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’s “rightness 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?