david maxey

December 3, 2010

What G.I. Joe and Lego Taught Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — davidmaxey @ 5:56 am

I’ve always liked my toys to be in order. In grade school, I was a die-hard fan of G.I. Joe action figures. Not the big ‘Barbie’ sized dolls, but the 3″ tall, molded plastic, hinge jointed, swivel waisted soldiers. Whenever I acquired a new grunt, I would clip out his bio from the back of the packaging, carefully accessorize him with his weapons, and when play-time was over, lovingly deposit him into his own Ziploc bag with the bio sheet and weapons. I never mixed up my guys weapons, not even for fun. When I accidentally snapped off the end of a gunner’s light machine-gun (a certain ‘RoadBlock’), I marooned him to a distant shelf. As far as I was concerned, his career was over. It never dawned on me to re-fit him with a spare rifle, and put him back in the trenches. No, there was only one gun for him, and since it was broken, and he was a gunner, there was no further use for him.

Thankfully, I’ve lightened up a lot since then, though I still do appreciate a tight ship. Not surprisingly, this old quirk from the past began to reassert itself when my son Michael became interested in action toys. Though, in his case, Lego is the toy of choice, not G.I. Joe which has been relegated to the hall of fame. In spite of the fact that Michael began to play with Legos at the age of 3, I instantly began to instill into him the value of keeping each toy in pristine condition. “As you can see, Michael,” I instructed in a studious tone, “there is NO way your ship will fly with its engine missing this valuable air intake brick, and this misplaced tile on the wing has destroyed the aesthetics of the entire ship.” Michael would dutifully puff out his pudgy, red cheeks, and resume repair of the ship before continuing play. Never mind that he could hardly talk, if he was old enough to play with something, then he was old enough to fix it!

There were even times, when after inflicting heavy damage upon a Lego creation I would confiscate the offending toy from Michael till I was able to repair it myself. It got to the place where he would great me at the door with a, “Don’t get upset, Dad, I accidently broke the X-wing today. I am sorry.” Of course, I forgave him, after a long lecture on how the Rebels would perish without properly working X-wings, and about how long it would take me to repair his mess.

Worst of all for me, was when he would take a perfectly good toy, and, gasp, customize it. Mixing and matching random parts into hideous hybrids that were, as we say in Russian “не рыба, не мясо” (neither fish nor beef). I could mourn for days over these. But, all that changed after my wife, Inga, entered the scene.

“David” she said softly, “I think what he made is creative. Just take a look at the details.” Of course, it was hard to look at anything through the red mist, but after cooling down to the lower 100’s, I reluctantly examined one of Michael’s own works formed from cannibalized Star Wars Lego ships. The symmetry was all off, and the colors didn’t match, but I grudgingly conceded that the gun mount was cleverly constructed. In fact, I had never thought of building one like that before. And just like that, it happened: the beginning of the ‘Great Softening’. It was a long, arduous process, but it eventually got to the place where Michael and I would make new ‘toys’ together, and even ‘improve’ existing models. Finally it struck me that these were toys and they were designed to be played with; they weren’t museum pieces. Plus, there was no denying that it did wonders for the creative process.

Still, I realized that there was no sense of throwing out the baby with the bath water. True, I had certainly been way out of kilter, but there were a few good things that should be retained. For instance, order and cleanliness are virtues. Creativity should be no excuse for sloppiness and chaos. My challenge was how to instill my son with a sense of order along with his creative impulses. It took a bit of trial and error, but what I finally came down to was this: Be as creative as you please, but at the end of the ‘day’ make sure everything is in good repair and neatly stowed away. Practically, it looks something like this: feel free to create whatever you want, but if you borrow pieces from another set, or break something in the process, when you are finished, return what you borrowed and fix what was broken. This gives Michael the freedom he needs to develop creatively, while at the same time teaches him to be responsible and orderly. I think that this will be a winning combination.

In a way, it reminds me of God’s grace. Grace has freed us from the chains of sin and condemnation. But it didn’t free us so we could sin. God forbid! How could the grace of God encourage us to sin? The answer is: it NEVER does. It is almost blasphemous to think that God’s grace could initiate sinful deeds. Grace is exactly what frees us from sin, doing what the Law could never do. Since the time grace was first preached in full by the Apostle Paul, men have misunderstood its message. The truth is: grace sets us free, not to sin, but to live a holy life by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God aside from self-effort. In other word, it sets us totally free (to be creative), and empowers us to live a godly life (it produces order). The beauty is, grace doesn’t operate according to our deeds, but is freely received by faith. It changes us from the inside out, and cultivates good works. Grace and faith – now there is a winning combination!

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