I recently had my third visit with Mike, the woodworker who has taken me under his wing in a mentoring relationship. The plan of the day was for him to show me how to build cabinets. We planned out what dimensions would make sense in his shop and gathered the wood from his cache. Since this is a shop cabinet, we won’t be too worried about the beauty of it, but Mike’s expectation is to end up with a piece that is sturdy and built to perform its function for years to come.

The cabinet is actually two identical cabinets, each with double doors. The intention is that the two pieces will match each other and be attached together side by side. Mike made the first front piece with my assistance. He let me cut boards to size with his table saw and his miter saw and cut out notches for rabbet joints with his band saw, all with close supervision and instruction. Once that was done, he fit the pieces together, glued them and affixed them with brad nails as well as pegs into the holes we drilled into the wood. Mike uses very little metal in his woodshop.

Then he told me to make the matching front piece. The boards were already cut to length. All I needed to do was make the joining notches, measuring thrice, cutting once, and then put the front together, along with the cross board held in place by a peg into the drilled hole that had to be perfectly placed.

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

(Proverbs 15:32-33 ESV)

My cabinet front turned out better than anything I’ve made before, but was… imperfect. To say the least. One of my peg holes was off a little because of the way I was holding the drill. Some of my rabbet notches were a bit askew because I was pushing too hard on the band saw. Those were both easily fixed. I am not all that handy with tools, which is why I reached out to him in the first place. Then I put the front together, glued it and brad nailed it together. Rather than walk around the piece, I reached across it. And after I did that Mike checked that joint and one of the sides was off by about a 16th of an inch. If it’s held together by sticky glue, that’s no big deal. If the glue is dry you can break the bond and reapply. But this was brad nailed together.

“A la brava,” Mike said.

“What’s that?” I responded.

A la brava. It’s Spanish. It means to do something with haste, but not with skill or understanding. Much of what you do you do too quickly. You don’t slow down and make sure everything is perfect before you continue. You don’t think ahead to the next step. You over apply yourself on the tools rather than letting them do the work because you allow yourself to work out of position. That’s a la brava.”

I nodded in my understanding and he continued to tell me a few stories about when he was in some hot situations in Vietnam. These were stories of how American servicemen injured themselves and other servicemen because they didn’t think about their actions. They just reacted according to their fear or their bravado, but not according to their training or the council of those around them. Some of them did not return home.

We vacuumed the shop thoroughly as we do each week, then we agreed to meet next Saturday unless something comes up. With the holiday weekend,  I imagine a veteran like Mike would be fine having the Saturday off over the Independence Day weekend and I’m considering it since we have family coming into town.

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5 ESV)

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “a la brava.” Working in an environment of zero defects has been a goal in my career at various companies, but overall efficiency has really been the name of the game. If you can do a task 95% as well as the next guy, but can do it 30% faster you are likely to be praised. Of course you are instructed to improve the quality of your work. But if you do quality work but can’t keep up with the production expectations you may have to find another occupation before too long. It is an example of many companies rewarding a measure of “a la brava.”

When a car company discovers a flaw in their design, they typically don’t issue a recall right away. Before they do, they measure the financial cost of how much it would cost for them to fix the problem and weigh that against any class action lawsuit they might encounter as a result of the flaw. This is a regular occurrence and is an example of companies weighing the pros of “a la brava” against the financial consequences.

A la brava pervades our culture. Rather than understanding something, it is common to just Google the topic and skim through the first few results. If you really want to go in depth on the matter you check to see if there’s a Wikipedia article about it. We seek surface level knowledge, but wisdom seems to take a greater investment than we are willing to make in too many cases. There are exceptions, but everybody has an example of “a la brava” in their life. It is the human condition.

This doesn’t mean that people should aspire to be experts in every topic. It does mean that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It means that if you don’t have time to do something correctly the first time you won’t have time to fix it or redo it later. It means that you need to measure thrice and cut once. It means that you need to take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you. It means that you should be in a proper position when using your tools. It means that you should work over your project, not off to the side of it reaching across it when you can’t see what the result of your actions will be, even if they end up only a fraction of an inch off.

It’s time for this generation (defined as anyone reading this) to recognize areas of “a la brava” in our own lives and to demand better of ourselves. I have heard people not only blame their failures on their laziness, but they also seem proud of the fact. This should not be so! We were not created for “a la brava” and I will go so far as to say that this state of mind is only present in us as a result of the fall.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Our mandate as Christians is to do all things to the glory of God. And one way to do just that is to seek out aspects of “a la brava” in our own lives and root them out. There is no place for “a la brava” to reside uncontested in lives that are meant to be lived to the glory of God. Working against these tendencies and to the glory of God, is an act of daily worship that anyone can do, whether they are woodworking, stuck in a cubicle somewhere, folding laundry, or faithfully checking the neighbor’s mail while they’re on vacation.

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24 ESV)

One Comment

  • For the record, multi-tasking is “a la brava.” Do one thing, do it well, do it to completion. Then do the next thing if you have time to complete that step.

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