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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Dyer's Hand

"My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the Dyer's hand..."

--Shakespeare, Sonnett 111

Thirty-odd years ago, I once worked for about a year, off-and-on, as a proofreader for a printing house. I mean print as in moveable, lead type.

What else do you do with a BA in English?

On a daily basis, I focussed my attention on fonts, leadings, justifications, type sizes, and getting all these exactly to the spec the client wanted. As the weeks rolled past, I noticed I was noticing the world in a different way, as through a filter. The filter I saw the world through  highlighted all the qualities of all print that came into my field of vision. I noticed that the type on my cereal box was in Garamond, probably 11 point, with a 10 point leading.  That the city fathers of Baltimore had in their wisdom chosen Helvetica as the most easily recognizable typeface for street signs (it isn't). And I began to fall hopelessly in love with Book Antiqua Italic.

Isn't she beautiful?
 A little of that filter has stayed with me all these years.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that you'd better watch what you do with your attention.

The more attentively your mind engages in a cognitive practice, over and over, the more the neural pathways change, and you physcially become what you do, like the dyer's hand becoming the colour of its trade. Dip your mind routinely into an action, and presto, it's blue (or something)!

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Regular readers of this blog will have noted that it's been almost a month since my last blog, ('and these are my sins')....I have been giving my attention to a new kind of work. Regular readers will note that the subtitle has changed to include a new, contractually correct job title. I am not yet a 'Minister' so it would be incorrect to call me "The Rev. Rob". I am not yet a Minister because no organisation--denominational or congregational-- has ordained me as one. 'Reverend' is not a title you can give yourself, obviously, as you must be revered by somebody else. (Healthy minds do, of course, have a measure of reverence for themselves, but that's in another sense of the word.)

The management committee of my congregation, after much deliberation and consultation, decided that the title 'Pastor' would be more politic, and I have to say I rather prefer it, with its bucolic overtones of shepherding flocks. It's especially apt as I do have a bit of experience raising sheep.

But that's pretty much where the aptness ends. Unitarians are many things, but they ain't sheep, and can't be herded into a homogenous mass like a mob of docile Merinos. No, though I am not A minister, what I DO is minister--that is, serve the needs of the congregation by writing and leading worship, providing spiritual direction, and providing pastoral care and concern. I'm not a minister, but that is what I do.

Anyone confused yet?

The nomenclature of job titles is as robustly defended, stratified, and contested in church organisations (actually, organisms) every bit as much as in the military. Unitarian congregational polity, however, is something of a modern-day wonder. It makes each church a kind of anarcho-syndicalist collective, subject only to its own rules and processes. This means my congregation could decide to call me the "Grand Imperial Fifth 'Dan' Muckety Muck and Poobah" had they so desired (thankfully they're far too sensible a lot for that). In the end, the work--that which I give my attention to on a daily basis--would be identical.

And the thing is, the title is something I wear to work in, but I can actually feel the work changing me a little already, three weeks into the year's contract. I don't quite have the words to describe it yet, but stay tuned...

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