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Blacksmith's Ancient Swords Illustrate Excellence

In his book Deep Work, author Cal Newport provides an example of excellence—a blacksmith from Wisconsin named Ric Furrer. Furrer specializes in ancient and medieval metalworking practices, which he painstakingly re-creates in his shop, Door County Forgeworks. A PBS documentary shows Furrer trying to re-create a Viking-era sword. He begins by using a fifteen-hundred-year-old technique to smelt crucible steel. The result is an ingot, which must then be shaped and polished into a long and elegant sword blade. "This part, the initial breakdown, is terrible," Furrer says as he methodically heats the ingot, hits it with a hammer, turns it, hits it, then puts it back in the flames to start over. It takes eight hours of this hammering to complete the shaping.

It's clear that he's not drearily whacking at the metal like a miner with a pickaxe: Every hit, though forceful, is carefully controlled. He peers intently at the metal, turning it just so for each impact. "You have to be very gentle with it or you will crack it," he explains. "You have to nudge it; slowly it breaks down; then you start to enjoy it." At one point, he lifts the sword, red with heat, as he strides swiftly toward a pipe filled with oil and plunges in the blade to cool it. After a moment of relief that the blade did not crack into pieces—a common occurrence at this step—Furrer pulls it from the oil. Furrer holds the burning sword up above his head with a single powerful arm and stares at it a moment before blowing out the fire. He says, "To do it right, it is the most complicated thing I know how to make. And it's that challenge that drives me. I don't need a sword. But I have to make them."

Possible Preaching Angles: (1) Excellence; Commitment; Work; Labor—doing our work as unto the Lord. (2) Sanctification; Spiritual Growth; Spiritual disciplines—putting time and effort into our spiritual growth, which is never a short and easy process.

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