‘Changing the world’ is a grandiose phrase we often bandy around, but most of us struggle to believe our small acts of random kindness can have much of an impact on anyone and therefore deal daily with a sense of worthlessness which can be as sapping as the recent humid heat.
This past week I have visited an unobtrusive museum in Birmingham which tells the history of pen manufacture in that city.
Pen manufacturing seems an unlikely topic for world revolution and yet the manufacture of pen nibs in the 18th and 19th centuries revolutionised literacy in the entire world. From these factories in Birmingham, 90% of American schoolchildren received the means to learn to write and 75% of the whole world gained access to a pen – and therefore access to the wonderful world of writing. In our days of mass-produced ballpoint pens (another revolution not dealt with in this particular museum!) and computers which render the physical art of writing virtually obsolete, it’s easy to overlook the revolutionary nature of a metal nib when compared to writing with a feather quill.
Sheffield-based cutlers facing a slump in their trade moved to Birmingham and found a new use for their metal skills. A pen nib used to cost enough to be accessible only to the privileged rich; their technology meant a gross (144 nibs) could be produced for the same price as one nib previously cost. Each factory worker produced approximately 18,000 nibs per day. This quiet revolution proved the maxim ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’! The museum holds so many nibs, it’s overwhelming to see – and the marketing of these became a work of art in itself.
As a wordsmith who loves to write, this museum was a delight to behold and a testament to people whose fame had happily passed me by until that moment. It reminded me that God can use our skills and talents for His glory, however obscure, insignificant or irrelevant they may seem to us. It also showed me that significance and worth simply cannot be measured in boxes, as the pen nibs were! Only God sees the measure of what we do and invests in it its true worth.
Nowadays in the same area of Birmingham, the streets are full of jewellery shops which measure the worth of precious stones in thousands of pounds. Frankly, I can’t understand how anyone can afford such jewellery or why a particular stone has that particular worth. But this is why we have to allow God to measure our offerings and why we must trust Him with our most precious gift: the offering of ourselves, our talents and time, to Him.