Jars Of Clay Or Faberge?
Listen to “Jars of Clay or Faberge?”
A conversation this week with Dan Haseltine, the lead vocalist for the band Jars of Clay and the founder of Blood: Water Mission started me thinking about the origin of the band’s name. Why “Jars of Clay”?
“We chose it after studying the passage in 2 Corinthians 4 and it expressed who we desired to be as artists. We wanted to deflect the attention from the band and concentrate people on the message – the treasure inside the container.”
I grew up believing the phrase described our frailty or feet of clay or even our disposition toward the weakness inherent in anything earthen. After all, we are only human and, therefore, jars of clay. However, I think it comes closer to saying we are containers of treasure who in our appearance are unremarkable but have been given a responsibility to carry the greatest power ever conceived. God has chosen the ordinary to convey the miraculous.
So, I’ve been thinking about the power of the ordinary and the freedom it gives us when we do not have to be the treasure. Too often, the Church has preferred ornate Faberge eggs to clay pots. We want our leaders to be polished, articulate, marketable and successful in ministry. We encourage them to be anything but ordinary or unremarkable. When was the last time we thought about the description “ordinary” as being a compliment?
But, ordinariness or what the Quakers would call “plain” gives us unusual freedoms. We do not have to embroider or measure our words carefully, like politicians. As Paul writes, there is no interest in spin or deception. We are not forever considering how we advance ourselves or constantly keeping in mind the effect of what we say. Instead, we are telling the truth in love. George Fox put it this way, “I was plain, and would have all things done plainly; for I did not seek any outward advantage to myself.” Even better is Mark Twain’s comment, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Being ordinary allows us to trust in the power of the plain Gospel to accomplish its work. We don’t need exquisite techniques, production quality experiences and sophisticated strategies to witness the effects of the Gospel. What we do need is what Dan described as a constant intention to deflect the attention from ourselves and avoid the temptation to become a part of the treasure itself. We may have already “jumped the shark” by fashionably dressing up the pot. The pendulum may already be swinging in the other direction. It’s counterintuitive, but one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world is the Amish. By 2050 it is estimated their population will have tripled. The Minimalist Movement and others are telling us that more people are looking for “plainness”. That doesn’t mean average or colorless. It indicates a growing number want the hidden treasure more than the ornate pots we have sold them.
Being ordinary allows us to focus on the world outside ourselves. We have turned personal development into an idol. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and the speaker turned everything that had happened in their life into God’s desire to make them whole and healthy. Loving others was a means to personal fulfillment. Recognizing the suffering of the world was a path to personal contentment. The normal anxieties and obstacles in life had become wounds to be healed. Everything was measured by how it contributed to their individual growth. That is not what Paul says about the challenges in the ordinary life. The pressures of the Church were a heavy responsibility for him but not a means of personal development.
Finally, it is exactly the power of the ordinary to conceal the extraordinary that is at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The Ring was “quite plain” and it was that very feature fooling everyone and allowing it to remain hidden – especially from those who desired to possess it. And, like the Ring, those who want to possess the treasure or use the treasure or even resist being ordinary, are lost. They are destroyed by envy, greed, power, and pride.
But, the good news is the power of the treasure we carry, while a constant surprise to others and ourselves will, over time, change us from the inside out. We remain ordinary but are becoming more and more like the gift itself. We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. We are every day in ordinary ways beginning to shine like the treasure we conceal. We are being conformed gradually and imperceptibly to the likeness of Christ by the daily renewing of our minds through the gift that is hidden in our ordinary and unadorned jars of clay.