Forget the Angles

1

I have a preacher friend who lives in an old farmhouse that he is restoring himself. He’s one of those “do everything” guys. Gardening, carpentry, repair work, he does it all.

Robert is not a bullshit, pantywaist, white-collar preacher with soft theology and a degree in marketing. His faith and knowledge are deep and wide. He started his real learning after seminary.

The best thing I can say about him is this: His heart is soft enough to be broken, and his hands are strong enough to mend your shed.

A few months ago Robert hosted a retreat at his farm for misfit pastors. There were four of us, all slightly irregular, all in danger of not passing inspection. Hell, a couple of us have already been rejected and are now on the discount table.

I was wandering through the rooms, admiring the old farmhouse, when Robert said, “You know what I love most about this place?”

“What?”

“You won’t find a 90-degree angle anywhere.”

I ran my hand up and down the nearest corner and looked at it closely. He was right. The angle was acute by about ten degrees. The next corner was an obtuse mirror of the first. Euclid says I didn’t need to check the other corners, but you know I did. And yes, they were all irregular.

“Robert, how can the angles be this off? Was the guy who built it a spectacularly bad carpenter, or has it shifted over the years?”

Robert didn’t look at me when he replied. He was looking at the wall and running his hand back and forth over it, like you’d run your hand down a horse’s flank. “It was built this way, and the man was a wonderful carpenter. He just didn’t care about 90-degree angles.”

I was confused. How can you be a good carpenter and not care about right angles? I shook my head, not understanding. “Is it safe? Why hasn’t it fallen apart? How does it hold together?”

He smiled. “How indeed? And yet, here it stands, apparently doing quite well for itself these last 125 years. There’s nothing sacred about 90 degrees. You’re worshipping at the wrong altar. What you want are straight walls and good joints. You connect four straight walls, and the angles will take care of themselves. They will always come out to a perfect 360 degrees. Why worry about it? God’s got your back!”

I experienced a moment of mental slippage. 90-degree angles meant craftsmanship and solidity to me, and I resisted letting this go. My mind flashed with visions of strange, Seuss-like houses with weird walls jutting out at odd angles.

And then the scales fell from my eyes, and I could see. In my mind I saw an imaginary floor plan. The interior walls were not perpendicular to the exterior walls, but all the angles were snuggling. Every acute was spooning with its obtuse mate.

I saw the truth of it, and I loved the truth.

All I could say was “Holy Shit!”

Robert jerked his head toward the kitchen. The coffee was ready, and the other guys were gathering. I followed him, rolling this new thought around in my head and loving the feel of it. Four connected, straight walls will always have angles that total 360 degrees. What have we been worrying about?
Rob, I don’t know if it’s God or geometry, but something’s definitely watching out for us.”

We took our seats with the other misfits, and there we were. Four irregulars joined perfectly around a sacred wooden table. Robert poured himself a cup of coffee and had his last say on the matter.

God. Geometry. What’s the difference? Be straight, and make good connections. Don’t feel like you have to know all the angles. Let things work themselves out.”

As for the carpenter who built this house, I think he was a lot like another carpenter I’ve read about.”

Postscript: I had no idea how badly I would need this wisdom. Now, more than ever, I need to write straight, make good connections, and quit trying to figure out all the angles.

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  • Love this line. “The best thing I can say about him is this: His heart is soft enough to be broken, and his hands are strong enough to mend your shed.