I have always been an appreciator of art and artists – because I believe we are “creators”…meant to be creative. Rarely, though, until recently, have I given much thought to the artist that I am. I’ve thought of myself as, helpful, encouraging, useful, but rarely artful… why not? I fear the answer has more to do with my sin and weakness than humility. I have spent most of my life, encouraging and seeing the dignity in others but at some level diminishing my own. That diminishment reflects a lot of my story, but at this stage of my life, it has become a symbol of my sin and weakness. Like many of us here at the Barnabas Center, I get the distinct privilege of sitting with people in some of their darkest of spaces. I get to see, hear and experience the depravity and brokenness in spades. And I affirm that what many of us have done is beyond understanding, yet I have felt called to lose sight of where folks have come from…formed in the love of the Trinity, masterfully woven together in the heart and mind of God…born for beauty and purpose in His story…sinners, redeemable by grace alone. Yet, the pattern of handling myself has been to avoid or even diminish the “creator” in me making it a lesser part.
I spoke at a men’s retreat a few years back for one of our partner churches, and in the midst of many exchanges during that weekend I had a serendipitous conversation with a man who shared his love of music and his wife’s new delight in painting. At one point I said, “I have always wanted to learn how to sculpt and work with clay.” Little did I know that his next question would haunt me for months to come: “Why haven’t you acted on it?” In that moment, everything in me wanted to come up with a good answer to that question… “Too busy, not at the right stage of life, other responsibilities…” But I was flummoxed; I had no good answer.
A few months later I found myself at a pretty low place in my emotional journey and that question rose to the surface again and moved me to search for a place to “try” my hand at working with clay…and my repentance began. Now two years in, I have learned a lot, but the most important thing this new venture has given me is the avenue to express and bring to life the things that for so long have been mere pictures in my head.
About a year ago, I started into a series of sculptures called “Staff Stories”. The idea was birthed out of a series of talks given by the leadership during a closing ceremony we did for men in the Honors Program. We gave each man a walking staff at the end of their time with us as a remembrance of God’s presence and power with them on the journey ahead. As I have witnessed this ritual, I often thought: “I wish I could bring those stories to some tangible life…good IDEA, but that is not me….”
I finally risked and made the time to try and see. Below is one of the sculptures that has come out of my journey this past year.
The scene depicted is of Moses before the burning bush after he picked up the snake (that was his staff) to find it had been transformed once again into his staff. See Exodus 4:4.
Take from this scene what you will… But one of the things that moved me about the dialogue between this broken man (Moses) and God is what it must have been like for Moses to have God commission “him” to lead His people out of their suffering. The story here is rich for me because I have been that man, like Moses, who says in his own way, over and over, to God “No, that’s not me…that is someone else!” Sometimes the riskiest things for us to do are to trust and try… leaning in and risking. In this instance, I am glad I did. I have to imagine in the end Moses was too.
John Pierce joined The Barnabas Center in 1997. Having focused most of his professional attention on exploring and understanding issues men face, particularly in the realm of sexuality, gender identity and addiction, John is committed to helping men and their families find God through their struggles and understand their place in His plan. He is a nationally certified (NCC) licensed professional counselor (LPC), a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT), holds a master’s degree in Biblical counseling from Colorado Christian University, and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from William Jennings Bryan College. He is married to Sandy, and they have three children.