One is not justified by works, but through faith.

Saul of Tarsus may have been the best press agent ever. In several letters he wrote the above words, but I somehow find that talk difficult to walk. Paul murderously pursued the small collective of Jewish believers in the Messiah. They blasphemed against God, and Paul took it upon himself to silence their false testimony.

That is, until that small seat of personal power suddenly seemed meaningless, even evil. Not falling into his cup of wine in dissolute despair, or even using his ill-gotten gains whoring around in moments of purchased ecstasy, he realized that he was an ass.

I moved 7,000 pounds of River Jack rock over 8 hours this weekend.

We created the “Barn of Fun” at our house about 15 years ago, after 5 years of construction. A bunch by me. You could say that an architect making a place for his home is all about “me.” Sure.

Like everything else swimming in my head, how our box touched the ground was strong in my mind for some time. It had to be gravel (I had learned over the last 20 years that nothing grows in the deep, rocky shade).

So I went to a gravel store, where a box of “river jacks” was compelling. Harvested from river beds, river jacks, “rounds,” or water-washed stones are similar to the interlocking boulders that essentially comprise our glacial moraine site. Frozen water moved those boulders to our site, and many tumbled across thousands of miles over hundreds of thousands of years by glacial creep, as the world grew colder, and the frozen water grew heavier. So the well-traveled stone is a micro-allusion to river jacks. These smaller rocks are small enough to be taken away by the rushing flow of rivers. They are gathered along the river’s course until they drop to form the river bottom’s bed.

These rocky acts took no faith, just gravity and water. They happened without humans even knowing that they happened. The same useless drive we have–to know “why” these rocks are where they are, or even why they are–is strong with me, every day.

It is a time where our rivers of life are pretty much frozen, the glacier life of unrelenting and frustratingly slow progress to eventual freeing is our current COVID-19 Sequestration.
So, in this forced Sequestration, I’ve worked my ass off. I have renovated the decaying walls our home’s bath, fixed the failing finish on another bath’s wooden floor. I painted two doors and three windows–and every plant has been planted, and, even, gasp, tended. My lawn never gets too shaggy and the damaged walls in our home have been compounded and painted.

I Justified Sequestration. I was winning this quarantine life.

Well, until the bare dirt-filled 15-year-old river rock demanded attention. I could pay cash to have someone do the work. But no. The internet complied, and I thought I had found the right stuff and ordered. Three times more than was needed. The internet sent 2- to 3-inch stones rather than the 1- to 2-inch stones that I had ordered.

So I enlisted my Sequestration-Sentenced son and we got to work.

We separated the dirt-filled existing stone from its clogging earth. For two days we made 100 wheelbarrow deliveries and settings of stone (too big to really be “gravel”) in about 15 places. At the close of work was dinner. I was done on time. I fulfilled the 15-year legacy. I walked the talk. And I was not sore, just a little stiff, and suffered one contusion that, this morning, seems to have healed.

I was justified by my acts.

But once I was finished, I knew that this was all about me. Others may appreciate the work in passing (especially when I thump my chest) but what I fixed really wasn’t broken to anyone but me.

God made all those little rocks by hand. He made the thing that these things came from and are set into, first by water, then by me. He made me. Paul also wrote elsewhere:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. […] For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15, 19)

I do not have the instinctive faith of most fish’s gills. They simply receive oxygen from the water–like our lungs, the mechanisms of our bodies which inflate and expel the gases needed to live, with no thought on our part, and no effort (until you have COVID-19). But a few fish (sharks) need to move to push the water through their bodies, over the gills that receive the oxygen needed to live. They swim to live. Survival by acts.

Why am I a shark? Why did Saul of Tarsus give up the Power Play Life? Why did he pivot to become St. Paul? Why do I do what I do not want to do? Why can’t I stop being a shark?

Well, God made me a shark. God seems to make some sharks. He made Saul of Tarsus, and he made St. Paul. Not what I want, but that’s what I am. In the end I have been given everything–even if I do not earn any of it, I still try to make His Gift a transaction.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go fill the pothole in my office driveway.