God Uses Means: Or, How to Avoid Complete Cynicism


There was a moment in worship at Winter Camp last week when all I could think about was change. I was thinking about how I could change myself, how I would change the camp experience if I could, how the Christian Church itself should change…

And that might sound somewhat deep, but existential crises are so routine for me at this point that they border on the mundane.  All of this was really just the venting of my frustration; I was frustrated at the cheesiness and cheapness** of things.  I lamented to God the cheap things I valued so highly in my own heart, the cheapness of the well-worn “camp decision night”, even the cheapening effect of professionalized ministry.

In that moment, the cognitive jump from “people do cheap things” to “people are cheap” was a fairly natural one for me.  So I stood there, acutely aware of how broken the world, and we as a people, truly were.

Then the band played the chorus of Gungor’s “Beautiful Things.”  It went like this;

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things, out of dust.

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things, out of us.

The first part of the chorus is an obvious throwback to Genesis 2, where God creates human beings from the dust of the earth.  God makes humans, absolutely beautiful creatures. Then God, in the midst of a seemingly chaotic history, goes on to make even more beauty both through and out of those humans.

I found myself agreeing that God not only can make beautiful things, but that God does make beautiful things. It is a part of the very character and activity of the Creator.

And the material this Active Creator uses is the dust of earth.

Sometimes worship services feel especially dusty.
Sometimes relationships suffer under the burden of their dustiness.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and it’s difficult to see beauty for all of the dust.

But that’s the stuff God uses.

Half of our job as humans is to work for the good, to create beautiful things ourselves instead of simply settling for the dust. I believe the other, probably more difficult half, is to recognize the inherent value of any substance that God would use. For me, that’s the dust of an imperfect worship service, an imperfect camp, an imperfect church, an imperfect people, and an imperfect me.

Surely God makes beautiful things.


**By cheap I intend to convey “meaningless”, “less-than-perfect”, “self-defeating”, “formulaic”, “devalued”, and a whole mess of other synonymous ideas

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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4 thoughts on “God Uses Means: Or, How to Avoid Complete Cynicism

  1. Cynicism the lack of faith or hope odd state of mind for a pastor.
    Nice to read that you came around in the end .
    Faith like Love is a Choice not a feeling .Being governed by ones feelings is how adolescents think.

  2. Allen – just found your blog and I’m stoked to be here! I am an almost-Fuller student myself.
    “For me, that’s the dust of an imperfect worship service, an imperfect camp, an imperfect church, an imperfect people, and an imperfect me…”
    I love this statement because I believe that the Christian pursuit of “perfection” has culminated in a faith similar to that of the Mormons – “we are saved by grace after all we can do.” This, however, is not the gospel. Jesus continually shamed the proud, perfection-driven Pharisees and instead pointed to children as the “ideal”, thereby trumping nearly every worldly standard of greatness.
    I suppose it is our pride and human nature that desires to be perfect and to be worshiped, or more so to be approved by God.
    We can only be made beautiful through our weakness, when we surrender our desire to be perfect, to be approved, and instead allow Jesus to re-invent our ego, making us rest in beauty instead of striving toward the goal.

    Thanks for the post! Gungor is amazing.

  3. Jesus wept . . .
    Jesus loved . . .
    Jesus turned over tables . . .
    Jesus asked if there was another way than the cross . . .
    Jesus rebuked . . .
    Jesus had compassion . . .
    Jesus prayed . . .
    Jesus was calm in the storm . . .

    Jesus was a man . . .
    Jesus is God . . .
    Jesus is the way, the truth, the life . . .
    Jesus is not a book . . .

    Faith comes . . .

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