Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beautiful rubbish

I like thrift stores, quite a lot. If I'm in the right mood, there's a scintillating challenge, like the great treasure hunts of childhood, in discovering little treasures that others have discarded. I'd like to say, for the record, that I dug thrift stores before they were cool. Before "vintage" things were in. I just wanted to get that out in the open, and now I can move on. But as I mentioned, as thrift stores are now cool and boutiques of "previously owned" clothing are popping up all over the place in the city, I'm not alone in feeling the thrill of finding my own creative expression in someone else's rejects. Now some may say this trickles straight down from the fashion experts to the magazine publishers to the people, like you and me, who buy into this propaganda, though we may protest we don't. I think this is partly true. But, without sounding too spiritual here, I think there's more to it than that. I think we inherited this eye for creative redemption from God.

I know we talk about God as the Creator, those of us who believe in Christian spirituality. It's so easy to read through the telling of creation in Genesis like it's nothing special. And God created the heavens and the earth, day and night, the water and the land, the fishes of the sea and the creatures of the air, plant life and animal life, man and woman. Yawn. We breathe out the words almost like we're running down a grocery list. Creator, check. All powerful, check. Provider, check. Redeemer, check. And so on. We talk about God the Creator as if it's an old story passed onto us from our father's father's father, and we weren't actually there of course, and it happened so long ago, remembering the one time that God was so creative. He's famous for it, that initial act of creating, but since then He's retired, and He doesn't create much anymore. The natural laws of science and reproduction create things. Gardening creates things. Artists create things. Entrepreneurs create things. God just sits back and supervises it all, chiming in every now and then. I guess I'm overexaggerating here for a reason. My point is, how often do we think of God as ridiculously, brilliantly, delightfully, magnificently creative in our every day lives?

I think if God had a house here in Seattle, it would be an old fixer-upper. A colorful one. With a beautiful garden and fruit trees (that we could eat from) and funky, cool pieces of art in the yard made out of someone else's junk. I think He'd have a huge wrap-around porch and a couple of swings, and there wouldn't be a fence or a huge wall of shrubbery encircling His yard for privacy. And of course, He would have some goats (the city of Seattle couldn't forbid God, of all people, from having goats in city limits now, could they?), and some chickens, and some dogs (to engage with the culture of Seattle-ites, no doubt). He'd be so organic, any green-composting-fair trade-free range-vegetarian-vegan person in Seattle would pale in comparison. But who compares themselves to God anyway? That'd be so silly.

But it wouldn't be just the outside of His house that was so eclectically beautiful, it would be the inside, too. Now, you may argue with me here, but I don't think God would go out and buy His home decor from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware or Crate and Barrel or Bed Bath and Beyond. I like these places, really I do, but I just don't think this is where God would get His decorations. I think He'd get them from the dump. Now, I'm not advocating that God is some sort of Divine cheapskate or that He's too poor to afford nice things. After all, He's got a reputation for "owning the cattle on a thousand hills," which must have meant something really grand to the ancient Hebrews at the time it was written, but not being part of a nomadic, agrarian culture, I can hardly appreciate the full impact of wealth that suggests. Still, I get the drift of the metaphor: He's infinitely wealthy. Moving right along.

What I'm saying is that I am convinced that God has a keen eye for creating beauty out of other people's rejects. He's the Great Recycler, incapable of discarding much as waste, capable of transforming any old, outdated, broken, scuffed up, stepped on, spotted, ordinary, shameful thing in our lives into something wonderfully useful and redeemed. He's the type of artist who gets a big kick out of taking something like a broken toilet - which I've seen some creative friends do in Philadelphia - and turning it into a flower pot. I know this with certainty because I've experienced His creative touch in the broken toilets of my life and I've heard and witnessed story after story of this same touch in other peoples' lives. Flowers blooming in toilets. Beauty from rubbish. It's brilliant. And that's just a start.

Yep, He's quite the Artist. And that is how His artistic expression flows through me. I write because I love to express truth as I know it (another work-in-progress). But mostly I write because I am a living expression of His artwork, tenderly, diligently crafted from the broken pieces of my life. Where I've seen a heap of rubbish, God sees potential for beauty. And He sets to work with a fervent devotion and delight I can only marvel at in wonder. He's not afraid to get His hands dirty, that's for sure. And He is untiring, His creativity inexhaustible. From places of pain and grief, darkness and doubt, wrestling and waiting, regret and disappointment, I see something fresh and lovely emerging over time. It catches me by surprise, and then it takes my breath away. Slowly, steadily, gently, His hands work on me like some lump of clay (I borrowed that analogy from the prophet Jeremiah, who borrowed it from God and put it in the Bible, in case you feel I was plagiarizing).

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a lump of clay in the hands of a potter? I've taken a ceramics class, and I know it's not as romantic as it sounds. It's hard work, and the clay can be rather stubborn. You have to know how to handle it. You have to pound it and smooth it and get every one of the air pockets out. You have to throw it on the wheel and center it just right, or it will wiggle all over the place and possibly fly off. And then, if you get centered, you have to keep adding enough water to it as you work so it doesn't dry out, but not too much so that it turns to mush in your hands. Then you begin to stretch it out, bit by bit, pulling it up and out and holding your hands around it with the right amount of pressure to shape it without crushing it. It's really quite difficult. But what a cool picture of what God does with us, and specifically, with the the junk in our lives.

I used to think that when God was at work in my life, all the junk would disappear as if it had never been there. Like He'd take a big eraser and wipe it all away, or put it all under lock and key - those Things We Don't Speak Of. Now, I do believe that when it comes to confessing our sins to God, like the Bible says, He removes them from His memory, as far as the east is from the west. I find this utterly humbling and wonderfully freeing. But I don't think that means that it's as if they never existed. I think, in their place, there is crafted a phenomenal testament of God's redemptive artistry in our lives. A living art exhibit of His work, on display, twenty-four seven.

And then, I'm convinced that God stands back and studies His work, and smiles. God likes to smile. Don't ask me how I know from a theological, scholarly stance, I just know. And while He must have shed a lot of tears since He created us, I think He smiles more often than not. Because He likes us, and He likes His work, and He's promised He'll finish it. And He never goes back on His promises.

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