It’s not about belief …
You and I have been given a pile of lumber and a small plot of ground. Being human, we each build a house. Being human, and not apes or whales, we don’t even think about building something other than a house. We need – a need deeper than our human bodies demand – shelter from the cold of night, the heat of day, the rain and wind and fearsome beasts of the wilderness all around. So we build houses, for the comfort of body and soul.
Most of the lumber has already been cut to shape, and we readily use it for the purpose it has been shaped: load-bearing posts, joists and rafters, broad boards for siding. To most of us, it seems foolish to build a house supported only by thin planks, but some try anyway and their houses may stand so long as unchallenged by the storm.
Others build houses like bunkers – thick walls, few and narrow windows, doors barred and gated. No one is invited in who does not pass the test. I feel sad walking past such houses.
Some of the lumber is old and weathered, and obviously used to build houses in times past. One timber – with now-empty nail holes – is named “Christ.” The beam named “Christ” is strong, and you may well decide to build your house with Christ as your ridge-beam, at the peak of the roof.
The architecture of houses with ridge-beams is much alike, though one may be an A-frame and another will have the roof elevated on walls. The more each house depends on its ridge beam – without gambrels or clerestories or wings off to the side – the more it will be like others of its kind, at least from the outside.
Either because your stack of lumber has no obvious ridge-beam, or you make a different choice, you may build your house with five, or maybe eight, rafters joining the walls to a center point. This house will shelter you as well as any other.
I admire your house from the outside: its dormers and gables, the cleverness and skill of its design and construction. A simple clapboard cottage and a Victorian adorned with gingerbread are equally admirable – though one requires more upkeep than the other. Are there lights shining from its windows? Is the front door easily opened?
I hope you will invite me into your house. Once inside, I can see how many rooms you have and what you do in them; I can see the decorations you have added: the spices in your kitchen, the shelves of books you read, the paintings of your ancestors hung in the hall. Have you found a new piece of lumber, and how have you combined it with the old ones you were given? What is your life like, living in this house?
I hope we do not indulge in comparisons: arguing over the strength of our houses’ timbers, the straightness of their grain, the presence or absence of knotholes. Even worse, to compare furnishings or colors of paint we have chosen. The former neglects the fact that each pile of lumber is a little different from all the others, and the latter elevates the value of sameness.
I would like to invite you into my house. I hope you will find it interesting, though not as comfortable as your own, of course. It is not the same as yours; where you put a door to the bedroom, I might have put the door to the attic. And, look what I have in my closets!
I once thought my house should be made of all new lumber, but now I am content with but a few pieces. See how I put them to use? Would you like to do the same, should you be as fortunate as I in finding new wood in the pile you are given?
-Eric E. Sabelman
26 May, 2011 (not spoken in Meeting)