Ned Erickson

Questions for Discussion

1. “From his spot by Mule Lick Creek,he’d watch the stars sparkle from their spots in the universe. He’d shudder at their beauty. Though, sometimes their distance produced in him a longing that was almost too large to bear. A feeling of lonely that left him wondering if he was missing something, if there was more to life than just being Clay. And many nights he’d lie awake into the wee hours, wondering what that something could be.” Have wonderings like that ever “curled around your mind like question marks?” Is the longing for something more universal? How about the thing we long for? (see p.6)
(b) When Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), what did he mean by full? Are we born with less life than we were meant to have? What does “full life” even mean?

2. Belief is a big theme in Clay. At the beginning of the book, Clay cannot move without belief. Later, the Potter says to Clay, “You can do anything, even if people believe that you can’t.” How does belief affect ones ability to move? How has the belief or unbelief of others shaped your view of yourself? (see pp.14-15, 25, 161-162)
Belief is also a big theme in the Gospels. “Believe” comes up seventy-one times in the Gospel of John. (In contrast, the word love only comes up twenty-six times.) Why is believing so important to Jesus? What do you think he means by it?

3. What do you think about Clay’s conversation with Crick and Craw? How accurate is the crows’ perspective on humans and the Potter? Later, when we meet the Potter, we learn that because of his cataracts, he cannot see very well. The author writes, “The truth is seeing is always a matter of perspective.” And later, in the conversation mentioned in the previous question, the Potter states, “Many things are missed when you only believe what you see.” How does sight play a role in the novel? How does one’s perspective change the way we see reality? How does it affect the way we see God? (see pp.17-20, 45-52, 102, 161-162)
2 Corinthians 5:7 states: “We live by faith, not by sight.” After Jesus comes back to life, he tells his disciples: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). How might “seeing” help or hinder faith? How has “sight” or “lack of sight” influenced your relationship with God?

4. During China’s conversation with Clay, she talks about being cut, mashed, thrown, punched, poked, pounded, and beaten. China says that she prefers to use the word shaped. What do you think about the term shaped? China goes on to say, “The difference is that when the world does it to you, the results can be rather messy…The Potter is different. The process might feel the same, but his results are good.” How do you understand God’s involvement in the shaping that has happened in your life? How have you experienced the shaping of the world versus the shaping of The Potter? How have you experienced his good results? How have you not? What does China mean when she says that “there is a difference sometimes between fact and truth?” How does our definition of things inform how we understand the truth beneath the facts? (see pp. 79-80)

5. Another theme of Clay is finding one’s purpose. Throughout the novel, Clay wonders if finding a purpose will give him fulfillment. Along his journey, he meets “made things” who seem to have found elements of purpose in their made-ness. Finally, we meet the Potter who doesn’t seem interested at all in giving Clay a purpose. What do you think the author is trying to say about the subject? Do you believe there is a specific purpose for each one of us? How does one find it? Or does purpose find us? As a culture, do you think that we put too much or too little emphasis on the idea of purpose? Why? As believers, how does the quest to find purpose in life fit in with God’s primary desire, which is to have a relationship with us? Or is the pursuit of purpose and relationship diametrically opposed to each other?

6. In the Chapter called “Apple Trees,” the Potter tells Clay a story about two similar trees that grow up in completely different circumstances. How do you interpret the meaning of this “parable?” What does it mean to you to grow where you are planted? Is the Potter correct when he says that life is what matters, not how many people eat our fruit? (see pp. 164-170)
How does this parable compare to what Jesus says to his disciples in John 15:1-8?

At the end of the chapter, Clay asks the Potter if the conclusion of the parable really happened. The Potter answers by saying, “It’s my story. I can tell it any way I want.” Do you think that God is writing a story with your life? Is that a comforting or discomforting idea for you? When you look at Scripture, God has already revealed to us how The Story will end? Should “knowing how the story will end” change the way we live now?  

7. On the last night the Potter and Clay spend with each other, they take a long walk by the river with no purpose whatsoever. The author writes: “The Potter had made [Clay] after all. The Potter had made him whole.” What does whole-ness mean? Earlier, Prayer for a Daughter tells Clay that no made thing is completely self-satisfied. How does her insight relate to the idea of whole-ness? Why is it important to separate who we are and what we do? Why is separating them sometimes difficult? (see pp.95-96,185) 
The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 may be helpful to look at. How can serving God be dangerous to our relationship with him? Why does it sometimes feel easier to do things for God instead of choosing to be with him?

8. Merriam-Webster defines an allegory as “a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life.” Based on that definition, is Clay an allegory? Think about the characters and events. In what ways does this story fit the definition? It what ways does it not?
The image of God as Potter and humans as clay is used from time to time in the Bible. Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are the work of your hand.” In Jeremiah 18, God uses the metaphor to show Jeremiah the prophet how he is willing to reshape the future based on what happens in the present. Paul uses it when writing to the Romans when explaining God’s sovereignty (Romans 9:17-21). How does what happens in the novel Clay relate to these Scriptural images? How does the story differ?

9. In the prologue, the author states that Clay becomes made. As you were reading the story, did you find yourself predicting what was going to happen? What predictions did you make? How did you react when you found out what actually happened? Was it a satisfying resolution? How was it meaningful to you? (see p. xii)

10. How did you react to the author's note? Did you find it powerful? Or did you think it unnecessary? How does knowing the story behind the story affect your perspective on the book?
The author writes, “My purpose is not my own.” What do you think of the idea that ultimately our purpose is for others not for ourselves? How is that freeing? How is that challenging?
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What does it mean to “lay down one’s life?” 

Some other questions to consider:

11. The author framed his story with a conversation between a grandfather and his grandson. Why do you think he did this? What does the multigenerational layering of this book communicate about the book’s overarching message?

12. There is a certain dignity that the author gives each one of the made things Clay meets. What do you think he is trying to communicate to us about the way we see others? How do we as humans elevate or devalue people based on their purposes? Prayer for a Daughter shares that even though she is expensive, in a sense she is less valuable than a brick. Taking her point, what does this say about the way we should treat one another? (see pp. 94-95)

13. On page 49, One-Eye tells Clay, “Beauty is pain.” What does that mean? How does Clay experience this truth throughout the story? How does the idea that beauty is pain play out in your life both negatively and positively?

14. On page 25, the author writes, “Winter is a long season for belief to endure.” Think about life in terms of seasons. How does our life reflect the natural changes that occur around us each year? Are the seasons we experience in belief and faith and love and life necessary? Are they good? Were we meant to have them? How might God use seasons to meet us in different ways?

15. Clay has a rollercoaster of an experience while watching a broken plate become part of a beautiful mosaic. A few thought provoking things happen during this transformation. The Potter tells Clay at one point, “things do not always turn out the way we mean them to.” What do you think about that statement? Then after Clay watches Dawne place the shard, Clay discovers, “All was not lost. The plate, the broken one that had lost a purpose, had gained another one here – a purpose perhaps, even more meaningful. Even if it was attained through brokenness.” What do you think about that? How can brokenness give meaning and beauty to things? (see pp.127-135)