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Broken Love for Broken Things

Almost two years ago, at Christmas time, my black lab puppy, Max, then 10 pounds (now 95), pulled over our Christmas tree. Hearing the crash, I ran in from the other room, hoping that my puppy was okay. He was. In fact, he was quite pleased with himself, chomping on the low-hanging ornament that had occasioned what was now a massive mess in my living room. I righted the tree, and began to sweep up shards of thin glass, quickly feeling the loss of Christmases past.

I made several piles of broken ornaments, I suppose with the wild hope that they could be glued back together. My twelve year old daughter, Eleanore, was just the person for this task, for she seems to have a mender’s heart. One of the ornaments that she painstakingly glued back together is the American flag. It is not so strange, is it, that I love this ornament more, now that it has been broken and repaired? Its beauty is now a broken beauty.

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Which is actually the point. The beauty of the American flag is a broken beauty. It always has been, and always will be. Can this be denied, given the shards of slavery, Manifest Destiny, Native American relocation, lynching, segregation, internment camps, and the perduring racism within our criminal justice system that lie on the floor of our collective living room? Broken beauty indeed.

And so, love for the flag must be, I think, love for a broken thing. Acknowledgement of this brokenness is, I trust, the best intention of those athletes who are not standing for the singing of the National Anthem. I here intend neither endorsement nor criticism of this action. Standing or not, acknowledgement of the brokenness is what is important. Even more important, though, is this: love for the flag is not merely love for a broken thing; it is a broken love for a broken thing.

That is, the love I have for my country is itself broken; I have done, and am continuing to do, the breaking. This is the reality that I am currently trying to take in and inhale: that my white privilege is not only what is broken but what is doing the breaking; that my ability to not think about race is part of this privilege, and is not innocuous; that I have received this privilege and have unwittingly protected it, and am now passing it on to my children. I do not merely love what is broken. I am a breaker.

Theologian Douglas John Hall expresses this idea profoundly, writing of what is central to the Christian tradition, the death of Jesus:

The theology of the cross can never be a brilliant statement about the brokenness of life; it has to be a broken statement about life’s brokenness, because it participates in what it seeks to describe. . . . Hence, for Luther, “a man becomes a theologian by living, by dying and being damned, not by understanding, reading and speculating.”

This kind of love, broken love for a broken thing, is all around us. I do not truly love the broken things in my life–the Church, my country, my parenting, my marriage (which is healthy but is not whole and not without cracks)–unless I acknowledge that my love itself is broken, and that I have contributed to the shards on the floor.

Can those who do the breaking also do the mending? Yes. But this mending love is not our own. It is, it must be, the love of the divine Mender, who stepped into our brokenness, and who was broken on our behalf. This Mender can repair broken things, even my broken love.

You see, I have a longing–a divine longing, I would say–that my love for that which matters, for that which is broken, would not merely be ornamental. The cross itself, God’s in-breaking into that which is broken, has always been at risk of being mere ornamentation. It is safe–pretty, even– on a steeple or around a neck; we forget that it was an instrument of Roman oppression and torture, that it was unjust, that it was made of wood not gold, and that this wood was soaked in blood.The wonder of the Christian gospel is that God’s beauty broke through this brutality, that God’s commitment to humanity went to this extreme, that the love that is within God could not be broken by what is most broken within us. The cross is not to adorn; it is to be born.

My love for what is broken will be like a shiny thing on a tree, like a blog post without repentance and action, if I do not acknowledge that my love itself is broken. So I will stand for the flag, but will stand in humility and gratitude, including gratitude for those who choose a different response. And I will kneel before the cross, asking that my life will be shaped by the Crucified, and will rise against systemic injustice which raises crosses. And I will pray, for that and those who are broken, and for those who do the breaking, those who are not them, but we.

 

 

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Comments

  1. True word Jeff. Without acknowledging that we are indeed “messy people” we can’t even begin to honestly address the messiness of this world we live in….

  2. wise words! Can I re–post this on Facebook?

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  1. […] because I’ve heard this sentiment so often, and because I love the Church in all of its broken beauty, and can’t help but hear a curt dismissal of that which I think is the most important […]

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