Tag Archives: Intention

Lessons from Pottery Class

 

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

When our daughter was young she wanted to take a pottery class, so I signed us up for some father/daughter time learning to work clay. We journeyed one night a week to a pottery studio in an old warehouse space in Des Moines and proceeded to get our hands dirty. We didn’t produce anything and anyone would confuse with fine art. I made a cigar ash tray for a friend who, I believe, promptly threw it away. Taylor made clay replicas of a Taco John’s taco and an order of potato ole’s.

During our class we got to try our hand at the spinning wheel. Anyone who has tried it know that it is much more difficult than it looks. The clay is slippery and unpredictable. I often felt as if the clay itself had a mind of its own and was working against me. It collapses on you or falls apart in your hands. The slightest unintended movement reaps disastrous, unintended consequences. Watch even the best of potters at work and you’ll see them work the same lump of clay over and over and over again until they get the desired result.

In today’s chapter God speaks through the ancient prophet Isaiah and uses the metaphor of the potter and the clay. We are clay being fashioned by a Master at work. We each are being molded, moved, and squeezed by the Potter into our intended shape, form and purpose. We just might break, only to be reduced back to a lump so the process of becoming our intended work of functional art can begin anew.

This morning I am reminded of an old hymn. We used to sing it a lot on Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Its verses riff off Isaiah’s metaphor pretty well…

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
      Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will;
     While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Neither my daughter nor I actively pursued pottery after our class. Still, it was a fun experience together. The most important things I learned were less about art or craft and more about the things of the Spirit. Clay. That’s me. That’s my life. Dirty, messy, lumpy, and often quite wonky on the wheel. To be better clay — flexible, malleable, and yielding appropriately to the slightest of the Potter’s intentional touches. That’s my pursuit.

potters-wheel

A Spiritual Lesson from Acting 101

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James 2:18 (NRSV)

I’ve always believed that acting is the creation of an authentically believable character from the inside out. It is not just the manipulation of body and voice but the understanding of internal need, intention, motivation and thought which then translates into words, movement, and action.

My theatre professor in college taught us that one of the most important tools for the actor is observation. Watch people. We were sent to the local mall to watch people. Really watch them. It’s the Sherlock method of beginning to understanding character. What do you deduce from what you can readily observe in people? What can you tell about that couples’ relationship by the way they walk four feet apart? What does it say about them as a couple when she’s carrying on a conversation but her eyes are always looking over his shoulder at the people walking by? What is that teenager trying to say when he walks with that pronounced strut? Look at that old man, shoulders hunched over as if he’s protecting his soul, shuffling slowly with his eyes glued to the floor as though he’s afraid to look anyone in the eye. What in life led him to walk like that?

James’ discussion of faith and works in today’s chapter has created firestorms of controversy among theologians throughout the centuries. Some have even suggested pitching James’ letter from the canon of scripture altogether. Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it’s not of works. But James writes in today’s chapter that faith without works is worthless faith. So, which is it?

I’ve never been that stressed out about seeming contradiction. Following Jesus is a journey fraught with paradoxes. You have to die to live. You must lose in order to gain. You must give away to acquire. Faith and works is just another spiritual paradox in God’s economy. Theatre learned long ago the spiritual principle required for holding the tension. It’s called “Yes, and.” Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and yes, faith without works is worthless faith.

James was simply tapping in to Acting 101 class. Watch yourself. Really watch yourself. I should observe myself as others do. What do my words say about me? What can someone deduce from the way I treat my employees, my family, or as James suggests, the poor and needy? My inner spiritual realities are evidenced in my outside behaviors. If I really believe what I say I believe, the internal faith will continually work itself out in my words, actions, and relationships.

This morning I am feeling convicted. The process of honest self observation is never comfortable. Though I’m quite sure I have blind spots, I know most of my major shortcomings acutely. A self-inventory leads me to uncomfortable conclusions. And, I think that’s also ultimately James’ point. Discomfort prompts change, which creates movement, which propels me further in the journey towards Life. Comfort prompts apathy, which creates stagnation, which eventually becomes death.

Faith or works?

Yes.

Taking the Blinders Off

If any of you sin without knowing it, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, you have incurred guilt, and are subject to punishment.
Leviticus 5:17 (NRSV)

I received an e-mail from a front-line manager of one of our clients. In a regular report that went to the executive team I had mentioned something that caused an executive Vice-President of the company to question the front-line manager’s handling of one particular circumstance. This caught the manager off guard and caused the manager to feel thrown under the bus. It had never been my intention to do so, and I honestly had not anticipated that my report would create the executive’s concern.

My initial human reaction was defensive. My report was accurate. I said nothing that was untrue. I was only doing my job. I couldn’t have anticipated how the report would be received. Yada, yada, yada…. My excuses did nothing to address the unintended injury. I quickly responded with a sincere apology and I committed to being more aware in the future and to letting the manager know if anything in my future reports might create similar questions.

Along life’s journey, I’ve observed that we often plod along with blinders on, unaware (or unconcerned) how our words and actions may affect others. When confronted, I have noted that our natural human reaction is usually the same as mine in this case: excuse, shift blame, and/or deflect personal responsibility.

Today’s chapter is a list of ways the ancient sacrificial system God established through Moses addressed mistakes we as humans with our blinders on:

  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 2)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 3)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 4)
  • When you realize your guilt… (vs. 5)
  • When any of you commit a trespass and sin unintentionally… (vs. 14)

The message is clear. Just because I am unaware of something I have done does not excuse me from responsibility for my words and actions. Guilt is not excused by ignorance or self-justification.

