Mosaic Crosses

30 04 2012

At our spring retreat this year, we spent a night thinking about grace and salvation. We looked at the story of the woman caught in adultery and talked about how the message of the cross is that God makes beautiful things out of our brokenness. After singing, playing a game, and talking through this story, we divided into our small groups for a time of creative response. We gave each group a hammer, old towels, and one ceramic tile per person. We invited the youth to smash their tile into tiny pieces as they reflected on the idea of “brokenness.” (The idea was, each small group would amass a variety of different colored tile pieces in the process). Then, we passed out plain wooden crosses (we bought them for $1 at Hobby Lobby), mosaic grout, and plastic spoons, and we let the youth create to their hearts’ content! Hand wipes also came in handy (no pun intended).

If you want to do this craft for less money and less mess, check home improvement stores and ask if you can have their broken tile pieces. But for us, it totally worked to break our own tiles!

breaking tiles

Jordan's cross in progress

Remind students not to eat the grout ūüôā

one small group's completed crosses!

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Brokenness

11 03 2011

This Tuesday, I began volunteer training to become a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate). ¬†I knew from the beginning that it would be a tough process: CASAs are appointed to represent the best interests of children in foster care, typically those who have been badly abused. ¬†I’ve quickly learned that “the best interests” of these children doesn’t mean that we will find a happy, fix-all solution for any of them. ¬†The stories are convoluted and sad; and the best solution, obviously, would be to go back in time and prevent any of the abuse from ever happening. ¬†It is overwhelming to try and wrap your mind around how many kids — just in our city! — who have lived with abuse and neglect as their norm.

On Tuesday night, after training, I opened up my Bible in search of some Scripture that might possibly speak to this 21st-century reality. ¬†And I ended up in the 9th chapter of Ezra. ¬†At this point in the story, Ezra has just returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to oversee the rebuilding of the Temple. ¬†He’s probably dreamed of this moment all his life. ¬†He is returning to his people’s homeland…to the most holy place in all of Judaism. But shortly after he arrives, he learns that the returned exiles have disobeyed God yet again. ¬†Here is his reaction:

“When I heard this, I tore my clothing, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. ¬†Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this unfaithfulness of his people. ¬†And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice. ¬†At the time of the sacrifice, I stood up from where I had sat in mourning with my clothes torn. ¬†I fell to my knees, lifted my hands to the Lord my God. ¬†I prayed, “O my God, I am utterly ashamed. ¬†I blush to lift my face to you. ¬†For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens. ¬†Our whole history has been one of great sin…and now, O our God, what can we say after all of this? ¬†For once again we have ignored your commands!” (Ezra 9:5-7a, 10, NLT)

Of course we sin. ¬†Of course we fall short. ¬†It’s in our very nature, and it is written across every page of human history. ¬†But there are moments when we catch a glimpse of just how broken we really are, and we can’t help but become overwhelmed by it. ¬†At this point in the story, Ezra might as well be a visitor; he’s new to Jerusalem, and he certainly hasn’t had the chance to get married yet! ¬†But instead of placing himself on a pedestal, he feels the burden of his people and takes on their guilt before God.

Ezra’s prayer is a one of brokenness, of communal confession, of compassion in the truest sense of the word, and of repentance. ¬†As we enter into the season of Lent, I hope and pray that I would keep his words close to my heart.





Prophetic Imagination for a Broken World

10 08 2009

Last week, Jordan and I got into a discussion about pacifism and non-violence as a viable strategy for social change. ¬† “I think it’s a great idea, and I’m certainly not a violent person,” he said. ¬†“But do you really think it’s practical to expect that we will never have wars? ¬†Or would you really blame someone who uses force in self-defense? ¬†What about World War II? ¬†Would it have been better to just let Hitler be?”

I turned to my standard response: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian and conspiracist who plotted to assassinate Hitler (and ultimately, was arrested and executed for his role in this failed attempt). ¬†For him, it was a necessary choice between two evils: Bonhoeffer never thought that he could ever be “in the right” for killing anyone, even Hitler, but he could not let the injustices of the Nazist regime continue without doing something.

“He’s an extreme example,” I said. ¬†“I think we accept violence all too often without even questioning it. ¬†We use arguments like self-defense to justify anything, when there might be a better way. ¬†We need a paradigm shift, that will allow us to at least believe in the possibility of non-violence.”

prophetic-imaginationReading chapter 3 of Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination got me to thinking: Of course violence is a part of our world. ¬†Of course there is war and murder and domestic violence and bullying and genocide and hate crime. ¬†Of course there are Hitlers. ¬†Of course we co-opt the “self-defense” excuse when it serves our purpose.

After all, we live in a broken world.  We are saturated in our brokenness, to the point that we often do not even see it.  We delude ourselves into thinking we are whole and that we have everything we need.

In short, we believe the lies of the empire. ¬†In several books I have read lately, I see a ¬†trend arising, equating the American culture — of the American empire — with the “royal consciousness” that pervaded Israelite society. ¬† Brueggemann writes:

“We are children of the royal consciousness. ¬†All of us, in one way or another, have deep commitments to it. ¬†So the first question is: How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulatea real historical newness in our situation? … We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.”

I would dare to believe that God’s way is always counter-cultural. ¬†But when we have churches and pastors and books and websites that merely serve to prop up the culture … when the gospel is manipulated and contorted to proclaim the American dream … when people inside the church look and act just like people outside the church … surely, we must know, deep within us, that something has gone awry.

It’s like an addiction. ¬†And the first step in breaking free, in finding healing, is acknowledging our brokenness. ¬†That’s not all, of course. ¬†Eventually there will be repentance: turning around and beginning again. But the first step — and the greatest act of imagination — requires us to challenge the notion that “all is well” and instead, cry out to our God. ¬†This, Brueggemann says, was the message of Jeremiah, the gloom-and-doom prophet. ¬†It wasn’t just pessimism that drove him, but a profound grief and sadness. ¬†He proclaimed his own grief as well as God’s grief at his people’s brokenness, and then, at their stubbornness and apathy.

Imagination and acknowledgment are the first steps.  Then, from grief will come mercy; from death will come new life.

This is the story of redemption.