A Time to Build Up | Sojourners

A Time to Build Up

What happens when you build something with a young child? You stack the blocks as high as you can, and they can’t wait to swipe their hand and knock it down. And then you start the process again.

We have an affinity for building and destroying. And as we outgrow childhood, we tend to go in one direction or the other. We become more of a builder, or we turn into more of a destroyer at heart.

Some make their life's work about building things — families, neighborhoods, faith communities, nations, relationships, and systems that promote justice and peace. Others put a lot of their energy into tearing down other people and tearing apart whatever doesn’t suit them.

We’re at a moment when the destroyers have loud voices in our world. They’ve taken to their podiums, pulpits, and bullhorns to spread division, mistrust, fear, and anger — the tools for destruction from within.

They’re marauders who create chaos that gives them the cover to plunder. Their intent is to knock everything down and rule over the rubble. They get their thrills from toppling what others have built, but have no interest in building something of their own.

One of the destroyers’ biggest cheerleaders is Steve Bannon. He’s been outspoken about his intention to unleash destruction in the world. As he put it during an interview with The Daily Beast in 2013, he wants “to bring everything crashing down.” 

It’s conflict, chaos, and destruction 24/7, and a lot of people are cheering the damage. That’s what destroyers do — attack nonstop and leave everything in ruin. They’re temperamentally incapable of anything else.

Destroyers lack the patience, persistence, and open-mindedness required to build anything of value. Their egos leave no room for the compromise that is required to create. They have no interest in doing the hard work of recognizing what's good in the world and improving upon what exists.

It’s been so evident in the health care debate. Many people want to level the current system, but they have no interest in doing the hard work of studying alternatives, building a consensus over time, and enacting a plan that would benefit the most people.

Instead, they throw out barely formed ideas and try to get something — anything — passed into law so they can move onto wiping away something else. They’re oblivious to warnings that they’re hurting a lot of people.

That’s not how you build a healthy society.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a builder. His intention wasn’t to destroy our society, but to elevate it. He sacrificed so much for his dream of a nation that lives up to its founding ideal and treats everyone equally. He helped to build a coalition that overcame racial, political, social, religious, and ideological differences and moved us forward as a society.

That’s what builders do. 

An assassin thought he could destroy the dream with a bullet, but he was mistaken. Builders continue bending the moral arc and improving the world a little more each day, even as other seek to topple the gains.

MLK drew inspiration from a rabbi who also was known for building — Jesus. Jesus worked to build the kingdom of God, a place where the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God. Religious and political leaders thought they could destroy him and his kingdom, bury them in a tomb and be done with them. They were wrong.

The building goes on. And each of us needs to be part of the never-ending construction project.

The only requirements: commitment and persistence. And love, a lot of love. Every word, every interaction with another person must build them up with love.

Builders also need resolve that they’ll avoid getting sucked into the division and acrimony that destroy people, movements, and societies from within. We can’t play into the marauders’ hands. It’s difficult to resist getting pulled into their drama, but we must.

The destroyers have found their voices and their followers. It feels like our society is tottering. We need more of those other voices to stabilize us. We’ve been through this before and we know how it works. We can always rebuild.

We could use a lot more builders. Someone like you.