Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Picking up the bricks

While we tear down the foundation of civilization, God is building up

This month we're upgrading our electronic communication. After deciding to stick with the old flip phone a while longer I came across an article calling me "pridefully ignorant" for not social networking on a smart phone now. It's time to start acting like we still live in the 20th century, chides the writer. Anybody who hopes for success in any enterprise had better connect.

He's got me re-thinking the smart phone, but I'm skeptical about "connecting." That word used to mean sharing yourself; now it means distinguishing yourself.

Granted, that's not entirely fair. Facebook and Twitter are a means of sharing resources and helping each other, not just self-promotion. But while electronic communities grow, physical ones-marriages, neighborhoods, and churches-continue to fall apart.

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"It's not good for a man to be alone," God says, and He should know. A being of consummate unity, three in one, makes a creature in His own image, intended for relationship. Relationship with God, ultimately, but flesh and blood does not readily combine with Spirit unless tempered by the give and take of close community. Cultivating earthly relationships helps make us fit for heaven.

But withdrawing into self leads to hell. Each human being is already a sovereign nation with well-patrolled borders. No one can truly enter the experience of another: Like bricks, our flat sides are only marginally permeable, our edges are sharp. Most of us are too protective to venture radically out-we have respect to demand, positions to defend. Left to ourselves, few abandon the fortress for more than brief interludes, usually to fall in love.

Loose bricks litter the landscape. The mortar of shared goals and mutual responsibility has crumbled. Here's the young man who retreats into a literal fantasy world of computer games and drugs. There's the teenage mother who drags her kids from boyfriend to boyfriend. Here's a student who's decided that somebody else is responsible for his debts. Endless distraction, state subsidies, and co-dependent enabling disguise the problem, which is simply that single bricks are pointless. If they won't be used they'll crumble, whether alone or in a random heap.

Of course, nobody wants to be "just another brick in the wall." Take it from Pink Floyd: Walls are bad. They're made for keeping out, or holding in.

But foundations are good-they provide a base for shelter, a platform for achievement. The bonds of marriage, parenthood, church, and community build civilization. When the primary bonds fail, they all fail. When people can't commit to a single partner, they can't ultimately commit to anything, and as the mortar crumbles around them they will fall.

Nobody seems very optimistic about 2012, but what worries me about the New Year is the same thing that worried me about the old year: all these falling bricks. The good news is, while we are tearing down, God is building up. It is our nature to lapse, His to restore. Quietly, away from TV cameras and hand-wringing pundits, loose bricks are being picked up and fitted together. Splits and scandals capture headlines, but love abides.

It is a love we can only know in community, comprehending "with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth ... to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge." It's too big for one person alone; we experience it through and with each other. One brother knows something of the depth, a sister has scaled the height, an older couple have walked the length. Together, we come to know what we can't know by ourselves.

Ephesians 3:14-21 is a prayer for strength, almost to the point of redundancy: that we be strengthened with power to have strength to comprehend. Whatever else God does in 2012, He'll be connecting people to each other and His church. Whatever happens in the world, we can make ourselves a little more vulnerable to each other. Supernatural power is what it takes to be mortared together by the love of Christ, but He provides.

Email jcheaney@worldmag.com

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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