The Sculpture Class

Image by the doodlers via Flickr

When we are confronted with a mystery, a place where opposing view points both seem right, the best we can do is illuminate the fact that there are truths on both sides.

I have some guesses for maybe how this could be.

But the thing I want to say up front is that I’ve seen prayer work.  I believe that God does change his plan, sometimes.  People get what they have asked for, sometimes.  I think they would not have gotten it if they had not prayed.

Permit me an image.

Imagine that a bunch of people walk in to what appears to be an art studio.  There are these tremendous, roughly rectangular blocks of granite.  There are tools.  Not particularly good tools.  But they are tools.

The instructor is watching silently from the back of the room.  He watches as his well-meaning students decide that this must be some kind of sculpting class.

And so they begin.

They aren’t particularly good sculptors.  They put lots of work into chiseling away at the blocks.   They work and work and work at it.  For months, perhaps.  Maybe for years.  Showing up and sculpting, for some inexplicable reason, becomes the center point of their lives.

When all is said and done, Some of them chisel the blocks away into nothing.  Some of them know when to stop.  You can even tell what a few of them actually sculpted.  There is enough resemblance to figure it all out.

Eventually, the teacher reviels to the students his identity.  Some of the students show off their works of art.  Others hide their heads in their hands weeping.  They are ashamed of what they have created.

The student who thought of himself as the most gifted asks, “Do we have a show, somewhere?  Is there a gallery that will allow us to display these?”

The teacher laughs at the young man.  He was marginally better than his fellow students.  But he still has lots to learn.

“A gallery?  No, actually I’ll be piling whatever remains of your granite slabs in the back of my pickup truck this afternoon and drop them off at the dump.”

“What?” Exclaims the “best” student.  “You can’t do that!  I’ve worked so hard on this, for all this time!  If you throw away our works of art, there was never any point at all.”

And the teacher looked at the student.  And his little scultpture.  And he put his hands out, and he said “Give me your tools.”

The student did.

“When you began, you had a chisel that was little more than a hunk of metal.  Through your time here in this class, you have honed the tip to the perfect sharpness.  When you began with the hammer, it had a flat head.  But as time has gone on, after those thousands of times of striking the chisel, the very head of the hammer itself has taken on the shape of the top of the chisel.”

He paused and turned the hammer over.  “The handle of the hammer was smooth and round when it began.  Now?  Now this is your hammer alone.  Look how the wood has come to be shaped to the very contours of your hand.”  He put the tools down and opened the student’s hand.  “And your hand!  It was soft and weak when you began.  You have grown these callouses in all the right places.  The muscles and tendons have grown tight and firm.  Your body has learned the difference between slicing a sliver of granite off the block and splitting it in half.  Your mind has learned to see the grain of the stone itself.  Your imagination has been trained to work in the three dismensions.”

“The thing that we call art?  The thing we leave behind?  That’s just a side effect.  In this case, quite frankly… Not a very good one.  This was never about what you were making of the granite slab.  It was about what you were making of yourselves, of your tools.  It was laying the groundwork for what may come later… and that which may come later, it could be very great indeed.”


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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