I used to listen to a lot of Tori Amos when I was throwing pots in college ceramics class. Something about listening to it again makes me feel like I ought to have messy hands and finding the rhythm of the wheel again (no electric wheel for me -I much prefer the foot-pedal sort). I did a lot of self-therapy listening to “Little Earthquakes” and trying to get proficient at something I’d previously thought came quite naturally. Apparently, pottery was about as natural to me as quantum physics. Didn’t learn that, though, until a semester of failed projects. I somehow squeaked by with a B in that class -I’m sure more for effort (and improvement -“I got better!”) than anything else.
But… I did work through a lot of life in that semester of late-afternoons spent, just me and God and Tori, taking out some aggression on the clay. It’s the sort of music that I knew at the time I wouldn’t want my kids to know I listened to. It’s raw stuff. Not the sort of thing you’d want a steady diet of, but it’s life, nonetheless. And it was healthy for me at that point to not ignore the darkness of what was going on in my life then. Actually, it wasn’t just throwing pots that didn’t come as naturally as I’d assumed -it was life. I was working through the wreckage of something (many things) I thought God would work out –only, it didn’t. Quite the opposite. I think as I was working my angst out through the clay, I knew in the depths of my soul that it really (absolutely) was for the best, but that didn’t take the weight out of the bottom of my soul that something that I’d wanted so badly didn’t come to pass. It was the first time an absolute “no” from God really, truly hurt.
I started this post with intentions of analyzing the first song on the album, “Crucify.” It’s a song that a lot of us Christ-followers trying to learn to listen to the hearts of non-believers around us would do well to consider. Once I learned a little about Tori Amos’ life situation, the light came on in my mind, and I understood that song in a way I hadn’t before. Tori Amos is a preacher’s daughter. She grew up in the church, and her song here I think is a good third-person assessment of how a lot of people view the Church.
Why do we
I crucify myself
Nothing I do is good enough for you
And my heart is sick of being in chains
-chorus, “Crucify” -Tori Amos
Contrast that to Galatians 2:20 –
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Actually, the whole last part of the second chapter of Galatians is a good answer to the song. No, we can’t ever do enough to satisfy a holy God. It’s the “Christ living within me” that makes us deserving, makes us enough. Nothing we do is good enough for Him. In that, she is spot on accurate.
So… Why do we as Christians work so awfully hard to put on a good front? If our reliance is on our own works, it’s no wonder we are dashing about like the wizard. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” we say with the things we say and do (and the things we don’t say and don’t do). But the world sees behind our fronts, and it’s that, I believe, that makes so many walk away, shaking their heads and having no idea what the gospel is really about. It’s not about us! If it were, we’d be far more damned than we could comprehend! Are we so blind that we’ve missed this?
It is no mistake that God has a pattern of working his greatest works in the weak. He picked a headstrong, stubborn man to go to the people he had a deep grudge against. And he didn’t let Jonah go after the first attempt to run, either. He picked a murderer, a poor speaker with no confidence to lead His people -even gave him an assistant when he protested against the job God set before him. Look at Jesus’ geneaology in Matthew. He lists women, mothers in this list, and makes no apology or avoidance of the fact that Jesus isn’t only the son of David, he’s the descendant of a harlot (Rahab), and the son resulting of what began as an adulterous relationship (between David and Bathsheba).
Redemption is a messy story. We are messy people -made clean by Christ alone. Perhaps the world needs to see more contrast in our lives -not only in the contrast between ourselves and “The World,” but the contrast between our Old Man and our identity as followers of Christ. We’d never have followed if we hadn’t been led, of course. Nobody leads themselves down the path that leads to Christ. It’s an impossibility. Jesus didn’t invite the disciples by directing them where to go -he asked them to follow. He led.
2 Cor. 12:7-9, from The Message:
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
We don’t have to feel a need to revisit the mud pit in the name of being relevant, but we need to remember every day, to crucify ourselves, to be reminded by God of the glory and the blessing and the joy of being clean.
Oh –one final, probably unrelated analogy, but it applies to our life as clay. Probably the one most important thing I learned that semester; the one, most consistent way I found to center the clay on the wheel -lots of pressure. Maybe those times of pressure on our life on all sides are God’s way of centering us.