Theaster Gates is an artist who lives and works in the south side of Chicago. Pottery became his passion, Theaster will tell you, because he was able to “learn how to make great things out of nothing.” With just the right finesse, a rather ordinary lump of clay is transformed into an elegant vase or functional bowl. The potter gets to take something that appears messy or useless and turn it into something beautiful.
But Gate’s work as a potter isn’t limited to clay. Over the past several years, Theaster became increasingly concerned with the growing number of vacant buildings, rising crime rates, and overall urban blight in his beloved south side community. So, he scraped together just enough money to buy an old, abandoned building not far from his studio.
Over the next several months, friends and strangers came together to transform what was once known as the neighborhood crack house into a community gathering space. Today it houses a small library, meeting rooms, and a “listening room” where local musicians can collaborate and share their music.
And that was just the beginning. Following the success of that renovation project, Theaster and others set their sights on more vacated properties. An old, dilapidated bank that was left with a caved-in roof and six feet of standing water is now transformed into a hub for artistic activity. Known as the Arts Bank, dance classes, theater performances, and art galleries will fill the space. A number of other abandoned homes and buildings have now undergone similar renovations.
Starting with clay and moving to buildings, what once seemed to be messy and useless has become something beautiful.
I suppose it’s no coincidence that several places in scripture refer to God as a potter. For instance, Isaiah 64: “You, O Lord, are our God; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God, too, seems to have a knack for taking something that appears ordinary or mundane and turning it into something special.
This week is an exceptional reminder of God’s creative abilities. Through this Holy Week we witness God transform death into new life. In the matter of a few days, the cross, an instrument of torture, is converted into a sign of hope and promised redemption. Jesus pours abundant grace and mercy into the messiness of our individual lives and creates changed and renewed lives.
In the midst of these holy days, I’m particularly grateful for Christ’s willingness to mold our lives into new and beautiful creations. I’m thankful for a God who looks at each of us, with all our ordinariness and sees great potential. We may not be a brilliant clay vase or renovated building. But we are most certainly the prized creations of a loving and thoughtful Potter.
-Katy Warren, associate pastor