Several years ago I worked at a publishing company in the maintenance department. It was an incredibly valuable experience because of my co-workers and the new things I learned. Dave was a guy I worked with quite a lot. He was in his early 60’s, married to a 30-something young woman and they had a very young toddler together, plus her children from a prior marriage. I loved working with Dave. He had a good-natured attitude and a wicked sense of humor. Lots of fun.
Dave was our electrician and had been both a home builder and a preacher earlier in his life. I guess if the congregation didn’t respond the way he wanted, he could wire the pews to force the issue. One of the things he taught me occurred while I watched how he tackled a new project. I have always been one to adapt to what life has given me. When I walk into a room, I see the structures as if they are concrete…immovable. Dave, on the other hand, saw the structures as changeable. He would sit down with the one in charge of the project and ask, “What would you like to do in here? What do you need?” He would then change the room to fit the vision. It is a VERY different way of thinking compared to my own cognitive habit. Now either habit of approaching life will work. One way will fit some circumstances better than the other. Neither is better than the other. I come to adaptation naturally. It’s the way I see things. However, learning a new method of approaching a problem, of seeing what appears immovable and realizing you just need the correct tool, can be both instructive and freeing.
One project we tackled, called for us to remove a wall built of concrete cinder blocks. Dave put together a list of items we would need and we hauled them from the shop to the job sight. We blocked the hallway on one side of the wall, so no foot traffic could come through. I looked around and picked up a large sledge hammer. Just as I was beginning my back swing, Dave said, “You know, if I was going to take that wall down, I’d use an easier way…” I have lived by the theme, “If you can’t get the job done, just get a bigger hammer.” Kind of a fullback attitude, and for good reason, I played fullback in football.
Instead, Dave walked over to a large hammer drill. A hammer drill is a tool with a bit that turns and hammers the material at the same time. It is very effective for use on hard surfaces. He next took a chisel-bit and put it in the hammer drill. Then the lesson began. “If you press the chisel on the grout lines between the blocks, the grout will crack. ” He then pressed the hammer drill bit into the grout lines connecting the blocks and each grout line cracked easily. I then took the loosened block and threw it into the rolling dumpster we brought for that purpose.
As soon as he explained the strategy, I immediately understood the process and why it worked. I then continued to take the wall apart, block by block. Quick work. I’m pretty good at DEconstruction! As I worked at the process, a thought started to form in the recesses of my mind. “There is an illustration here….” I thought. Eventually, the picture exploded in my consciousness….
In the Bible, communities of Christ-followers are called “living stones” and Jesus Christ is characterized as the Corner stone. Each of us are stones with different shapes, sizes, and colors. In a community, we are a mozaic where each stone fits in the overall design of the wall. Communities are destroyed when the connections between the stones crack and crumble. When the things that connect us are destroyed, we each become isolated. We then can be thrown away as having no apparent value.
So how are we connected? The grout between the blocks in the wall I deconstructed was made up of three materials: sand, water, and a hardening agent. Although you can certainly form a rock wall by piling stone upon stone, using grout produces a better, pest resistant wall behind which people can shelter themselves.
Sharing the pain, disappointment, and weaknesses in our journey with another person locks us together just as the particles of sand lock together. We can become close to another person when we are using our strengths and talents for some common purpose. However, it’s easy for the relationship to end when the project is completed or for us to be threatened by our comrade’s strengths. We then turn into competitors rather than compatriots. Sharing our weaknesses, however, pulls us in tighter and removes the need to impress. We give and receive grace. We share in each other’s vulnerabilities.
As with any physical process, water helps to reduce heat from friction. Living with each other, even those we deeply love, causes minor friction between people. If not dealt with, excessive heat can end in explosions that tear the relationship apart. The cooling water of forgiveness suppresses the heat of conflict, bringing positive change as personal differences are dealt with and talked through. In a Christian faith community, God’s Spirit is the spring of cooling water, the initiator of forgiveness, pointing us back to Christ’s forgiveness of us as individuals.
The hardening agent to our connectedness is love. Love celebrates the best in us and gives grace to the worst in us. Love stays put even when life is hard. Love accepts life as it is, and remains thankful. Love is passionate about the Beloved. Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Only God loves perfectly and the nature of our relationship can be solidified by the hardening agent of God’s love for us. Love is a process, it isn’t something that just happens to us. Love requires choosing the one loved. Although some loves are easier than others, they fill in the weak places and grind down the sharp places in ourselves.
We become disconnected from community when we allow cracks to form between us without repair. We become carried away with self-absorption. We may choose bitterness rather then forgiveness. That’s not to say we don’t have healthy boundaries between us. Every stone has an edge. We need the distinction and integrity of our our uniqueness. We must understand our innate, God-created value. But we need each other. Love enriches us both.