Faith at Work LV

February 2009

At the end of February we remember George Herbert, a priest and poet from the seventeenth century. He is well known for several poems that are still sung as hymns today; we finished with one at the end of the January article. The second verse of that poem says:

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heav’n espy.

I hope you’ll forgive the male emphasis and the old fashioned language; that’s not what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to ponder what we see and what it leads us to. Herbert continues and draws links between the physical world and the potential to which it can aspire through the influence of the creator. There is far more to life than what we can see or sense.

There is also a connection that can be made between the work that we do and the quality of our output. In the case of manufactured products that I see every week, there is a whole range of techniques in use for arriving at the finished part, some operations are the direct result of people and their skills; others are entirely controlled by robots and their governing software. Which is better, man or machine? It turns out that there is variability in all operations and this leads to the need for a quality function that checks the part against what was intended. Even a robot encounters wear and material variations in the operations that it is set up to perform, so we need to check them just as much as handcrafted tasks. There was a car ad. in the early 1980s, if I remember aright, which used the strap line: “Man and machine in perfect harmony” – in truth, we’re still working at it.

The annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures last year came to some surprising conclusions about the ability of humans to outperform computers for certain classes of problem. There were examples of the opposite too; speed of logical processing or large arithmetic evaluation is something we can safely leave to the computers, but when something needs to be visually recognised or a bit of intuition applied, the computers will flounder if not guided by their human master. Herbert takes the principle one step further and brings God into the equation, considering Him to be the true source of our creative action and energy; that would surely give us the Midas touch, as Herbert concludes:

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

So, we pray that our physical actions may be guided by the spiritual inspiration of the One who made us.

This site was developed to contain work by Mike Fox relating to the WMMTC course
and subsequent experience during ministry in the parish of Codsall and the BCUIM.
This page was last updated on 2009-01-06

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