Treasuring Jars of Clay
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)
Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, once did a performance in which he smashed a Han dynasty urn into smithereens. After throwing it down hard the floor, he got out some Legos and attempted to rebuild it. He was trying to make an artistic point about death and resurrection. Clay treasures don’t last. Also, he was trying to show us something about dogma and how dogma yields violence. It comes when people think they’re right about something or that something beloved must be permanent.
I mourn all that’s gone of Ukraine. I imagine how that beautiful country has been picked up and thrown down, smashing it into smithereens. Then I think of the people with nothing left but Legos. Some will never be able to go home. Others will try.
What was an artist trying to do smashing a beautiful urn? Was the artist trying to make a point about community, about democracy? How terribly fragile it is. How terribly beautiful it is. How easy it is to take for granted. What if we were to pay attention to the beautiful clay today, before it is thrown down by dogma that has turned to violence, before it is smashed by authoritarianism? What if we were to practice our freedom and make sure everybody could vote before it’s too late? Before we too are left with Legos pretending to be ancient urns? What if beautiful things like democracy and urns and maybe even Legos are all here to point us to the surpassing glory of the Almighty?
O God, teach us to resist authoritarianism whenever we smell it. Teach us to treasure that which is fragile and small and beautiful. Remind us to pay attention, before it is too late.
Donna Schaper is Pastor at the Orient Congregational Church on the far end of Long Island, New York. Her newest book is Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces, from The Pilgrim Press.