Before moving out to Denver ten years ago I was a case manager for mentally and physically disabled adults. Throughout the two years invested in that job, I played many board games with my clients. There was one particular individual who demanded we get at least one game of Jenga in before getting to any serious conversation. He loved to play Jenga, but this man was hopeless at the game. His hands were gnarled from birth. His tremors were such that he’d be lucky to remove two or three blocks before the entire tower would come crashing down time after time after time.
Throughout a lifetime of Christian work and worship I often see folks who approach Jesus much like the game of Jenga. The goal for so many is to position their blocks just right, neatly and squarely, so that their personal construction will stay standing. They gaze skeptically upon those who take risks in removing what they feel are key blocks from the foundation.
On the other side of the pendulum are those who arrogantly scoff in the face of the conservative skeptics as they proceed in enthusiastically testing the tower's construction, removing as many blocks as possible to show others how it will still remain upright.
Because it takes a steady hand and a calculating mind to win a game of Jenga, the metaphor as it relates to matters of theology is not a good one. We all know those who are rigidly systematic about the way they stack their doctrinal blocks and we see the fear they display when someone messes with their system. And we likely know those on the other side of the spectrum who rail against such systems removing the blocks that matter most in excessive displays of personal freedom.
The reason the game of Jenga makes for such a poor metaphor in relation to Jesus is that there really is no mystery to the game. It's all geometry - getting the balance of weight just right so that you won't be the one responsible for letting the tower fall. But when it comes to stunning tragedies such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary the tower simply tips no matter where you place the blocks.
I’ve heard Mike Huckabee’s explanation. “For 50 years we’ve systematically removed God from our schools…” implicating that violent school massacres are a result of the lack of christian teaching in public school. So, prior to the past 50 years God was allowed in our schools and the Jenga blocks stood tall? We saluted the flag and teachers started their day by praying publicly with the students in Jesus name. In order to keep that tower up we took a stand... while denying anyone with black skin a right to those same privileges. Yes, God was allowed in our schools but black people were not. So, in order to keep the tower standing now in light of the recent ugliness… well, we’ll awkwardly step over the excrement (contradictory & violent behavior) that stunk up the nation back when we allowed God in our public schools.
This time of year when I'm thinking about the Incarnation coming to us as the baby of a homeless, unwed, marginalized, teenage mother, I’m reminded of the absurdity of our tired explanations. I’m reminded that God’s story is always different than the story we tell ourselves. God’s story always seems more vulnerable and less logical than how we imagine it in our heads.
Henri Nouwen describes our Jenga Theology like this,
What keeps us from opening ourselves to the reality of the world? Could it be that we cannot accept our powerlessness and are only willing to see those wounds that we can heal? Could it be that we do not want to give up our illusion that we are masters over our world and therefore, create our own Disneyland where we can make ourselves believe that all events of life are safely under control? Could it be that our blindness and deafness are signs of our own resistance to acknowledging that we are not the Lord of the Universe? It is hard to allow these questions to go beyond the level of rhetoric and to really sense in our innermost self how much we resent our powerlessness. p.57 Reaching Out
Regardless of how many times the tower tumbles we persistently stack and re-stack. We scapegoat and point blame because we just can’t sit in the reality of our own powerlessness. A reality that when actually confronted, leaves us crying out for the mercy of the Mystery, stretching our imaginations to the point of loving a bit more recklessly than what seems logical. Before people are portrayed as perpetrators of violence they exist as vulnerable children who are hard to love and leave us feeling... powerless.
Mysteries can't be explained away by systematic towers constructed by human hands and minds. God’s story is an unstackable reality– coming to us not as a powerful politician or a muscular warlord, but as a vulnerable newborn positioned in poverty.
God’s story is always better than the story we tell ourselves. It's time we trust the reality of a love that is beyond our explainable theologies and works itself out through everyday acts of radical kindness and simplicity. I hope there will come a day when my friend will enjoy a game of Jenga with a steady hand, but until that day I hope to simply enjoy the company rather than win the game.