When I was 11, my Uncle Mac surprised me out back behind our house where I was smashing empty clay pots beside my mother’s garden. It was after school, and I’d had a particularly rough day of put-downs, embarrassments, and poor choices. I came home bitter focused on destruction, looking for an object (or objects) upon which to express my anger and humiliation.
So Uncle Mac found me destroying my mother’s clay pots, which I’d lined in a row, upside down and came down upon like “Maxwell with his silver hammer”. It was as I was poised at the last pot that Mac came out the back door and found me, raised hammer about to meet out my misguided sense of justice. He didn’t say anything. There was little I could say. But he didn’t scold me either.
Instead, he reached up and took the hammer. Set it aside. Then asked me to help him clear off all the clay debris. Then he looked me in the eye and said something surprising. “Tommy, how’d you like to make money destroying things?”
It was such an unexpected, out of left field statement, and completely out of character with the supposed crime I’d been caught doing, that I couldn’t answer.
He had me get into his truck and we drove to one of his Laundromats.
On the way there, my Uncle said something else that took me a life of maturing to really understand. But it’s stayed with me all these years later.
He said, “Tommy, if you live your life like a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.”
And true to my Uncle’s character, he didn’t explain what he meant but let me sit with that Zen-like proverb in the cab of his truck as Simon and Garfunkel played in the background, “Hello Darkness my old friend…”
We arrived at the Laundromat and went inside where customers were doing their laundry and I noticed a number of machines with yellow tape across the tops. Mac handed me some screwdrivers, pliers, and gloves and told me he’d pay me minimum wage to tear apart the broken machines with yellow tape. He showed me two boxes, labeled, “Useful Stuff” and “Less Useful Stuff”, and smiled saying, “Nothing is useless, Tommy. Everything has a place.” And then he pointed me to the crawl space between the machines and went off to his office.
Of course, it’d be years before I figured out Mac’s lessons on discerning where things belong in life and having the patience to look for the bigger picture.
But for an 11 year old, it was a great way to blow off steam after school for the next few weeks, while earning a little extra cash – the first earnings of which I spent replacing Mom’s clay pots (oddly enough, she’d never mentioned their absence to me.)
This Sunday, we’re continuing our series on some of the most familiar stories in the Bible and asking, “Why is THAT in there?” Is there more to these stories than meets the eye? More to their magical nature, their judgmental appearance, their familiar (if not seemingly irrelevant) meaning?
This Sunday, we take an “out of left field” look at the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and the oft-quoted pronouncement, “The one without sin cast the first stone.” And I’ll go ahead and say right off, it’s not about the woman caught in adultery or showing mercy or avoiding judgmental stances toward others. As with a lot of storytelling, it’s often not about the story.
But still, what WAS it that Jesus wrote in the sand?
This Sunday, July 23, in eleven:eleven celebration:
“stoners and swingers”
rev. tom mcdermott
with brad thompson and eleven:eleven revolution band
and the music of michael frantic, jason isbell, and the indigo girls.
I hope to see you there.