COLUMN: Ed Olfert — March 20, 2014

Ed Olfert
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Ed Olfert

I need the weekends to heal.

I am no longer a truck driver. Last fall, as I considered the oncoming winter, I suggested to management that I move into the company’s maintenance shop to work as a welder. The hours are regular, the workplace is warm, and I’m thinking that I’m probably a better welder than truck driver. I repair, fabricate, and look for solutions to a wide variety of truck/trailer problems. It has worked out quite well.

Except for that healing detail. I am not careful. By the time weekends roll around, my hands are so cut up, burned up, hammered up, they will barely close and open. Black electricians’ tape decorates fingers and thumbs, along with blisters, scabs and scars.

If your response to that situation is along the lines of, “surely this fellow is not too bright!” then you are on the same page as Holly, my wife.

There is nothing I do in the work day that can’t be done safely, that can’t be accomplished injury free. But invariably, caution and safety is thrown aside in the interests of comfort, haste, convenience, and lack of patience. Though not an excuse, it is, in part, a family culture thing.

A thoughtful friend gifted me with flesh coloured electricians’ tape.

Amazingly, I have all of my digits functioning normally, though callouses and scar tissue make it next to impossible to pick hearing aid batteries off a hard surface.

Most of the methods I use to cut steel to desired lengths result in razor sharp edges. Failure to grind those edges with some manner of abrasive stone usually and quickly results in trails of blood. Not infrequently, this happens within minutes of the start of my work day. I don’t get any smarter.

A metaphor springs to mind.

Some years ago, in my active and full-time ministering days, I recall a passionate challenge offered to me along the lines of, “Surely the church has to stand for something, surely we are called to live by a narrower set of rules!”

It was a fair comment. Surely there are guidelines that call us to live differently, surely there are expectations that have sharp edges, like freshly cut steel, surely there are times when we shouldn’t just take those guidelines to the grindstone and take off the dangerous edges! Surely, spiritual expectations shouldn’t be based on what is comfortable, harmless, inoffensive!

In that conversation, and today, I agree totally. There are much more important factors in decision making than what’s expedient, what will cause the least waves.

But I suspect, in that original conversation, and in similar ones held today, we far too often make the assumption that the one being called to risk, to make edgy decisions, the one that needs to change, as painful as that might be, is someone other than ourselves. The difficult and dangerous choice is usually pronounced on someone else. “To really belong here, you must do this. To really be saved, you must follow this prescription. To really be faithful, they must confront … as painful as that might be.”

We continue to assume, somewhat arrogantly, somewhat serenely, that we are the ones who are empowered to make those decisions, and to visit them on others. “The sharp edges are about you, about them.”

How would it be if we turned that on its head? How would it be if we assumed that the hard decisions, the searing honesty, the sharp edged call to truth, is exclusively for me? For you? For that visage that stares back from the mirror?

The human search for spirituality, and I’ll focus here on Christianity, has not done well at this. As western Christians, we have made assumptions, claimed them as holy and Biblical, and then set forth in various and sundry forms to convince the world.

I’ll accept that I’m a little harsh in my choice of words. My point is that we’ve chosen to let go of the view that the person most in need of holy change is that same visage in the mirror. That’s both exciting and hopeful, because that’s the only person that I, or you, have any business changing.

Certainly that change often exacts a toll. Again, metaphorically, electricians’ tape will be needed from time to time. Certainly, grieving is always part of any meaningful change. As a friend reminds me, “Yes, it might be hard, but hard isn’t necessarily bad.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa suggested, already in the fourth century, that “Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.”

I suggest that statement is the most exciting, the most engendering of real growth, with the most potential of exposing real sin, when we hold it to ourselves. When we choose to step into the midst of sharp and cutting edges, when we choose not to reach for the grinder to wear down those dangerous places, when we choose to live in that place that includes the risk of pain, perhaps even blood.

Keep that roll of black tape handy!

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