The Fabric of Faith

The local Quilt Club has an exhibition this weekend. I've never attempted to make one, even though I enjoy a number of needlework crafts. I do know the painstaking work that goes into one, as I have several friends who enjoy this hobby. The fabrics have to be chosen, colour-sorted, accurately measured and cut into shape. They are sewn together one by one - machine or hand sewing, it is still a very time-consuming task. The finishing aspects of wadding and backing, and stitching a further pattern over several thicknesses, are these days sometimes contracted out to a specialist, as the artistic work is largely over. Sometimes however the fabric joins are embroidered to complete the project.

My friend Marg has four beautiful handmade quilts. She made them to go on the beds of her four children, and because she also works full time, they have taken years to make. Each is quite different, because the design was not planned out in advance. The patches were added randomly, using fabric that came to hand - different colours and textures, often made from clothes that child had outgrown. When the owner looks at the quilt they can say, "Look Mum, that was my first party dress, or here is my old swimming bag" - and recognise their favourite pillowslip or surf shorts. The overall effect is strikingly beautiful and it comes about because of the variety and diversity in the patches.

I was reminded of that particular quilt because of two seminars I attended this week, with Rev Dr Lynne Baab from Dunedin. She conducted two workshops on behalf of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, in conjunction with Auckland Presbytery, of which I am still a member. The first day was focussed around individuals in ministry, and was called "Finding your Fit." Over the course of the day, we looked at various factors that interconnect to form the unique person each of us are, beginning with the Motivational Gifts from Romans 12. I identified my two main "spiritual gifts" from this list of motivations over twenty years ago, when Katie Fortune visited New Zealand and spoke to a series of conferences organised by Women's Aglow - an organisation I recently heard someone disparage by calling them the "Flaming Women"! It was fairly easy to see from that conference that I am called and gifted as a "teacher" and a "leader," at the time I thought in that order. Now I might flip that round, because at Friday's workshop we also looked at the Enneagram, and I think leadership is the main strength for me in that paradigm. However it was teaching that pointed to my "heart" or passion - a strong affinity with those who want to learn, whether they be new Christians, mature disciples, or my preschool grandchildren! Each of these factors interweave to form the "fabric" of the individual life.
Other unique factors we looked at were Abilities and Experiences - aspects that I have also seen in the Saddleback "Forty Days of Purpose" material. Of course I knew that my gifts and responsibilities are interwoven with history and talent. But I had never been made to sit quietly and reflect on what formative experiences and activities might have shaped my current ministry role. It was amazing. I recalled my deep gladness as a child of writing stories and plays, and of performing in annual concerts for my aunty, when we visited her on the farm (a proto-preacher?) I remembered my pride in producing a "project" on Canada, a large poster with headings, pictures and text arranged informatively and aesthetically for my classmates to read. (something like the Powerpoints I now lovingly prepare for each sermon/teaching event?) I thought back to the 'Silent Three', a girls' club I started with two friends when I was ten, and the bake sales and lending library I initiated under its aegis, to raise money for CORSO (how times have changed!). I remembered passing music exams and writing good speeches, but had overlooked the leadership roles I was given at school (not primary school, I was probably too much of a book worm then, but at high school) when I became House Leader, Head Prefect and at 17 the secretary of the Morrinsville Youth Club (evidence of adults perceiving in me the ability to lead others?) These days it sounds like skiting, but back then I was quite shy and not aware at all that I had leadership gifts - just that at home, I was the bossy one! Couple that bossiness with an introvert temperament and a strong dislike for sports, and you can see why it took some years for these leadership gifts to draw followers among my peers! God of course knew it from the beginning.

Later in the day we looked at the way all these factors - gifts, abilities, passions, abilities, experiences and values, work together to make a unique cluster of potentiality, loved and used by God. Using my metaphor of the weaving, they are the warp and weft of history and genetics that is woven by the Spirit into a fabric like no one else. In my childhood I used to wear a tartan skirt to church, and often spent moments of boredom examining the way the coloured threads work together to make new hues. That is what God does with us. As we read in Psalm 139:

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways....For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together."

But the pattern of our days is not all there is to the Master Weaver's craft. He then joins us with others - quite different, but all people of whom he is "especially fond" - into a patchwork quilt of colour and texture and luminescence. Our second workshop was about teams in the church, and how working together as a unit towards a common goal is utterly biblical and extremely effective. I love working in a team where variety and synergy can make things happen and I picked up some great insights such as how to use the Myers Briggs paradigm to check that a decision making process is robust and inclusive. But the day also reminded me of some of the frustrations of teams in churches. Do you recognise any of these?
  • the person who has big ideas but fails to follow through on the one task they committed to doing?

  • the person who thinks consensus means arguing round around till everyone agrees with them?

  • the person who asks a question that was just asked and answered two minutes ago?

  • the person who goes away and undermines decisions in which they had participated?

  • the person who uses their own money to get the outcome they wanted (yes, I've been guilty of that one!)

  • the person who asks a random question about a completely different topic!

All of this serves to remind us of the rich variety God puts together in the team we call church. Using Paul's metaphor of the Body, we are not all hands, not all feet. God designed it that way. When its all stitched together it makes something wondrously colourful, like Marg's quilts, which she would finish by embroidering a herringbone of blue thread round each square. to me that blue silk is a picture of the power of love to bind all things together. (Colossians 3: 14)

A reminder of how much God values the human contribution to his purpose in the world came up in my reading this morning - as I am working my way through Tom Wright's book on Hope and Resurrection. "Redemption doesn't mean scrapping what's there and starting again from a clean slate, but rather liberating what has become enslaved." (Surprised by Hope p 96). May the Lord who knows me through and through, redeem and renew my humanity, my history and my hope.

To Chew Over: How have your childhood experiences shaped or prepared you for your life as a follower of Jesus today?

My life is but a weaving, between my God and me

I may not choose the colours, he knows what they should be

For he can view the rainbow upon the upper side

Whikle I can see it only on this, the under side

Sometimes he weaves sorrow which seems unfair to me

But I will trust his judgement and work on faithfully.

One day I'll know the reason why pain with joy entwined

Was woven in the fabric of life that God designed.