(Delivered at UUSF on January 28, 2018. Listen to the audio here)
One of my coworkers makes beautiful pottery of all sorts. I have her cups, and I've given her bowls as gifts. And every one of these pieces has a story.
She can tell you about all of the properties of the clay she was using, the chemistry behind the glaze and how it becomes such a beautiful, varied color, and the technique she used to bring out the little ridges around the rim that give it a personal touch.
Every piece of pottery that she makes has already gone on a long journey even before it leaves her studio, and that's not even going into supply chain economics.
Since I work with someone as talented as that, I had to buy a planter from her as a gift to my sister, but unfortunately, I never even got to see it. When the artist was commuting to work to give it to me, it broke.
That was the way the planter ended: not with a bang, but a whimper. No dramatic flair, no accidental drops... and as you may expect, no bubble wrap. Just a small issue with packaging, and it was in pieces.
And that made me think: how do we deal with brokenness?
The planter wasn't a priceless work of art. In fact, if you want to see the price, you can just go online and look at her Etsy page. It hadn't been cherished by millions of people. It didn't have sentimental value since no one used it before. So in this case, the answer is easy: she threw it out and brought in a different one. The new one was beautiful; my sister loved it; happily ever after, the end.
Sometimes we do throw things out and start over, but that's not the only way to deal with brokenness.
It might take some effort, but another option is to make it like new again.
As technology gets better, that gets easier and easier. I'm sure that most people here have super glued something together. And probably spent a lot of time doing it to make sure that everything was perfect -- after all, we wouldn't have gone through the effort in the first place unless it was important.
But if you look close enough, you can still see the cracks. Once something has been broken, it will never be exactly like it was before.
We can't change history or erase the past, but there is still hope. We don't have to doom this planter to a fate of lying forgotten in a landfill or of being a glued-together shadow of its former self. There is a third way. Rather than trying to hide the brokenness, we can accept it.
There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi, which means golden joinery. When a piece of pottery breaks, a kintsugi artist could take the pieces and join them together using golden lacquer. The intention isn't to hide the cracks or to return the pottery to the way it was before. The intention is to recognize the brokenness, accept it, and make that a part of something new. Something that is both beautiful and broken.
Even though my coworker threw away the broken pieces of the first planter and gave me a new one, I remember the one that's broken, not the one that's whole. Breaking brought that planter and its story to this congregation.
And even though I don't have the pieces or skill with golden lacquer, I hope that with these words, you can imagine seeing it for the first time, your eyes drawn to the cracks, not away from them, you wonder where they came from and think about its history, and then you smile when it catches the light.
This weekend, I was with Coming of Age students, and we went on a Faithful Fools street retreat where we walked in the Tenderloin and reflected.
The Faithful Fools' mantra is the following three questions: what holds me separate? What keeps me separated? As I walk the streets, what still connects me?
None of us are whole on our own. Who we are is, at least partly, determined by how we relate to other people.
Believing that means admitting that it isn't just other people who are broken. For me, pilgrimage is about recognizing that we too are broken. And accepting that.
And that's hard, but remember -- kintsugi is an art form, and it takes practice. When we think that we should be at the volunteer side of the soup kitchen rather than on the receiving side and we feel like an imposter, it takes practice just to be present.
But this is our home, and maybe if we if we practice enough, we'll figure out how to accept ourselves, beautiful and broken as we are. And maybe then, the connections we make will glitter like gold.