I’m at the age now where my parents are giving me family household items. Sometimes it feels like they’re saying, “Here, throw this away for me.” But sometimes they’re gems beyond compare.
Last week my father handed me my maternal grandfather’s New Testament from his military service in World War II. It is steel plated on one side, the idea being that you would keep it in your front breast pocket and perhaps the steel would save you from being shot in the heart.
A pragmatic use for a book that’s anything but pragmatic.
And it’s a lovely broken symbol, like all great Christian symbols. It’s broken because, if there’s something the Scriptures do well, it’s encourage our hearts and lives to break, to be pierced. Broken by the word of God who wages peace and resurrection across the ancient world. Pierced by story after story of salvation and letter after letter testifying to grace and mercy for people who far prefer the steely existence of tribalism, war and discord.
It’s broken like the bread of the eucharist. Broken like the dead-but-reigning lamb of Revelation’s visions. Broken like the imperfect body of Christ who rises to sing a hymn on Sunday morning even though that week their voice was choked out of them by tragedy, greed and desperate attempts to steel themselves against the world.
I say all this, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me wishes that the men and women at the Pulse dance club in Orlando, Fla., had been wearing some steel. Something to protect them from the bullets of that night. And that’s the danger of thinking we can protect ourselves from everything and anything, I guess. We start to steel ourselves against everything, even love and freedom.
But it wasn’t a lack of steel that killed those people that early morning—it was a steeled ideology.
Steel-plated ideologies, steel-plated theology, only becomes brittle and rigid. Steel-plated faith and dogmas aren’t porous enough for the movement of the Spirit. And when we’re not careful, they can lead us to do and believe things that betray the very Scripture we hold so dear. Steel-plated lives and ideologies only repel the ones we’re commanded to serve, which is an important truth to remember in the aftermath.
Steeled Scriptures don’t help us care for the hurting and dying—only broken Scriptures that know this pain can help us do that.
Our fears of having our faith, our being, pierced and broken are taken by the one who was pierced by nails and a spear, broken on the cross of Rome and public opinion.
While it may have been practical for my grandfather to carry the steel-plated Scriptures over his heart (he still received the Purple Heart for a gunshot that missed the steel and hit his gut), it is impractical for the Christ-follower to live a steel-plated life. Not just impractical, but unfaithful.
Our hearts, our very lives, must be broken open if they’re ever to reveal Christ to a world steeled against self-giving love, mercy and forgiveness in deference for hate and grudges and winner-take-all mentalities.
Beloved, it’s not pragmatic to live a life open to being broken open. It’s pricey. It can sometimes feel like you’re throwing your life away, such is a life of self-giving love. But remember that we have a God of resurrection and nothing is lost, even the broken fragments of our vulnerable lives of love.
They are gems beyond compare, after all.