Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cobbling shoes

I understand, and can't remember where I heard it, that the actor Daniel Day-Lewis has a shoe shop somewhere in Italy on the Mediterranean. Odd thought, but this actor who has been one of the greatest of his generation likes to spend his down time making shoes. Still, as my grandfather would probably have said with some irony, it is good to have a trade when your vocation is in an unstable market. If the acting jobs ever dry up, then Mr. Day-Lewis has a fall back: cobbling shoes.

Me, I buy my shoes from the discount store. I am sure there is some factory overseas that is chunking out my next pair of black laced oxfords even as I write this missive. As I think about the life of the parish right now, though, that image of someone cobbling shoes in a slightly romantic, pastoral setting in a seaside village has caught my fancy.

Have you ever watched a pair of shoes being made by hand? All the bits are arranged by the craftsman: tools, last, leather, sole, hobnails or rivets or cord. The form is placed on the peg provided by the bench and, from some improbable place-the image of the shoe being made in the cobbler's head-the thing begins to take shape.

Sure, now the whole process has been industrialized, but the formation process is essentially the same. Machinery just makes it faster and "assures" consistent quality. Still, the idea that one person can acquire the skill to make a shoe, by hand, over time-well, that just boggles me.

That person deserves respect for doing what they love. They also deserve respect for the patience it must take to care about each element of their task-soup to nuts, as it were, because the end result is not necessarily easily derived from what is there in their hands at the front end.

If that image fails, try this one one--the altar in my parish was created for us by the family of George Nakashima, a Japanese woodworker (that word pales in describing his work) who, I am told, would travel the world to find wood for his projects. He would walk up to a tree, stand there looking at it, ponder its structure and then-before it was cut down-know what he would make of it. He could see the table, the chair, the free-form piece lying within the grain and beneath the bark.

That is what parish ministry is to me. If I had to claim a craft, that sense of seeing something beneath the bits and pieces that might, just might form into a beautiful whole---well, this place is where I see it. There is a joy in watching things fall together, and apart, as they do in parish life--while contributing to the greater whole of the parish as it moves through time. It also give me pause, because that image of crafting forces me away from easy answers and quick solutions. It also means embracing some tough, tough times.

Take a look at a cobblers fingers and thumbs...even the masters are missing a few fingernails, are surely battling a bit of arthritis and the scars may even be as numerous as the lines that have creased their palms since birth.

Still, this is the right path of the maker. God, in seeking to inspire Jeremiah, sends him down to the potter's shed to receive the word to be given to him. It was this: the image of the master potter working the clay on the wheel into a vessel for use. The vessel is ruined in a moment of distraction. The potter then, with patience and care, reworks the clay "into another vessel, as seemed good to him."

To say we are a work in progress is an understatement in the economy of the mind of God. To say that any church is done with a task, has met a challenge or has reached the end of its possible growth is also a falsehood. There may be retraction, constriction, in the breathing out/breathing in of life (read: we grow and shrink over time)...but there is no stasis in the kingdom of God, or in the natural world. That stasis is death. Dead things don't breath, don't grow, don't change...well, except for rot, I suppose...odd, even the metaphor breaks down over time!

So, for Trinity, the life of God continues. We are emerging from a year of challenge and change. There is anew vestry that is elected and will soon be seated to assume leadership of the parish. Finance has reconvened with the addition of six new faces and plenty of fresh perspective. I have met with the new stewardship chair and like his ideas. I have had two meetings in the past 24 hours with a newly configured RAC (rector's advisory committee) and with my new, continuing and retiring wardens...and now we start to DO the work of God in this place, again.

Each generation builds on the foundations laid for it. I am happy with the work that has been done these past two years, where we have succeeded and where we have failed, and I am excited to see what lies ahead.

Like the cobbler, the pieces are before us. It is time to take one last sip of our morning coffee, tie on the aprons that have been hours since the making of the world and get to work at the sacred task of joining the maker in the Great Work.

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