The Space Between: What is Right with the World?

Staff_McDermott, TomI’m in my back yard, eleven years old, and standing in front of the 3-f00t brick wall (of our patio). It’s after school, and, like Alexander, I have had a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” – missed homework, frustrated teachers at the end of their ropes, friends turned on me, a tuna sandwich in my lunch sack and a flat tire as I rode my bike home.

If anger has a scale from 1 to 100 (2 being that maybe the TV remote doesn’t work so I have to get up to change the channel to 90 being that I want to destroy something significant but avoid being caught), then I was at 95 and not thinking very clearly! I dropped the bike in the front yard having walked it a mile from school, went inside and started looking for something to destroy. Fortunately, I passed on my grandmother’s china and went straight to the back yard.

Which is why I am standing in front of that 3-foot. brick wall, where I have lined up 10 of my mother’s clay pots, upside down, in descending order of size – with a hammer in hand. With some degree of cathartic joy, I slam down on one pot after another. And just as I’m about to smash the 7th pot my Uncle Mac (who had apparently been standing inside the house and looking out the back window) comes outside and calmly asks, “Tommy, what are you doing?”

Stunned, I drop the hammer to my side, and sheepishly answer with the universal answer that seems to cover all questions when caught doing something inappropriate, “Nothing.”

He moves toward me as I move back a step and adds, “Why are you smashing your mother’s clay pots?”

To which I add the second most common universal answer when caught doing something inappropriate, “I don’t know.”

Then my uncle says something that completely, suspiciously, takes me by surprise, “Tommy, how would you like to get paid to destroy things?”

Thus began my first real paying job – as a washing machine parts salvager at my Uncle’s Laundromats – and my first lesson in the power of improvisation. For the next several weeks, Uncle Mac picked me up after school and showed me how to salvage parts from the broken washing machines. It was slimy, dirty, greasy, and pleasantly destructive work for a boy plagued with “early teenage angst syndrome.”

Years later, I recognize my Uncle’s gift at creative improvisation. He could see what was happening and had the ability — and the desire — to reframe it toward something healing. This is a skill that applies to personal crises as well as global realities.

It was certainly a significant approach Jesus used in challenging the prevailing religious thoughts and practices of his day – who God’s kingdom speaks to, seeks to heal, seeks to include and to whom it extends justice and mercy. And his teachings and stories still challenge us to do the same today.

In our current eleven:eleven celebration series, “I Am (and We Are) – In Three Acts,” we’ve been thinking about how we understand our relationship to God, creation, and one another – how we “see” things. When the budding early 20th Century English journalist, GK Chesterton, responded to the London Times’ essay contest, “What’s Wrong With the World?” he sent back the winning entry, simply saying, “Dear Sirs, I am. Signed, GK Chesterton.”

He later explained that it is his vision, his way of seeing things, his perspective (and the limited perspective of so many in the world) that continues to perpetuate the problems of the world. I am reminded of a Yoruba proverb that says, “Let us do it the way it is usually done, so that we may have the usual result.”

This Sunday, in “Act III: The Answer,” we will look at the call of Moses and the burning bush. If, as the story suggests (and Peter Mayer’s song affirms), “everything is holy now,”  how can we learn to see things anew? Is God inviting us to try our hand at reframing how we see in order to rethink how we should be?

We’ll try our hands at a little improvisation this Sunday, as well as a few twists on what it means to have “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.” Perhaps, by the end, many of us will be able to approach the question with a little more confidence and vision when we answer, “What is right with the world?”

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