I am not a sewer, as the poor little stuffed polar bear whose nose I attempted to reform with a needle can attest. The first time I heard women talking about “surging” and “notions,” I felt like they were speaking a foreign language. I have tried to change this about myself, occasionally employing the help of talented friends; however, my attempts at operating a sewing machine were both laughable and maddening. While I do not know much in the sewing department, I have found myself acutely aware that we, as a culture, are suffering due to the lack of a loom.
I am borrowing the image from a poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, as quoted in Neil Postman’s book, A Bridge to the Eighteenth Century.
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rain from the sky a meteoric shower
of facts… they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
is daily spun; but there exists no loom
to weave it into fabric.
We humans need an overarching narrative to give life meaning and purpose, to make sense of the scattered events and emotions that constantly bombard us. We need a loom, a place in which all the threads of human experience can be fit and woven together to create a beautiful tapestry. We need some way to integrate the dark threads of sickness, disappointment, pain and death with the bright threads of birth, laughter, friendship, and joy.
Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.
Neil Postman, a contemporary prophet-of-sorts, describes the modern American conundrum as follows.
“When a people do not have a satisfactory narrative to generate a sense of purpose and continuity, a kind of psychic disorientation takes hold, followed by a frantic search for something to believe in, or, probably worse, a resigned conclusion that there is nothing to find.”
The end of the twentieth century was characterized by a deep questioning of all traditional narratives. According to Postman, these narratives are “the stories that are sufficiently profound and complex to offer explanations of the origins and future of a people; stories that construct ideals, prescribe rules of conduct,specify authority, and in doing all this, provide a sense of continuity and purpose.”
All those years of deconstruction have left us a society without a loom. We have more threads, more information, more communication, more technology than any other age. Yet, we have no way to order, organize, judge or understand these ubiquitous threads. And so they pile up, clogging our lives, leaving us walking around in mountains of experiences, wondering what the purpose of life truly is and wondering where we fit into the bigger picture, if, indeed, that bigger picture even exists.
Gospel literally means good news. And if ever society needed good news, it is now.
The good news we have to offer our confused culture is that there is, indeed, a loom, a framework, an overarching story that makes sense of the threads, both dark and light of human existence. We have a lasting loom, and we must learn to boldly and graciously offer the Christian worldview to a loom-less society.
When suffering rears its ugly head in our lives or the lives our loved ones, Christians can offer much more than a sappy Hallmark card offering condolences and happy thoughts. Christians can say with full conviction that the world is not how God intended it be, that things are indeed broken. Christians can offer an answer as to why and how things went wrong, an answer that does not point fingers at establishments or classes or races but rather starts in the heart of every human. Christians can offer a suffering Savior, the only One of His kind in all religions and world views, who took great pains upon Himself to fix the mess that we made. Christians can offer a grounded hope that one day, the brokenness will be fixed, that things will be made right once more based on Christ’s promise that He will come again to make all things new.
For far too long, we have offered the world morality and rules and legalism or watered-down self-help theology that cannot stand under the heavy threads of human suffering. But the world is suffering for lack of a loom, and the Bible contains such a loom.
Oh, may we graciously offer the world the loom upon which the Great Artist is weaving the beautiful story of redemption.