Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gifts and Glazing Windows

One lazy summer afternoon my friend Christine and I sat on the rickety porch talking about absolutely nothing while our kids ran around outside. At one point she gazed over my shoulder and in her calm mother-of-six voice said, “Ah, you’re missing a window pane there, Heido.”

I looked behind me and sure enough a pane was just…gone. We stepped outside to the deck and the troops gathered around. Everyone had to stick a hand through the hole. At the base of the window the glass lay, unbroken but sheepish.

“If you don’t fix that, Mom, the flies will get in,” my ever-helpful son Martin said, poking at the neighboring pane with a stick. It clattered to the deck. “That one too.”

Well, there was no way around it. It was summer. Maine has bugs. It had to be fixed before nightfall. Before long I was back on my deck with glazing compound and glazier points. I don’t know where I learned to fix window panes – maybe growing up on a farm or the summer I painted college dorms – but it’s something I know how to do.

Warming to the task, I began the fun of rubbing a snake of glazing compound between my palms. I relished the satisfaction of placing a little metal point in just the right spot to keep the pane snug against the sash and the expert flick of the putty knife smoothing the compound so pretty and even. Except that when I finished, it wasn’t. It wasn’t in the same hemisphere as pretty and even. What it was, was -- marginally -- okay. But here’s the truth: as homely and unprofessional as my panes looked, I was a little proud.

As I stood on my deck dodging annoyed bees and wielding my putty knife, I began to wonder if that’s how the gifts of God work: some of us have general ability in a number of fields, some of us are tremendously capable in one area. Some of us have strong minds, some of us have strong backs. Some congregations have a powerful call to one ministry, some are drawn to many missions of a limited scope. Some priests are gifted in pastoral work, some are drawn to other pastures.

If that is true, then there’s the beauty, the symmetry of our life as the Church of Christ – on the parish, diocesan, Church-wide, and Communion-wide stage. Each one, each entity has a niche but we need what the others bring to the table to be complete. We tend to think of gifts as big, bold offerings, but perhaps some of us are gifted with the ability to do a lot of things well enough. It’s not a flashy gift like preaching or singing or running a tight meeting, but what congregation could do without those few capable and willing souls who are there, day after day, doing what needs to be done. And how do we shake the crazy notion that a certain way of being a church or a priest or a saint is more valuable to the Kingdom of God than any other?

My late father, who insisted that knowing how to shingle a roof was a life skill his children needed to possess, used to say of himself, “A jack of all trades, master of none.” He always said it with a self-deprecating chuckle, but we knew he wore it like a badge of honor. I think God has created a lot of people like my dad and me, those who can do long division in a pinch, tie on a fishing lure, roast a turkey, comfort a friend or write a heck of a good letter when the need arises.

Those among us with tremendous ability or a singular talent are dear to us for showing us God’s image so clearly. Those with broader gifts sound the daily gentle hum of the Spirit of Christ in our midst, and they sure are handy to have around when a window pops out.