Saturday, September 29, 2012

Into the Kiln

We seemed to have slipped into the rainy season in Haiti, but the day had come for the students to fire their clay creations in the kiln. While we waited for the skies to clear, we sat under a tent and read through Jeremiah 18 once more. In the account the master potter, seeing the impurity in the clay, pushed it all in and started over... but why? That's what we were all waiting to see.

Where I used to live, there was a big, beautiful tree that stretched forth from the ground. It had massive branches that seemed to me a thousand years old, arched out over the grasses, and it's leafy covering was so thick that it always gave the appearance of a shelter, this kind of organic umbrella, where a man could lie down in safe haven, read a book or even ponder his existence in quiet refuge. But then one day as I came upon the tree, one whole side had cracked and fallen down in disgrace. Its most powerful branch had given way and was piled hopelessly on the ground, so out of place, cut off from its purpose. On the outside it was a thing of beauty, an object of might, but on the inside, it was nearly hollow. This icon of strength was actually a weak shell of something that only once was grand.

The same can happen with clay. If the potter works too fast or doesn't wait for the clay to properly dry, even if he fires the clay too much too soon, then the tool of impatience will raise it's ugly head. In the heat of the kiln, any water or air or impurity that was trapped inside becomes explosive as dynamite. The result can be catastrophic to hours of tedious preparation. I picked up one piece, a beautiful, heart shaped jewelry box that one of the boys had made. It was truly a creative work, and very strong. The walls were thick and it had the most sturdy looking form of the entire bunch. I complimented the boy, and even remarked that the teacher had also admired his work, but I told the boy that even as strong and beautiful as it was on the outside, it wouldn't matter when tested against the heat of the flame, if there were anything impure inside. Sin is illustrated this way, and in my own fiery furnace, has regretfully been forged into my own experience.

The rains passed and we began to fire the kiln. 300. 400. 500 Celsius. It took hours of work, and watching my Haitian brother slowly break apart the wood with his machete, it was apparent that time really didn't play into his craft. He'd been here more times than he could count. I asked him how long it would take to reach 1100 Celsuis, and he just smiled. I asked if he had enough old chairs and pallets to cut up to reach the heat he needed, and he just smiled again with a confident yes.

When the time finally came to pull out the clay, we were all amazed. The boy's jewelry box that I'd used as an illustration....had exploded. Like the mighty tree, it was broken and shattered. The lesson came home to rest in his heart. But what taught me the most was what I saw beyond his own failed piece. Other pieces, even the master potter's piece, had been cracked and destroyed. When the boy's box exploded inside the kiln, pieces of flying, superheated clay had ricocheted off of the other pieces, and there was great collateral damage. There'd been a chain reaction, a domino effect of sorts, and works that were actually sound and well made had fallen victim.

'Such is sin.' I hear my heart cry. Big sin, little sin, it doesn't matter what rank and file we give it. God sees it as the same, a black rock thrown into the perfect serenity of a glassy, calm lake. See the ripples.....reaching, stretching, consuming? We think we will suffer our own consequences, and yet everyone around us carries the same burden. Even after that sin has passed, it hits others afresh as it reaches new heartstrings and tugs upon the courage of so many.

Have any of you ever experienced this? I have. Maybe you'll learn from me? Maybe none of us really can learn until The Lord carries us through the intimate, personal trials, and then we can truly speak about that of which we've so masterfully failed?

How sorry that boy must be, yet still I know his experience better than he. His illustration is my reality. He will pick up the broken pieces and begin to glue them together, but I cannot. He will move on to a new work, a new idea, a new creation, but I won't. His heart is already healed. My heart still cries. I hurt. I feel as if I am that exploding piece of work, once part of a masterpiece, now just hot shrapnel. And I understand as did Jeremiah, I must be reformed by my God in Heaven or surely I will die in this bog. It will either be my Lord's remodeling of my heart into something new, or I will live the rest of my years in misery, in this failed state of the soul.

I hear the whisper of something once remembered...'Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? So disturbed? Hope in your God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God....'Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.' 

Psalm 42

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stones of Dust

This sums up the desire of my enemy, to take everything I've ever done wrong, every failure, every sin, every fall, and  put it into concrete, stone by stone, until there is this impenetrable wall between me and my God.  It is cold, unforgiving, hard and dark, as the remembrance of each wrong passes with time and sets just a bit more in the drying concrete.  The more time that passes, the harder the wall, the greater the obstacle, the weaker my will, the sweeter his victory over me.   All that would seem to remain are suffocating chains and a soft surrender...

