By Steven Norris

     The first time I toured Matt’s Asheville studio, I couldn’t take my eyes off the large pile of yard clippings lurking in the corner. To me, it appeared to be little more than a common brush pile — one you might find in the backyard after a Saturday afternoon of yard work. To Matt, however, this raw material that would soon give way to numerous artistic masterpieces.

     Matt crafts baskets primarily from tree bark and other innovative raw materials like vines and kudzu. The pieces he creates are not the predictable containers for household knick-knacks or potted plants. Matt’s baskets become exquisite and beautiful sculptures one might mount over the mantel.

     It doesn’t take an art aficionado to detect the difference between these handmade baskets and the ones you might pick up at a local hobby store. Whereas mass-produced baskets take the raw material and force it into a predetermined mold, each one of Matt’s baskets is entirely unique. He doesn’t coerce the material into a preplanned uniform shape, but seeks to honor the particular qualities and characteristics inherent in each stick, branch, vine, or shaving. Therefore, each basket is a slightly different size, shape, color, and texture. Matt’s goal is to bring out the inherent beauty of each individual piece of organic raw material.

     In the same way, I believe that God desires a church where disciples are handmade, not mass produced. Homogeneity is too often the goal in so many groups today. Whether it be churches, social clubs, or political factions, it often feels as though the goal of these organizations is to make cookie-cutter clones of whatever happens to be en vogue at any given moment.  

     God doesn’t want to simply fill the church with Jesus clones. God wants to take the individual gifts, abilities, and personality of each person to variously God’s life-giving Spirit. In this way, no one in God’s church is superfluous, redundant, or expendable. In fact, the more we embrace our distinctiveness in Christ and insist on honoring the varied gifts of each individual, the better we see the Creator in whose image we have been fashioned.

     The scripture is pretty clear: “We are Gods masterpiece. The Lord has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things God planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10). To reveal such a treasure, a Master craftsman must adapt to the peculiar properties of each raw material. Whether it be wood, clay, marble, glass, or any other medium, masterpieces emerge from the creative and dynamic interplay of artist and creation.

     I believe that this is the kind of church God intends to create — a gallery of exceptional craftsmanship, each one exclusively revealing the fingerprint of the Master Craftsman. God’s church should never be filled with people that all look and act and think exactly alike. Sure, there will be similarities, but the church thrives only when it fully embraces God’s artful diversity.