Tommy Lee Jones once gave me great advice. We’re not friends, of course. And he wasn’t speaking to me. And the words weren’t even his own, really. But in Men in Black 3 he gave the sage advice, “Trust the pie.”
Now as it turns out, it wasn’t Tommy Lee but Josh Brolin. And he didn’t actually use those words. Agent J (Will Smith) and a young Agent K (Brolin) were looking desperately for a way to save the earth from alien invasion when Brolin says, “We need pie.” Solutions, he explained, are not always found by facing questions head on. But when we get out of our heads and do something unrelated - like eat pie - solutions sometimes appear. It’s true. When puzzling over a difficult pastoral issue, or when a sermon resists all progress, or when our schedule is in danger of a “rapid unexpected disassembly,”our best move may be to “trust the pie.”
As some know,I recently attended the Central Florida Dulcimer Festival. I was facing neither an alien invasion nor some pastoral conundrum. I only intended to try to sell the hammered dulcimers and cajons I had made. But taking my brain out of its comfortable world helped me see a few old truths in a fresh new way.
This festival in an unexpected way became my pie.
1. Decent is okay
I was reminded first of all that decent is okay. Though I make hammered dulcimers, I lack sufficient experience to know how the ones I make compare to those made by others. I didn’t necessarily think my three instruments would compare favorably to the dulcimer equivalent of C. F. Martin & Co., but I didn’t want them to be laughed at, either. And so at the festival I invited a couple instructors to try them out. One said that they sounded nice. Another finished playing one and pronounced it a “decent” instrument. There was kindness in their words, but sincerity as well, and I was grateful. My dulcimers may never be deemed among the world’s elite, and neither will my ministry. But that’s okay. One needn’t be the producer of the finest instruments - or sermons or churches - to bring good music to the world. I’m okay with decent.
2. Community is beautiful
Secondly, I was reminded of the beauty of genuine community. My booth, situated as it was under the backboard at one end of the church gym, gave me a great view of a vibrant community. Those who attend a dulcimer festival are not the beautiful people of a Hollywood opening night, or those gathered on the platform of some elite theology conference. These were ordinary people gathered around a common passion. I saw jam sessions break out among gifted musicians, who would then turn around and encourage the fumbling beginners. There were master craftsmen and there was, well, me. But the community was accepting and accessible. A maker of beautifully intricate autoharps sat with me and discussed the crafting of instruments. One of the better known makers of hammered dulcimers enjoyed playing one of my cajons. There was a sense of belonging and an absence of judgment and people greeted one another as old friends. It was the type of genuine community that we all long to see in our churches.
3. Soli Deo Gloria
And, finally, I was reminded of what is to be my primary motivation. One wouldn’t think that a Presbyterian pastor, one steeped in a catechism that declares his chief end to be the glory of God, would need to hang out with a bunch of folk instrument lovers to be brought back to first principles. But that’s the beauty of pie. It surprises us.
Rick Gooden makes beautiful and highly sought after mountain dulcimers in New Harmony, Indiana. Rick’s generous spirit sought me out, and he spent a long time walking me through his process for finishing his instruments. He was genuinely interested in helping me. Toward the end of our conversation Rick said, “Randy, I want to give you one piece of advice, but you may not like it.” I was eager to learn, I told him. So he said, “Randy, do what you do to the glory of God.”
Rick didn’t know if I had religious convictions at all, and he certainly was unaware of my day job. Nor was he springing a trap in order to make an evangelistic score. He was just speaking from his own overflowing heart. He walked over to one of his instruments and pointing said, “Right here, on the inside of every instrument, we write ‘soli deo gloria’ so we don’t forget.”
Well, I had forgotten, and this maker of beautiful things from Indiana reminded me.
In all these things, when I didn’t know what I needed, God slid a piece of pie across the table and said, “You need pie.”
And it was good.
Perhaps a movie in which the earth is infested by aliens, monitored by a secret government agency, does not fit your particularly likes. But really, it’s a good movie!
The now famous words of the SpaceX engineer describing a rocket which, to the rest of the world, simply exploded.
I spoke about the dulcimer festival in a previous post.
Delightful reading in every way! You were my "pie" this afternoon. Or maybe you shared a piece with me. Thanks.
Great commentary on BEING in space and time and OBSERVING all you can about yourself, about others and about what God might be up to in the midst of it all. Love it. I need to connect and get a Cajon from you friend, I would love the one I learn on to be from a dear friends hands! Peace