Spinning Wheels and Fiery Furnances

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I know that this story flies in the face of my theodicy and why people suffer, but it helps on a rough day, especially for a potter like me. God doesn’t cause the crud in our lives but God does use it for good, if I will wait and see. Here’s the story:

There was a couple who used to frequent crafts shops. They both loved pottery, and especially vases. They saw one in a shop that immediately caught their fancy. They asked the shopkeeper if they could pick it up and look it over more closely. As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the vase spoke, “You don’t understand.”

It said, “I have not always been a vase. There was a time when I was just a lump of white clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, “Let me alone,” but he only smiled, “Not yet!!”

“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. “’Stop it!! I’m getting dizzy!’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked at the door. I could see him through the peep hole, and I could read his lips as he shook his head, ‘Not yet.’

“Finally, the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, Stop it!!!’ I cried. He only nodded, ‘Not yet!’

Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This one was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged, I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf.

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, ‘Look at yourself.’ And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful.’

“I want you to remember, then’ he said, ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and kneaded and patted, but if I just had left you alone, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have collapsed. I know it hurts and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have crumbled. I know the fumes were bad when I poured the glaze over you, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened and been made strong. You would not have had any color in your life, and if I hadn’t put you back in the oven for a second time, you wouldn’t survive for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

God is the potter and I’m the clay. If I believe that the the spinning wheel and fiery kiln will be worth it when it’s all said and done. Lord, Give me patience!

"The Bug or the Windshield"

I think it is a Mary Chapin Carpenter song that says, “Some days you feel like the bug, and some days you feel like the windshield.” Today I’m kind of between the two – I feel out of sorts. Plenty of good stuff is going on. There was no snow to keep me from the office this morning, and I’ll spend the afternoon with two pastors at the State Museum. Maybe tonight I’ll even get to see two of my favorite TV shows, Antiques Roadshow and House. This morning I had to meet with a lawyer about a clergy matter that is generating a lot of prayer. Cindy’s Mom had to go into the hopsital with a fractured back yesterday. She has osteoporosis and has been through this before, but she is more frail this time and the pain is awful again. She’s in a hospital where her bone doctors aren’t allowed to practice and needs to be transferred to where they can care for her, plus the doctor at this hospital who supposedly will work on her isn’t even on site. He’s snowed in, in Denver – which may be a good thing so we can get her transferred to the right hospital, but the process is convoluted enough to make you dizzy or absolutely trust in God.
All the crap is beyond our power or comprehension. Of course, others go and are going through worse stuff. I went last week to check on a preacher’s spouse in the hospital. She died yesterday. I went to the funeral of another clergyperson’s widow last week, too. Our son, Caleb, whom I love so much is doing his best to stay above water in his courses at USC, but made his first “F” on a paper in his life. He is struggling for faith and life everyday. He has a mid-term in the same course today. So here I am pondering the W.I.G.I.A.T. bumper sticker again – “Where IS God In All This? I know God doens’t cause pain, but does what God does best – help us get through it. That’s my weary prayer this morning – “Help Caleb, Dear Jesus; Help Ganny, Dear Jesus; Help Red Williams, Dear Jesus; Help Russell’s wife’s parents, Dear Jesus; Help our clergy, Dear Jesus; Help our churches, Dear Jesus; Help our country, the world, the poor, the President and everyone who needs help today, Dear Jesus. Amen

Foundation

>I heard an ad on the radio this past Sunday as I was traveling from one charge conference to another. It was for a company called “Ramjack” that stabilizes foundations for houses. The promotional byte that caught my ear was the line, “Many homes in the Columbia area have unstable foundations.” That is true in physical and spiritual ways. With the instability in the economy, a rise in crime, the need for a homeless shelter, and the fact that it’s a lot easier to get around the city on Sunday than any other day of the week is proof enough that we need a better foundation for all our lives.

I remember hearing the story, without recalling the source, that there were two guys who were living on an island. One decided to take the beachfront property to build his house. The other thought it would be safer to build his on the rocky cliff overlooking the beach. His thought was that sooner or later a storm was going to come. He wanted to be ready. Years went by and no storm. The guy whose house was on the rocky foundation high above the sand and surf peered through his binoculars on a daily basis at the guy down on the beach. At first he thought that the guy was going to wash away and appropriately so.
 
After time passed he looked through the binoculars with jealousy as he saw the guy enjoying the beach. He even shook his hand at God thinking, “Here I am doing what’s wise and there hasn’t been a storm in sight. I lugged all these trees and building materials up here for no good reason.” Well, to make a long story short, the guy on the rocky cliff finally had enough and wanted the “good” life on the beach. He abandoned his house and moved to the beach and had a great time. Then the storm came and wiped his and the other fellow’s houses away. The home on the cliff didn’t suffer any damage. Too bad nobody was at home.
 
In the storms of life I am too quick to take the easy way out only to pay for it in the end. Sounds like our economy and so many other aspects of our culture. Marriage takes hard work, and so does being a parent, a pastor, or a dedicated lay person. As a District Superintendent it would be easy to stay in bed on Sunday mornings. After all, I’ve been in churches and with pastors and laity all week, BUT what about my foundation. Sands shift and foundations crumble without the proper underpinning. I need a ramjack every now and then; more specifically moment by moment. If I don’t start the day with Jesus, I end the day washed up.

Memories of Hurricane Hugo

I woke up this morning feeling the slight chill of Fall in the air. It felt good, but my spirit was unsettled as if remembering a shadow of a almost forgotten tragedy. My first thought was about the recent airplane crash at Columbia Metro, but I knew there was something else looming in my unconsciousness. It was Hurricane Hugo.

