Daily Archives: March 2, 2008

intentional imperfection

Nancy and I spent some time reliving history this weekend. We lived in Goshen, Indiana, for four years.  Yesterday we visited Shipshewana and Goshen, going back to some of the places we had enjoyed.

In Shipshewana, we went to Forks County Line store, a store with many Amish buggies in the parking lot, and many damaged food boxes on the shelves. Prices are low because the store looks for the externally damaged products that other stores choose not to sell. We spent $20 on groceries that would have cost twice as much elsewhere.

In Goshen, we went to The Old Bag Factory, and spent time at Dick Lehman Pottery. In the display room are works that range in price from $13 to $500 (and more). The workroom is adjacent, allowing you to watch potters working.

When I stopped to watch, I noticed that the jar the potter was working on looked less perfect than I had expected. The top of the jar was a little wavy. The surface was a little rough. There were places that were just, well, not great. I don’t, however, point out details like that. I watch and listen and wait. And as he started working on the next piece, he explained.

These pieces were going to be fired in a wood-fired kiln. Such a kiln has a lot of ash from the wood which is deposited on the surface of the clay. At some point in the process, the temperature is raised and the ash, with mineral deposits that aren’t consumed in the burning process, melts and creates a natural glaze. Imperfections in the creation of the pot catch more of the ash and add to the richness of the finish and end up making each piece strikingly distinctive. It is a process which is slower than usual. Those watching wonder whether it is working, whether the potter is competent. However, the potter knows the process well.

Too often, I’m afraid, people around me are treated like the battered boxes, like generic cans. There is a discount on imperfections. We look to pay less for seconds. And eventually, after we’ve been sent to the damaged goods shelf enough times, we begin to believe anything we are offered for our lives, our attention, our performance is enough.

In contrast, I realized that the imperfections, the things we see as weaknesses, the pain of loss may, at least sometimes, be the surface that allows the grace of God to accumulate, to transform the very blemish into a mark of distinction. I know, of course, the story of the pearl. But the pearl gets taken away from the oyster, leaving it looking for another piece of sand. In contrast, often, we are left with the thing we see as a problem, the hole in our heart, the inadequacy. However, the blending of the spot and the ash yield a life of great value.

Two stores. Two different ways of valuing. A good day.