Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Idols and Vocation



"Little children, guard yourselves from idols". This, the last words of St. John's first epistle, is loaded language.
It came to mind when I was hired to make a shelf for a client. It was to hang from the wall, but not have any visible means of hanging: no brackets or attachment hardware. As fun as it was to design and make, it did bring me up short when I found its purpose was to hold a statue of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion.
My wife said, "Ooh, nice shelf! Put some flowers on it!"
I thought pretty much the same, and have deeply mixed feelings about having made this. On one hand, it is just a shelf, and once it changes hands it is of no consequence to me what it is used for.
On the other, it has such a look of altar. I am loathe to promote the worship of a false god, and yet here it is.
A Christian in vocation is called to serve neighbor, defined as anyone God puts in one's way. But I wonder: would it have been more truly service to refuse the work, once its purpose was clear?

What do you think?

5 comments:

Lutheran Lucciola said...

No, I think it's not wrong that you built it. It IS a very nice shelf!
Hey, you can't stop people from putting things on their shelves. Are these people that you can follow up on, in any degree? That would be good, something you can plant a seed with, you know.

Bruce Gee said...

I found myself, as I looked for wall studs and installed the shelf, describing to this lady the little small-town Christian church my family attends, and how we play the "find the perfume" game each week, and sit elsewhere. It raised an eyebrow, the idea of this artisan attending a Christian church.

That's about it.

scott said...

The mundane statue is overwhelmed by the expressiveness of the shelf. While an eastern idol would be all too comfortable on an organic piece of wood, the shelf you have created has clearly been expertly crafted by the hands of man, the bevel of the edges, the sheen, and the abruptness of color are all an affront to this diety.

I have to think that without meaning to, you've blasphemed this goddess by making the altar far grander than the image herself- a truly Christian articulation.

Quite excellent.

elephantschild said...

Your contact with the client has very likely perturbed her stereotypes of what Christians are like, and that's a good thing. It's a very important thing, actually.

Also, all these Lutheran bloggers are seeing what astonishingly beautiful work you do. AT my house, we have no fireplace and thus no mantelpiece for the sorts of things that one might usually stand on a mantel. A shelf like this never occurred to me.

Bruce Gee said...

Aw shucks. Well, Scott, I'll buy your rationale, I think...!

Elephantschild, yeah! A lot of my evangelism is stealth evangelism. Rearranging the furniture in their heads.

The shelf is made from reclaimed Doug Fir from a 110 year old round Wisconsin silo, if you can believe it. Stacked on edge, that is where you get that streaky look: the wood closest to the surface is darkened either by weather or ancient silage! Interesting effect, I must agree. Soli deo gloria.