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Category: Writing

Broken

02

I like words. Words are miniature symbols – portable, transferrable, memorable – freighted with meaning. Take a word like “fired,” for instance, as in “He was fired from his job.”

He lost his job.

But it was a trial by fire.

Like being burned at the stake. Or sacrificed in a pagan ritual.

The kind of crisis that changes a life. Or ends it.

I like words a lot.

I also believe that words should be egalitarian and democratic. Words are the currency of social exchange. We all have them. We all use them. We teach one another, and we learn from one another – which words go where, which words work best – as we stretch every little symbol (sometimes far past its breaking point) in our attempts to know and be known. There is give and take, intent and effect, stimulus and response.

Words shape our connections. Words also shape our culture. And our world.

If you want to know a people, it pays to pay attention to their words.

But we are mostly desensitized to the language we use. We don’t hear our words. Or feel them. And it is possible to become enslaved by old ideas enshrined in contemporary clichés.

At a recent gathering of evangelical Christians, we sang a song in which one verse focused on God’s desire that we be broken. I say, “We sang,” but I didn’t sing that line. It didn’t make sense. Doesn’t make sense. Why would God want me to be broken?

Am I broken? The lyricist probably intended something like humility. But broken goes farther than that. It’s not just the wrong metaphor. It’s also harmful. It suggests that there’s something wrong with the human condition. And by association, it suggests that there’s something wrong with God. An illustration:

I’ve never broken a bone in my body. I’ve crashed bicycles, tumbled down a set of stairs, fallen from a roof. One time, driving too fast on a mountain road, I couldn’t make a corner and slid right off a cliff’s edge. I landed in a tree. It was embarrassing and frightening, but I walked away whole.

Nothing broken.

And I was grateful.

Words matter. And this particular word – broken – at least the way we use it, suggests that God is 1) a bumbling fool, 2) malicious, 3) or weak.

Here’s what I mean: a God who desires that creation be broken is 1) a God who didn’t make things right. 2) Unless God did it on purpose. 3) Or didn’t have a choice.

If my arm’s perfectly good, breaking it doesn’t make it better. People created in the image of God don’t get more godly by being broken down.

What’s it mean that people need to be broken? It means there’s something wrong with the work God did the first time around. Sure. God gives second chances. But why would God need one?

God made me in God’s image. God made me whole.

The truth is that sometimes, I slander others. Sometimes, I play politics to improve my position. Sometimes, I undercount Monopoly spaces and land on Free Parking instead of Kentucky Avenue. Sometimes, I tumble down a set of stairs or fall off a roof, or drive too fast on a mountain road.

If I’m broken, then, it’s not because I’m missing something important that God forgot to give me. It’s because I think that what I have or who I am just isn’t enough.

Broken’s not the word for that. At least it’s not God’s word. A sense of brokenness is what motivates us to seek out bigger and better and more. God’s desire for us isn’t that we would be broken. Instead, God wants us to open our eyes and see that all our bones are still there. We’re still alive and breathing. We may be stuck in a tree on the side of a mountain. But we’re going to be all right.

There’s a light breeze. Tree branches brush up against the window. The sky’s on fire.

And the view is breathtaking.

There’s a light breeze. Tree branches brush up against the window. The sky’s on fire. And the view is breathtaking.

Creativity

02

I’ve been reading about creativity, and I can guess at what you might be thinking.

They write books about that?

I used to think the same way. Either you have it. Or you don’t. What’s there to write about?

You might be surprised. Almost 38 years ago, for instance, I was born into this world as a not-creative type. But I’ve changed.

Illustration. In fifth grade, I took an admissions test for a special program that the district was offering for at-risk students. I aced the reading comprehension and numeric memory portions of the test. In fact, I earned a perfect score on the memory part – something that apparently made me kind of special. But on the section that examined creativity, I scored in the bottom quartile. My parents received a letter from the district. Out of 100 possible points, I had earned only three.

Students with low scores on this test often have trouble socializing, they’re less flexible than their peers, they struggle to break projects down into smaller tasks, to problem solve, to prioritize. They are easily overwhelmed by new situations and expectations. They struggle to express their emotions. They are considered a retention risk. At age 10, I had been identified as a potential high school dropout.

Because I wasn’t creative.

Creativity – it turns out – is important.

Fortunately, creativity can also be taught. I made it into that special program, and my teacher (whose last name reminded me of atomic number 27) helped me to do the work of creativity. I learned how to steal someone else’s idea, make a little change, and call that idea mine – a process my teacher called “piggybacking.” I learned how to use sensory prompts and word-association to quickly generate new possibilities – a process my teacher called “ideation.” I learned how to pace myself when coming up with possible solutions in order to keep from getting ahead of my ideas – a skill that my teacher said would lead to “fluency.” And I learned a lot about work.

Creativity – it turns out – is work.

Creativity, which I’ve learned to define as the process of making new connections between old ideas, seems to require the following kinds of work:

Collecting: Old ideas are everywhere. They’re in the things we do, the conversations we have, the systems and processes of our lives, our families, our communities. They’re in books and in programs and in people. Being creative requires that we collect the ideas we find. Even bad ideas.

Observing: People are constantly connecting old ideas; pay attention to what they put together, how they do it, and why.

Imagining or Experimenting: Being creative requires asking a question. What if … ? Why don’t we … ? Could I … ? Or taking a risk.

Whatever you call it, creating or connecting, what it comes down to is putting old things together in order to make new things.

So I’ve been reading about creativity. And thinking back on my childhood. And wondering … what if our community had to take that test? How would we do? And could we change?

What if our community had to take that test? How would we do? And could we change?

Power

02

If self-disclosure is the door to friendship, then the danger for pastors, teachers, doctors, and counselors is that the very nature of their jobs requires those to whom they minister to open up about the parts of their lives that they would normally choose only to share with a friend. This very act blurs the line.

Do I share because we are friends?

Are we friends because I share?

In many cases, neither is true. But it feels true. So there is an imbalance of power, of influence, of affection. And it is all too easy to misinterpret signals. Or to take advantage.

It is all too easy to misinterpret signals.

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