb: He who cuts his own wood warms himself twice.

Leave a Reply