by Jonathan Branch
One of my dozen or so favorite pieces of non-fiction is Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. (I have to mention here that one should first read The Giver, then Gathering Blue, as well as the other two titles in the series.) As the summary in the iBooks edition states, “Lamed and suddenly orphaned, Kira is mysteriously removed from her squalid village to live in the palatial Council Edifice, where she is expected to use her gifts as a weaver to do the bidding of the all-powerful Guardians.” In order to complete her primary task, Kira needs the color blue, which is not readily available in her society. So, her young friend Matty undertakes a long journey to find the color and finally returns, having found blue in some distant community that he and Kira had not known existed. When he returns, Kira asks,
“Who are they? The people who have blue?”
He lifted his thin shoulders and wrinkled his forehead in an expression of ignorance. “Dunno,” he said. “Them be all broken, them people. But there be plenty of food. And it’s quiet-like, and nice.”
“What do you mean, broken?”
He gestured toward her twisted leg. “Like you. Some don’t walk good. Some be broken in other ways. Not all. But lots. Do you think it maken them quiet and nice, to be broken?”
Puzzled by his description, Kira didn’t answer. Pain makes you stronger, her mother had told her. She had not said quiet, or nice.
In many ways, our society shames, shuns, or tries to fix brokenness. To the extent one’s brokenness is positively acknowledged, the focus is most often the benefit of the individual. Kira’s mother says, “Pain makes you stronger”; one of our American Idols says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; our individualized sports culture says, “No pain, no gain.” The perspective captured in these axioms certainly aligns with the human experience on one level. However, if our understanding of pain is framed solely in this individualized way, our perspective may fail to fully align with the Christian Theistic worldview.
Since the Protestant Reformation, much of Christianity has become progressively individualized. Luther’s reforms were founded in large part by the Humanism of Erasmus and others who emphasized the individual Christian experience, and we have continued to individualize our faith, using phrases like “God told me” and “personal Lord and Savior.” While Jesus’s invitation to salvation is extended to each person individually, our humanistic swing of the pendulum conduces toward our losing the communal aspect of the Christian life. Since the opposite of community is self, we then begin to think of the events of our lives more in relation to self than in relation to community. My pain makes me stronger.
As Christians, however, our archetype in everything is to be Jesus, and his life was clearly marked by suffering if marked at all. Yet, none of Jesus’s pain, so far as I understand, was intended for his personal benefit; everything that he suffered was for the saving of humanity. “He suffered and endured great pain for us… He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well” (Isaiah 53:4-5, CEV). Of course, none of us is a Person of the Trinity divinely born into humanity to take away the sins of the world. But why should we assume our pain is any less under the purview of God’s sovereign purpose? We are created in the image of God, who himself exists in triune community, and we are instructed in Philippians 2:5 to “think the same way that Christ Jesus thought” (CEV), specifically in terms of his relation to others. In God’s redemptive hands, our brokenness may effect the well-being of others, rather than merely effect our individual self-serving ambitions.
I do not know exactly what this looks like in actuality. Despite the argument that brokenness has a community-building purpose, brokenness is still quite personal in nature. Like many others, I certainly have survived sufferings that I am not yet willing to share. But maybe detailed sharing is not necessary to community building. Maybe some brokenness is to “maken [us] quiet and nice,” in Matty’s words, so that we more understandingly interact with others and, thus, build a community of genuine love and respect befitting of all image-bearers of the Creator.
 Lois Lowry, Gathering Blue, New York: Harcourt Publishing, 2000.