This morning as I read, I must confess that I found myself mulling over a few things others have recently said and done that pissed me off. Words and actions that created problems for myself and others. I thought of the human blinders we wear and the way these individuals act unaware, excuse their behavior, shift blame, and avoid responsibility. Then, I remembered the e-mail and my initial reaction to it. I have my own blinders. People are people. We are all guilty of unintended injuries, even to those we love most in this world.

Today I’m thinking of ways I can take the blinders off as I journey through the day. I want to be more aware of my words and my actions, and the potential or their unintended effects.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Haunted by a Seemingly Simple Question

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
John 5:6 (NRSV)

As I journey again and again through God’s Message, there are certain words, phrases, and stories that haunt me. Every time I encounter them they impact my spirit in a profound way. I can’t escape them. They come to mind at random times. And, despite the perpetual impact I always sense that the full truth of them continue to elude me.

In today’s chapter, it’s the simple question Jesus asks of a paralytic who, for 38 years, had lain on his mat next to a pool that was rumored to have healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

Really, Jesus? Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I make my family carry me here every day for 38 years hoping for a miracle. I sit here every day. This is my life. And, you want to know if I want to get well. What a silly question.

But it’s not silly at all. I have learned along life’s road, and from my own experience, that my true motives are often hidden beneath carefully crafted appearances. I say I want healing, but the truth is I am content in my sickness. I complain about our sicknesses, weaknesses, and shortcomings , but I’ve become so used to living with them that I’m secretly afraid of life without them. I complain about my paralysis, but if actually do learn to walk my family is going to expect me to actually get a job. Hm.

Being a victim comes with addictive perks that we don’t really talk about.

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s a lot more to that question than it seems. There are layers of questions in those six words. Many of them are uncomfortable questions I’m not sure I want asked. Today, I’m once again haunted by a seemingly simple question Jesus asked.

New Places, New Faces: Wisdom Required

meredithWhen David’s envoys came to Hanun in the land of the Ammonites to express sympathy to him, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his envoys come to you only to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?” 1 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)

I’ll never forget seventh grade. That was the first year of what used to be called Junior High School and is now generally referred to as Middle School. All of the local elementary schools fed into Meredith Junior High. For seven years I had attended school with pretty much the same group of kids. We knew each other. We’d grown up together. Now, we were all dispersed among four or five times the number of kids from all over town.

I can remember the anxiety that came with those early days of seventh grade. You feel awkward enough as it is when you’re twelve or thirteen years old, but then to be placed in a new school with a host of new kids you didn’t know could feel disconcerting. I met all sorts of new friends. Some were positive influences on me, others not so much.

I thought about those days as I read inexperienced Prince Hanun taking the throne and filling his fathers shoes. I have no idea how old Hanun was, but I pictured him as a young man suddenly thrust into leadership and his commanders all jockeying for favor with the new monarch. They whispered in his year during a time of anxiety and fear. Hanun proved ignorant, or foolish, or both. He listened to the wrong advice and it cost him his crown.

Being in a new place can be a scary time. Whether it’s living in a new community, attending a new school, or working at a new job, there is a certain period of time it takes to get oriented and learn the ropes. You also tend to meet a lot of new people who have a whole lot of advice for you emanating from their own self-serving agendas. This morning I am reminded that wisdom and discernment are greatly needed during these stretches of life’s journey. New “friends” you meet in these situation often prove the great wisdom I learned from Looney Tunes as a kid: “With a friend like that, who needs enemies?”

To-morrow, and To-morrow, and To-morrow

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.
Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)

  • When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
  • When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
  • When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
  • When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
  • When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.

It was never  my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.

As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.

Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.

Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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Chapter-a-Day John 5

The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Mar...
The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Marten de Vos, ca. 1585, from the Bowyer Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:6 (NLT)

It seems like such a silly question to ask a paralytic sitting by a pool that, as the legend goes, had miraculous healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

I’ve found this to be one of the most haunting questions in all of scripture, because it cuts right to the heart of my motives, my desires, and my true willingness to act on them. What I say I want and what my life and actions reveal that I want are daily revealed to be two different things.

“Do you want to get well?”

I do, but maybe I’d rather be sick than have get a job. I like the attention and sympathy I get from others, and the disability check is nice.

“Do you want to get sober?”

I do, but tomorrow after I finish off this last bottle.

“Do you want to work?”

Yes! Are you kidding?! I’ve been searching for months, but I can’t find the job I want (the one that pays me a lot of money, gives great benefits, and doesn’t demand too much of me).

Do you want to know God?”

I do! But, I kind of want a God that fits my lifestyle. I don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to deal with guilt or anything like that. I want to know God, just as long as it’s all positive. You know, answering my prayers and blessing me and loving me and all that stuff without expecting too much of me.

 

I find it interesting that today’s chapter starts with a physically crippled man and ends with spiritually crippled men. Jesus asks the paralytic about his motives and heart desire about getting physically well, then His act of healing reveals the motives and heart desire of those who say they wanted to get spiritually well – but refused the One God had sent who was standing in their midst.

Today, I’m thinking about all of the things I say I desire … but don’t act accordingly. God, forgive me. It’s a good day to make a change.