Clay Buster: Firming up the roots

Our house is built on clay. I have no idea what that’s like for foundations but after 25 years the nine units that make up our complex have none of the cracks displayed by many other Pietermaritzburg homes. However, for gardening, clay is a distinct disadvantage. The clay binds together (as clay does) becoming quite solid; not conducive to good growth.

Enter a product called Clay Buster. It’s a grey colour, like cement, and a handful mixed with the clay transforms the ground into plant-friendly soil. We don’t always remember to use it so the packet has sat in the garage for some years. Last weekend I had a young gardener help me plant three Sheena’s Gold (DURANTA erecta) shrubs that I hope will become a hedge at the back. I took out the brown paper bag and put some of the Clay Buster into each hole with some loose soil and asked him to mix it in. I came back to find that he had poured another spadeful of Clay Buster into each hole and was busy mixing it. I told him that I appreciated his initiative (really, I did) but that I had put just the right amount into each hole. We took what we could out, added compost, planted the shrubs, and watered generously – well, not too generously since this has been a wet summer and more rain was predicted.

That was last Saturday. Yesterday, a week later, I went into the garage to fetch something and found a white plastic bag. It had “Clay Buster” in bright orange writing on the side. I stared at it for a moment and asked myself rather nervously, “If this is the Clay Buster, what was in the brown paper bag?” I found it. A small white label proclaimed “Cement”. Oops. As the young folk say, “My bad”. Instead of loosening the clay, I had well and truly bound it together. In between bouts of raucous laughter, Jen asked me what cement needs to work and began to list, “cement, sand, water….”

After the unruly laughter had died down, I got to thinking how we sometimes muddle up the same things in the Church. We speak of building on strong foundations (cement is good, right?). And we say that we must grow the church, put down roots (compost and Clay Buster needed). But sometimes we take out the wrong packet. We try to cement principles in place and nail down foundations when we should be encouraging growth and experimentation, and then we wander around aimlessly when some guidelines and principles may be required.

I think of Mark Buchannan’srightness over relationships” and how we sometimes (perhaps all too often) lay down the law with clear disregard for the person involved. Think of how Jesus handled the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery and how we might have handled them if we came across them in our own family or church.

In the same book, Mark Buchannan wrote about a friend’s awkward question. The friend was about to dish out discipline to his son who had crossed the line in his rudeness to his mother. As he was about to enter the room, all guns blazing, the awkward question arose, “What would love look like now?  What shape would servanthood take?”

It’s a question for every interaction. Put differently, what’s needed here, in this relationship, this discussion, this contact? Cement or Clay Buster?


Filed under Odds & Ends

8 responses to “Clay Buster: Firming up the roots

  1. Hey Ian,

    The cement thing was funny.

    I’ve been reading and am teaching on 1 Timothy 1:18 – 20 this week. Where in your opinion is that thin blue line between relationship and rightness?


    • Hi Mark,
      OK so my reply is turning into a blog post, so I’ll give my ‘short’ response and see what I can do with the rest because it’s an important debate. For which many thanks.

      No, rightness and relationship are not, in my view, mutually exclusive but rightness (which easily becomes judgemental) comes so easily to us as Christians. So much so that Phillip Yancey says that “grace” is the last thing non-Christians think of when they think of Christians. It’s not that rightness is wrong; it’s just that we don’t live out God’s grace enough so that it becomes our mark. Jesus said that it would be our relationships (not our rightness or even our righteousness) that would cause everyone to know that we are his disciples.

      And Timothy? Verses 14 to 17 of 1 Timothy 1 is the context of verses 18 to 20. “And the Lord poured out his abundant grace on me…etc.” If we become soaked in the grace of God, we will not go far wrong in our interactions with the world. They will be grace-filled, rather than law-filled.
      And I don’t think many of us will come across someone whom we will need to “hand over to the power of Satan” as Paul did. But even then, since I’m going to get it wrong now and then, I’d rather err on the side of grace than err on the side of judgement.


      • Hey there,

        Maybe put another way: is it wise to nullify “rightness” by only emphasising “relationship”? Should they not be expounded in equal measure? (Romans 6:1)

        Maybe put another way: is “relationship” without “rightness” the kind of “relationship” that was intended in the first place? (2 John 1:6 and the verses around it)

        Maybe put another way: surely “rightness” alone is not healthy but equally surely “relationship” alone is not healthy either. (1 John 2:3 – 5 and the verses around it)

        Is there not a bond between “relationship” and “rightness”? A critical, symbiotic connection?


        • There is certainly a bond, and as with so many of the paradoxical words and concepts of the Bible they need to be kept in what we used to call creative tension.
          But there are times when we go so far in one direction that there needs to be an overemphasis in the other just to bring about a correction. I think our failure to preach and to live love and relationship is one of those.
          We also need to take account of what we mean by the words. Rightness here is not God’s righteousness, but a desire to be right at all times, and pride in our rightness to the exclusion of relationship. It’s like the man who insists on walking in front of the bus hurtling towards the level crossing, because he (the man) insisted he had the right of way. He was right, of course, dead right. Relationship, which involves moderating one’s position to take account of the other, would have been more prudent.
          So, in practice, relationship can (and usually does) include a measure of rightness (of course as you suggest sometimes we wimp out), but rightness (in the sense that Mark Buchannan uses it) always excludes relationship.


  2. This story made me smile … twice. First, about the cement, and then about the insight. Beautifully done. Thanks!


  3. You’re alowed to; we did 🙂


  4. Crystal

    Good point, but I’m still laughing about the cement!


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