“If you push me far enough, all I really know is that he was a fine fisherman.”
“You know more than that,” my father said. “He was beautiful.”
That quote is from Norman Maclean’s book, A River Runs Through It, as he and his Presbyterian father reflect on Norman’s deceased brother, Paul. Paul was a gambler and a drunk, an occasionally good journalist, and an unusually gifted fly fisherman. Norman, his more successful brother, when reflecting on Paul’s life was only able to pull up his fishing skills as worth mentioning. Their Presbyterian minister father corrected him, saying, “You know more than that. He was beautiful.”
I had the pleasure of visiting an old friend this past week. We have been through a lot together in the more than 25 years that we have shared life and a friendship. I was sharing with him in a moment of self pity how I was concerned that eventually I would look back on my life and all I would be able to say is, “Yep, I learned how to survive.” He looked at me and said, “Brian, you have created a beautiful life. You are one of my champions.”
They were words that I needed to hear. He was speaking of my long history of taking challenges and obstacles and turning them into gifts. Rather than allowing myself to be crippled by loss I have turned the experience of loss into a vocational calling walking with people and organizations facing grief. Rather than simply surviving difficult transitions, I have specialized in helping others face and negotiate transitions since it seems to be what I know!
I don’t say this to blow my own horn. I write this because I have discovered that there is something powerful about taking the real material of our lives and making something beautiful out of it. I write this because I am convinced that every one of us and every one of our congregations already have all the resources, all the materials, and all of the tools we need to create a beautiful piece of art. Art often comes out of working with whatever materials we already have on hand.
I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues in another presbytery and during the course of the conversation he said, “The biggest gift our presbytery has is that we have no money.” And he meant it seriously. What he was saying is that many years ago his presbytery realized they were going to have to live within their budget year to year. No reserves to lean on. Out of that came all kinds of creativity around building relationships, a deepening presbytery culture, and programs that relied increasingly on people power. The lack of money became their gift!
It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of scarcity or deficit thinking. We look at empty classrooms and see what we used to have rather than the new opportunity that is staring us right in the face. We say, “If only we had this…” and do nothing rather than saying, “This is what we do have…” and do something. We think bigger is better and forget that God prefers to work with David, the shepherd, rather than with Goliath, the giant. We too easily adopt the notions that beauty is reserved for the youth, the new and improved, and the picture perfect.
It is a profound line that Norman’s Presbyterian minister father said when reflecting on his younger son’s rough and tumble and “less successful” life than Norman’s. Norman was only able to see his brother’s fishing skills as his only redeeming quality whereas his father looked at the scraps of his life and said, “He was beautiful.”
I am convinced that creating beauty is not the result of having all the right materials. I am convinced that beauty emerges out of using the real material, the scraps that are already on hand.
What if every one of our congregations already believed that you had everything you needed to create a beautiful life, a beautiful community, and a beautiful ministry? There are no deficits; only opportunities!
I believe this. I believe it because the Bible is full of stories of God using what was already on hand to write the story of salvation. I believe it because other presbyteries are writing stories of success that have emerged out of a lack of something rather than an abundance of something. I believe it because the most beautiful parts of my own life have been crafted out of the most difficult parts of my life.
I believe it because God is less concerned with the size of our checking accounts, our buildings and our congregational attendance. God is more concerned with the size of our hearts.
Beauty is created out of the scraps of our lives. And we all have scraps!
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbytery for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades