Now, this class focused mostly on hand building the clay, as opposed to using a ceramics wheel. The ceramics wheel wasn’t introduced until Level Two, and I’ll go ahead and tell you I didn’t make it that far. However, there are a few different hand building techniques I can share with you.
There’s pinching, which is exactly like it sounds, basically taking a ball of clay and using your thumb and fingers to shape it. My very first project was a simple pinch pot. Then there is the slab technique, which again, is a lot like it sounds. The potter takes a flat slab of clay and rolls out any air bubbles. It can then be combined with other slabs to create a box or really anything with a less-round shape. And then there is my personal favorite, coiling. Balls of clay are rolled into long coils and then those coils are put together to create a vase or cup of some kind. I used the coil method for my final project, a coffee mug.
We also learned about welding, or attaching different pieces of clay together. And slip, which is watered down clay that acts as glue while welding. Like I said, there was so much more to it than I ever realized before taking the class. And I probably just shared more than you’ll ever need to know.
I went into that class simply set on creating something, shaping and forming the clay. But I clearly didn’t realize how intricate the process actually is, the small details and subtleties of it, and the different ways in which clay can be shaped.
In a similar way, I’m learning to pay attention to the ways in which I am being shaped, too. Because the truth is, we are all being formed by something, sometimes multiple things. And many times, we don’t even realize it.
Back in episode 8, I shared a bit about our puppy, Clyde. Well, Clyde is a full-grown dog now, and when I look back at pictures of when he was a puppy not too long ago (mostly when I’m frustrated with him and need to be reminded of how cute he was), I’m blown away by the growth and transformation that has happened. It didn’t happen overnight - it was small and subtle, but here we are a year and half later. I don’t have children, but I notice the same type of growth and transformation in my young niece and nephews. If you do have children, you can probably speak to this even more than I can.
Even as adults, we are all subtly being shaped and formed, mostly by the things we give our time and attention to. Yes there might be bigger events or moments that change us for better or worse, but most of the time, the change is slow, small and subtle.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. A couple weeks ago, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. Several friends had been talking about it and as someone who admittedly struggles with the effects of social media, I thought I should see what it was all about. The documentary features tech experts who actually spent time creating the very things they end up warning us about, and it explores the impact social media has had on humanity. More specifically, it speaks to the negative impact. I won’t go into all the details, but in a nutshell, they share about how they set out to make a helpful tool and didn't realize they were actually creating a monster. It has formed each of us as individuals, figuring out what grabs our attention and keeping us locked in. But it has also started to form all of us as a society, the way we interact with each other and ultimately the way we treat one another. A subtle but powerful reshaping, reforming, has occurred, and these tech experts wish they could turn back time.
There are some good things that come from social media, like being able to keep in touch with and updated on people I care about, and that has been especially useful during this time of social distance. Sometimes I’ll even learn something or be given an opportunity to consider another perspective. So I’m not saying it’s all bad, which is part of why I haven’t just completely gone off the grid. But I can see that more often than not, the time I spend on social media or even just my phone isn’t forming better character within me. Instead, it tends to breed anxiety, tension, comparison, discontent, a shorter attention span, and even sloth. So I’m having to reevaluate the frequency and ways in which I use my phone, because I don’t want it to be forming me for the worse. I think we were created for so much more.
This type of subtle formation happens more often than we realize and that’s why it is so important to remember it and be aware of it. But social media is just one example. It could also be the the things we spend our money on, the sports teams we’re dedicated to, the news outlets we follow, political parties, what we read and watch and listen to, the people we surround ourselves with. All of those things, while not bad in and of themselves, subtly contribute to the people we are becoming. And ultimately, we become the product of what we prioritize, of what we give our time and attention to.
It’s interesting, then, to think about what that means for our faith. If I want to experience the abundant life Jesus offers, the love, joy, peace, faith and hope found in Him, and if I want to exemplify Jesus’ characteristics in the world around me, being a reminder of that same love, joy, peace, faith and hope, then I have to ask the question: are the things that are shaping me - the person I’m becoming - are they forming me into the character of Christ, or something else? There is an obvious correlation between what we pay attention to and the people we are becoming.
If we want to look and live more like Jesus, then we must be intentional about paying attention to Jesus and investing our time into the things that reflect His character.
Paul knew this when he wrote these familiar words in Philippians 4:
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Those things reflect the person of Jesus Christ. They are worthy of our attention, our investment, our whole lives. And when we pay attention to those Christlike things, we are enabled to become the very people God calls us to be.
We read in Scripture about the Fruit of the Spirit - basically the attributes of life rooted in Christ, dependent on grace, guided by the Spirit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These are the markers of a disciple of Jesus Christ. But we can’t will ourselves to exhibit them. We can’t force ourselves to practice them. Instead they are a result, a gift, of a life connected to Jesus.
One of the last messages Jesus shared with his disciples had to do with this very connection. In John 15:1-5, Jesus shared,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Who or what are you most strongly, most closely connected to? Maybe an athletic team, a political party, or maybe a community of faith? How are you being shaped and formed? By people’s opinions of you, the time you spend on social media, the material possessions you accumulate, or maybe a regular rhythm of developing your faith and serving others? What are they producing in your life? Overwhelm, anxiety, insecurity, anger, hatred, or maybe love, joy, peace, faith, and hope? And who are you becoming as a result?
Today, remember to pay attention. The more aware we are of how we’re being shaped, the more intentional we can be as we seek to look more and more like Jesus. That’s what our world needs more than anything. May that be who we become.