But then this is the desire of my Savior, written in this book in case I need to remember...
"He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth,  so great is His love for those who fear Him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions  from us.  As a father has compassion  on his children,  so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103)

Oh that I might remember...these stones, so dark, so cold, stacked so high upon my heart and smothering to my soul, they are but dust upon dust...
and my enemy is nothing more than a masterful magician, pulling age-old puppet strings that have long ago been severed, this illusion is his craft, this toying is his spite, and this soul conquered would he most desire to see.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Women's Center in Cayes, Haiti

We were able to help a German missionary couple today in the city.  They help to run a local women's center there, teaching all sorts of vocational jobs, sewing and knitting.  It's a beautiful place that's been dozens of years in the making, and they are doing their best to adapt with a very quick-paced Haiti.  Everything is changing here, and it's important for the missionaries to keep on the edge of what's happening in the markets, not just here, but around the world, to better equip the women who pass through their doors to be successful in the workplace.
These are some of the shots from the day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


My friend taught a class about the story of clay in our village. 
As everyone arrived and took their seat, he placed an old chalkboard before them.  The slate was worn and pitted from a thousand words that had come and gone, a thousand ideas that had been carved and whittled from the chalk, then brushed and washed away into the wind.  
He thought clearly about what he wanted to say, and then he lifted the white chalk to the black board, and in French, words began to flow.   He etched out an idea.  That everything must begin...with form.  
Before his students could understand clay and the fine details of a master’s stroke, they must grasp this one thought first.  There must first be form.

The form distinguishes us, sets us apart, gives us our characteristic. Just as when you draw a face or make an elaborate piece of pottery, you don’t begin with the details.  You start with nothing, and you bring into form the idea in your mind.  The details will follow.

He then began to read to them from the first chapter of Genesis, of a time when there was nothing, when ‘the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said.....’

I was there at his request to take photos, but God had me there for an entirely different reason...

When I looked at the lump of clay in the Haitian’s hands, I saw myself.  
As Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3, “I am the man...” 
I breathed in deep and heavy.  I see me.  

Jeremiah 18 came to the front of my mind, as never before have I been so defined, and yet so without shape as I am today.  Never before have I so fully embodied a scripture, as if the Master was thinking of me when He guided the strokes of a pen thousands of years ago, to make the marks which would bring the definition to me, here, today.  You can go down to the Potter’s house.  You can watch Him working His masterpiece on His wheel, His wet hands pressing and forming the beautiful curves to form a thing so precious in His eyes... and yet...

And yet there is this impurity.  This imperfection.  This....”well, it’s me Lord.  It’s me.  I am this flaw. My heart cries.  And I will never look at me again and not see it.  It is there.  Like an out of tune key on such a grand, grand piano, whatever I was made for, it will never go unnoticed, and the purpose of my very creation is in vain.  No matter the song you play from me, there will always be this cryptic fault, cracked into the core of everything I have ever been and everything I will ever be.  Maybe You should have never made me? Maybe I will never understand.”  

But then, that’s not the whole story.

‘How do you sum up a life in a few words?   How do you measure the weight of a soul in a matter of moments?  
You do not.  
You cannot.
But you can pray for rest, you can pray for light, and you can remember.
You can always remember.’

The Master sees the impurity, of course.  He feels it!  As the clay courses through His fingertips and runs with the water over his fingerprints, His very nature alone tells Him there is a flaw in the material.
But what does the He do?  He caves in the beautiful pot, this work of art, oh yes!  His hands press in and down until the form cannot bear to hold up under such a weight, and His massive, age-old hands bring the clay back to it’s original self...just a lump.

But then what?  Does He cast it out?  Does He wash his hands in disgust?  Does He give up, just let the clay go dry and turn to dust?  Does the music fade?

Never.  Do you know why?  Because those hands don’t ever quit.  Because me practicing what I preach is this, that I will never be free of this, and He will never stop loving me on account of my imperfection.   This clay is of the earth.  I’ve laid my head in the dust, sat in the silence, clawed the ground for forgiveness.. I’ve been dug up from the dark pit and put into His hands,  this dirty old earth in the hands of the Great I AM!  And it’s HIS to form and make a thing of beauty.   

It’s Him, telling me, “Yes. I see the flaw.  But the flaw is not you.  The flaw is only a part of you.  It is only a piece of this old earth, of what you’ve been made from, that lives in you.” 

He takes that lump of clay and He throws it again onto the wheel,  He pushes out and forms again something new, pulling up something beautiful...from nothing.   It hurts.  Oh how it hurts.  It has to. 

His hands are already dirty.  He’s not afraid of a little more dirt.  He chooses to work the clay.   He is still forming me.  I am not finished.  
I will spin round and round on this wheel until He decides to pick me up, and then there will be for me the kiln, the fire, the final passage into what He will call...perfect.