Hugo hit South Carolina over the night of September 21-22, 1989 packing 140 mph winds, a Catgeory 4 storm. Cindy, Narcie, Josh, Caleb and I huddled in the safest part of the house while the storm howled outside. We didn’t sleep as we listened to segments of roof and siding tearing off. The constant banging of the crawl-space door stopped during the night as it was finally blown 100 yards or more out into a field. The only contact we had with the outside world was our battery-operated radio that picked up a Jacksonville, Florida station. It was a rough night. The days to come were worse as we sought to help one another and witnessed the grief of people who lost their homes and their belongings, the vestiges of family history and hope. We clung to each other and to our faith as we helped one another recapture hope and saw the truth of resurrection overcome the storm’s fury. That is what I need to remember today, not how horrible it was, but that we overcame by the grace of God.

A very important lesson was gleaned from the hurricane, a lesson that has helped me when people have proffered that all-too-familiar question of “Why?” in the midst of their storms. God gave me a sermon the Sunday after Hugo about Jesus with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep below deck. The disciples, who were seasoned fishermen, were staring down a storm and we’re afraid of drowning. They woke up Jesus who looked out into the storm and rebuked it saying, “Peace, be still!” The actual text says that he “rebuked” the wind and waves.

That struck me as interesting. The only other time Jesus used the word “rebuke” was in relation to evil. If one claims that Jesus is God and that God controls nature then why would Jesus have to rebuke something already under his control? This says to me that nature has a mind of its own, and that God’s freedom has a broad reach across the cosmos. Out of love God allows freedom and chaos to prevade the creation. God hates the storm as much as we do, and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God is with us in the storm.

When we face our storms of economic woes, health dilemmas, death, and worries about our children or aging parents, it does me good to know that Jesus can still the storms. Sometimes he doesn’t and I can’t answer why not. I can only answer that he goes with us through the storms. My nagging memory from 1989 this morning comes at a good time. We survived!

Gamecock Disaster and Theodicy

>I could spit nails! Early this morning I tuned into “The Game” on FM107.5 to hear the Gamecock woes after last night’s humiliating loss to Vanderbilt. There’s nothing better than USC and Clemson losses to remind us all that life is more than what happens on the gridiron. There are much more important things for us to be about. Living and breathing football is an obsession. As a Gamecock fan I should be used to losing and being mediocre. In 114 years of football at USC, we’ve only won 8 or more games 3 times. Hey, we sure know how to tailgate though, and we surely live up to the SC state motto Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope.” It’s just sad and disheartening when you pin your distraction from real life on a team that perennially lets you down. Maybe it’s a good thing to get this idolatry over early in the season so we can focus on reality. The reality that I need to think about is Jesus, the One about whom the writer of Hebrews says, “…is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

This begs a question in the midst of life’s travails, even when they’re on the football field. The question is why bad things happen to people. Why do some people get away unscathed by problems and appear to have a Teflon coating where nothing bad sticks to them? Others, usually good people, go from one crisis to another. Why? I guess it’s a question of theodicy. Theodicy is a peculiar, almost sacrilegious word. Its roots are in Theos or God and dicy, the same root that appears in the word “judicial.” Theodicy literally means “Judging God.” It sounds, at first glance, like a spiritual no-no, but God is big enough for us to question. Check out Job’s experience when asking God, “Why?” for all of his calamities.
 
So Gamecock and Clemson fans, let’s ask the Why-question: What is our theodicy? Sure James (1:2ff) says we should count it all joy when we have trials, but doesn’t identify the source of the junk that comes our way, at least not until verse 13 of the same chapter, “When tempted/tested, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’” Interesting, isn’t it? So God isn’t the source of the junk that happens.
 
I’ve been reading a book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence, by John Sanders. He talks over and over again about how Scripture presents God as “relenting” from doing certain things. Of course, this could be anthropomorphic language about God, putting human language on a God who’s really above that. Can God really change God’s mind and action? If we don’t really think so, then maybe we should become Calvinists. If we take seriously the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “…Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven…” then we must believe that prayer can possibly change things. The Wesleyan point of view allows God to change. I know this flies in the face of one of the long-held tenets of Christianity, and may be where I am personally closest to heresy. The idea of God’s immutability is at stake, and I’m okay with giving it up. I believe the Wesleyan view that focuses both on God’s grace/love and process theology allows, even encourages, a progressive view of God’s interaction in the world. God loves creation and its creatures enough to allow us to change our minds, to let nature do what it will, and yield to the utter fickleness of humankind. Our Wesleyan understanding of grace’s progression toward sanctification leaves great room for change, on God’s part and ours.
 
So why do bad things happen? I’ll lift up four reasons that come quickly to mind: our choices, the choices of others, the general crap that’s in the world because of the Fall, and Evil. Maybe there are really no accidents, there are only crashes caused by one of these 4 sources, but never God. So where’s God? God is doing what God has always done since the Garden: God is seeking us out in the crap and wants to redeem our situations. God does not cause them, but walks with us and gives us the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. God doesn’t have a pre-set plan for our lives that precludes our ability to change, and God loves us enough to change with us. So with football out of the way for another season due to a mistake-prone offense, defense, coaching staff, etc, I’m going to throw my foibles and thick-headed mistakes onto a God who risks – A God who risks loving me and risks watching all the stupid things that happen on this planet, yet enters our vicissitudes and consistently loves. That’s the basis for my hope and lessens my acrimony on this dark day of Gamecock defeat.