a story of plastic blocks, a creative God, a songwriter, an untimely death, and what we’re doing with the rest of our lives
My Dear One,
Have you ever watched a kid build something from scratch out of Legos? If you haven’t you should. What you learn could change your life.
Legos are a fairly simple toy. They are sharp-cornered, foot-piercing, colored-plastic building blocks. Kids can just dump them in a pile and let their imaginations run wild. They can build anything they can dream, no instructions necessary. It isn’t finished until they decide it is finished. They can always come back to it next week and add a few more pieces. Maybe the castle they were building needs another tower. Maybe the spaceship needs a better cockpit. They are free to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble as they please. For a long time, this was the only way to play with Legos.
But somewhere along the way The Marketers got involved. They realized the company The Lego Group could sell more Legos if they sold them in a variety of sets and thus proceeded to unleash upon the world “branded Legos.” That’s mostly what you find for sale these days: Lego sets to build everything from a ship in Star Wars to a building from Hogwarts, the Batmobile to a coded robot, from the Avengers to a disturbing little block-headed animal called Unkitty. What’s more, there are pages-long, detailed instructions that show you step by step what to do so it looks just like it does on the box.
This is the “adultification” of Legos. There is now a “right way” and a “wrong way” and your job is to follow the steps so it turns out “right.”
Just last week I saw a kid give up on one of these kits. When I asked him why, he said it was too hard and it didn’t look like all the pieces were there. I think all the pieces were there. And it wasn’t too hard for him. He’s a smart kid. There was just no fun or joy in it. So he gave up.
Sound familiar? I recently heard an adult describe their life in much the same way. They felt like giving up. It was too hard. It seemed some key pieces were missing. It was never going to look like the perfect picture on the box. So they just quit building. They quit trying to create anything new with the pieces they had. They decided how it was would just have to be … “good enough.”
A creative God
“In the beginning, God created …”
These are the first words in the Bible and already they tell us a lot. From the beginning, there is a God and the first thing we find out is this God is a creative being. What kind of creative being is this God though? A free builder or a step by stepper? Did God spend a lot of time drawing up instructions before the beginning or did God just begin?
It seems to me more like God just began. Sure there is the miracle that life of any form exists. A million different things have to work just right for my body to sustain life, for the ecosystem to function, for the ecosphere to sustain, for the universe to cohere. But this plan developed over millennia. God begins with just wind, water, and darkness. Then God added a piece to the mix called “Light.” And then God decided to use those pieces to create something called Day and Night. And then God added the piece called “Sky” and then “Land.” Eventually came “Plants,” “Animals” and a particular animal called “Humans.”
Science tells us these pieces were added over the course of millions of years. Creation is a slow process. And it sure looks like God improvised a bit along the way. We tend to call this improvisation “evolution.”
This past Sunday kicked off the start of a 4-week series on The Spirituality of Creativity I’m helping make happen in our community. We’re gathering at 3pm at a local music hall for a series of talks on how being more creative can foster our spirituality. We will hear from songwriters, musicians, artists, and poets.
For the first week, I brought in Texas-based singer-songwriter, Darden Smith. Darden’s been making music for thirty years. But now he also draws, and takes photographs and writes. He says he went from calling himself a songwriter to an artist because it allows him greater freedom in what, how, when and where he creates. Last year he wrote his first book, a series of poetic reflections titled The Habit of Noticing: using creativity to make a life and a living. Darden said that we are all creating a life and posed the question, “Are we being creative in our creating?”
The Rest of Our Lives
My natural inclination is to want to draw up well-designed plans. I like to know where I’m heading and how I plan to get there. But there’s an inherent risk in this way of being that I’m well aware of. When you become dedicated to the plan on paper, it’s really hard to let it go when things don’t go that way. And you miss a lot of beauty along The Way if your head is always stuck in a map of your own making.
My plan is to not become someone who lives as if it’s over. I’ve tasted that way of thinking a few times. It’s bland. It’s bitter. Even to my last day, I want to live as if life is unfinished, as if there’s something new to learn, to see, to do. A new person to meet. A new adventure to be explored. More Legos to add to my bucket.
And trust that God has an overall plan, a will, a design even, but that God is a Jazz musician as well as the conductor of a symphony.
How about you? Are you still reveling in the joy of play, in discovering how things can fit together to create new things? Are you unafraid to add onto something you thought was finished? To take apart something and see if it can be reconfigured? To allow it to be deconstructed, trusting the pieces can be used to create something equally amazing or even more amazing?
The answer, for many people, sadly is no. Whatever they built out of their life at some point becomes “good enough” and they quit trying. They graduate high school or college and call it done rather than become lifelong learners. They stick to the faith handed to them at confirmation or when they were 8 years old in Sunday School and their understanding of God never matures. They settle into a familiar pattern, reasonably comfortable even if a bit soul-sucking, and live that out the rest of their lives.
The truly brave among us consciously choose to grow and reinvent themselves. Good for them. Some become truly happy where they are and just enjoy it. Good for them. But for the rest of us, the Great Reconfiguration comes when something comes along and knocks over the Legos of the life we’ve built. The hurricane floods. The fire consumes. The cancer returns. The marriage ends. The company downsizes. The stock market crashes. The stroke happens. The discontent persists. The …
And all that’s left are pieces. At that point we have a choice. We can stand over them and weep the rest of our days that it will never look like it does on the box. Just give up even trying. Or … OR!, we can lovingly pick them up, one by one, giving thanks for the role each played in our lives for a time, and decide to gently start putting them back together in some new form to see what they can yet become.
For his disciples, Jesus’ death left them standing there, mourning over the pieces. But Christ returns to show us The Way and that the adventure has only just begun. That God creates, even when there is no plan, even when the plan got torn up, there’s an infinite sea of possibility.
Whatever winds may befall you, whatever cat may knock over your castle, whatever bully may step on your beautiful creation just for the cruel pleasure it brings him to destroy, do not lose Heart. God is a source of endless creation. “Behold, I make all thing new!”
Pick up the pieces. Love them. And build!
following The Way,
This week’s guide: Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans died last week at the shockingly young age of 37. A wife to Dan and a mother of two very young children, it is a heartbreaking loss in every conceivable way. I hope you know who she was. If you don’t, watch the video below or go read her blog. Her voice was an important one for the Christian community and its absence will be felt sorely.
A video of Rachel Held Evans on The Way of Jesus and how “losing your life pushes you to spiritual maturity”:
Read more about Rachel’s life here