Potter/Clay

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; I Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-32

Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

Pottery clay is stiff and unyielding. To form a pot, you must work the clay, kneading in the natural oils, strength and wisdom of your hands. Without these, a lump of clay dries out and crumbles. It takes a lot of work, time, skill and care to turn a lump of clay into anything useful or beautiful.

God and us, a potter and clay. Who knows what shape we will take?Rest assured, it’s the shape we were meant to have. Rest assured, it will be more than useful and beautiful: it will be holy.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered on November 30, 2014

Seating

“It’s a full train. Move your things off the seats to make room for others.”

Amtrak announcement

Just as Manhattan was coming into view, a conductor’s voice said these words. Some passengers were getting off at Penn Station, but many more were boarding. As people stood in the aisle to get off, some riders moved into their newly vacated seats. The odd thing? In spite of the announcement, many who moved placed their belongings on the empty seat next to their own. Ten minutes later, new passengers boarded. Several of the seated passengers only moved their belongings off empty seats after being asked by someone who needed a seat.

I sat next to four people on my trip to and from New Jersey – a public school teacher/administrator, a vacationer, a man going home to New Rochelle, and a senior from Tufts returning from a job interview. Two were seated when I boarded, two sat down next to me; none of us had taken up a second seat with our things, and all of us offered a friendly greeting and direct eye contact right away.

What if we’d filled the empty seat with our things, only clearing it when absolutely necessary? I doubt that I’d have sat next to the same four people. When entering the train, I looked for an empty seat. Sitting next to someone who acts like I’m a major imposition isn’t nearly as appealing as the courtesy of a passenger who has already made room for me before being forced into it. Since the empty seat next to me was filled almost immediately when passengers got on at Penn Station, I think others felt the same way.

I understand the appeal of extra room and solitude. An empty seat means no violation of personal space. But I’m not entitled to that extra space; if I’m carrying so much stuff that one seat and the luggage rack isn’t enough, then maybe I should leave some of my baggage at home. Good companions on the journey may be more than a matter of luck: they may be the gift that comes only when I make a space and receive them courteously. A life lesson, courtesy of Amtrak.

Privacy Please

I spent two days in New Jersey this week, attending a symposium in honor of a friend and mentor. I stayed in guest housing on a seminary campus and found these words hanging on my doorknob. I’d never seen such a sign.

Maybe there isn’t much difference between “do not disturb” and “privacy please.” Both are asking for the luxury of sleeping in without interruption, regardless of the usual housekeeping schedule.

I much prefer “privacy please”; I’m asking a favor from someone I’ve never met, causing inconvenience if not additional work. The least I can do is ask politely…

For more on Use Your Words, click “About.”

Profession

A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.

(New Oxford American Dictionary)

My high school violin teacher disagreed with this understanding of profession. “Your profession is what you do with excellence and respect, whether or not you make money.” Dedication to craft and pursuit of excellence were the hallmarks of a true profession, payment for services rendered a secondary matter.

I prefer this second definition. It involves dedication and a deep connection to a field and its practice. It also honors people who offer their services for the good of the world rather than the increase of their fortune.

My field is theology, seeking to understand and proclaim the presence of God in this good creation. It’s full of wonder and mystery, poetry and sacred texts. It’s also full of required reading so dull and so poorly written that purgatory becomes a believable concept. It usually falls into a different, less common definition of profession: a declaration of belief in a religion. Oddly enough, this is found under a general definition that goes like this:

An open but often false declaration or claim

(New Oxford American Dictionary)

This is a cautionary tale. To claim a profession which involves the sacred, and to earn a living doing so, is walking a narrow path. To profess the faith is one thing, to treat God and others as tools of the trade something else entirely. Sacred things and the holiness of all living creatures should be approached with humility, and the work involved done with fear and trembling. Otherwise it will surely earn the adjective false.

Psalm 115

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;

they make no sound in their throats.

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.

If I’m not careful, what I make with my hands becomes my heart’s treasure and my soul’s captor. The idols I make in my own image and to my own glory unmake me. My eyes turn blind, hands numb, voice silent; I harden into stone, by all accounts dead to the world.

The real zombie apocalypse isn’t the special effects and make-up drama seen on big and small screens – it’s walking through this world untouched by its God given beauty and unmoved by compassion for God created others. And the worst part of this living damnation? It’s self-inflicted.

Do Not Leave Unattended

Yankee Candle Label

It’s not the first time I’ve read them, and it’s not the only place I’ve seen them. They can be found at swimming pools and public beaches (add children), library signs (add personal items), and parks (add pet). But today I’m giving them more than a passing consideration. Words found in so many places deserve a second glance.

I’m reliably responsible. I don’t leave home before blowing out the candles, I understand the beauty and danger of water, I keep my belongings with me, and I don’t let dogs run loose in public spaces. But these words carry more than a warning- they carry wisdom:

Attend. Pay attention. A flame started and deserted can go from warmth to conflagration. A child neglected breaks, inside and out. Seeking knowledge while ignoring the rest of life leads to loss, not wisdom. Cleaning up messes comes with every living thing.

These words apply to me, too. If I leave my life unattended, my days and years go up in smoke, my spirit drowns in worry, I get lost in the stacks, and the mess I make will be a burden to others. Lucky for me, these words can be found almost anywhere.