Potluck | September 1, 2016

Beautiful imperfection

Photo by Ken Frantz

With apologies to exacting engineers everywhere, there is nothing wrong with a little imperfection. The recent construction of a small retaining wall around one end of our newly established garden illustrates this notion.

Primary material for the wall consists of various pieces of calcareous limestone, the very kind that causes consternation for farmers and damage to grain drills each planting season. Nearly every adjoining section of neighboring farmland seems to sport at least one pile of offending rock that has been picked from the fields. It’s not exactly premium architectural stone. Relatively soft and easily broken, it is also quite irregular in both shape and thickness. However, the cost is right, something that leveled the playing field while balancing labor and resources for the project.

A laser level aided us in identifying desired contours of the wall relative to topography. Even then, it was helpful to allow the eye the final say in determining basic height and curve, a nod to aesthetics over precision.

Likewise, most of the stones were set in place without pursuing an exact fit. Our largest temptation was to overthink their placement. The most pleasing results came from discovering a rhythm as they were positioned, while trying our best not to agonize or discriminate over which stone came next.

Sixty bags of concrete premix set the back side of the wall, with the remaining sand and soil serving as backfill. The result was what we had envisioned, not because each stone was perfectly chosen and precisely placed, but because each stone’s imperfection worked in concert with other imperfect stones, blending the design into a pleasing whole.

There is something to be said for celebrating imperfection, the kind that most of us bring to the table of everyday living—in our families, our churches, even the floor of Annual Conference. Scripture is replete with God’s imperfect people striving towards a beautiful perfection. Recognition of imperfection results in setting aside blame and hostile critique of others in order to accomplish something beyond the individual self. Thus, servant leadership becomes possible once again.

Are we willing to be placed alongside stone not of our choosing? Will we challenge the stonemason’s vision at every turn out of conceit and selfishness? Will we dismiss others who are as imperfectly made as us?

It is ironic that God’s perfect presence is most readily discoverable in tandem with that which is imperfect and incomplete. God calls us to greater spiritual awareness, to rise above vanity and self-importance, to look beyond to a perfection that cannot be attained by our will alone.

Where, then, do we glimpse perfection? In unselfish words, committed relationships, grace freely offered, love readily received. It is in communion with others, where truth is declared though conscience is honored, where kindness is a purposeful choice, and where compassion for others is never optional. If we’re not careful, we might someday be confused with actual followers of Christ.

Do what you need to do when building your own retaining walls, but don’t get too down on yourself if the results are less than perfect. Allowing imperfection to be part of the creative process opens the door to forgiveness across the entire project. And when the task nears completion, take time to step back in order to view the larger picture and to appreciate how beautiful imperfection can be.

Ken Frantz is a non-salaried ordained pastor serving Haxtun (Colo.) Church of the Brethren. He lives near Fleming, Colo., and writes regularly for the local newspaper.