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Brokenness is an interesting concept. Like a broken record, it seems to suggest a repetition, yet of an unpleasant nature, maybe even forced apart but not an idea of perfection. To be broken violates the ideal but it is particularly interesting because it suggests an escape from an enclosure, an experience of discomfort, and even pain because that is not the familiar. As the article’s title may have indicated, the message is unambiguous; if it will be eternal and ideal, it must be built as many times as it breaks. Without arguments, let’s reflect on stories. First, the story of the Widow’s Son.
A craftsman of great skill named Hiram lived in Tyre, he was a descendant of the tribe Naphtali. He lived in the era of King Solomon’s great affluence. Solomon’s influence was known across many kingdoms, so when it was time for Solomon to build his temple to the Lord, the King of Tyre sent him gifts but more importantly, he sent him a builder, the widow’s son, Abiff. Solomon desired a magnificent temple, a dream it was forever bound to remain without a builder. The Widow’s Son was therefore God’s very answer to the dream of a king to build the temple for, “he was filled with wisdom and understanding and skill for doing any work in bronze. So he came to King Solomon and performed all his work.”
Hiram was a man knowledgeable in all forms of work but he was also a man whose description was not complete except for the title, ‘The Widow’s Son.’ He first knew a broken home as death made his mother a single parent, a broken pocket as ‘widows’ in the Biblical narratives usually pointed to the poverty of the person, a broken soul as a child who grew up without a father but most importantly his brokenness had led him to learn how to perform ‘all works’. The poor widow’s son was defined by his hustle but he had somehow managed to learn to become “skillful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him”. In brokenness and hustling, he had found skills necessary for the use of the richest and wisest king. It will even appear he was wiser concerning matters of building but that is as much as is documented about him, at least Biblically, the rest of his story is a legend.
Legend has it that, at the time of Hiram great architectural feat, Solomon was madly in love with a rich and powerful woman for whom he had written a whole song for, a woman who was said to be “very dark, but comely”; an African Woman. Some say it was the Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia, others say, it was a daughter of Pharaoh, even others say she was a Yoruba Queen from modern-day Nigeria, but I do not think the debate about who she was is as important as the fact that she was an African Woman. Some versions of the legends say, Hiram loved this beautiful African too and it appeared she tended a bit more fondly towards his brokenness and skill than the highness of the king. The African in her preferred the builder to high mindedness.
The part of the legend that interests me particularly for today is Hiram’s death, he is said to have been killed by 3 of his workmen, other writers call his killers ‘ruffians’. Yes, he was murdered. Such a man of great skill and humility was murdered, his days cut short. Painfully, he was killed by men of mean skills who approached him for the secrets of his craft. He was a Master Mason, a craftsman whose only skill was possible because of years of pain, dedication, and hard work. At his last moments in life, men who knew little of brokenness demanded the heritage of his skill, not at any cost of learning, discounting his sacrifice yet claiming entitlement to some blueprint as though a genie bequeath him all he had known.
As a master architect, he knew anything great took time to build from fragility, the idea of zero to infinity, and yet nothing will make the ruffians believe that all the secrets of his works were sacrifice and passion for building great memorable edifices, they struck him and killed him. Burying him under the rubbles, he was discovered later and put to rest properly, reconciled with the true nature of humanity; fragility from which strength, wisdom and beauty is built. Some legends however say, the ruffians were under the instructions of Solomon who could not deal with the jealousy of the African loving the builder, but that is a story for another day.
The moral of the story is that, in life, we may elect as the ruffians to demand that great things happen to us without the pain of the work nor the humility of understanding that life is fragile. However, like the master craftsman, we can also choose to work in patience and diligence so as to build great enduring legacies through brokenness. We can choose a life of a builder such that even in death we find peace because we understand the nature of life is fragile, yet man can create enduring memories. The choice is an election to be a destroyer or a builder and I reckon, this is the choice we all face every single day; to be builders or destroyers.
Maybe, the framing should not be either-or. Perhaps, the true message is that, we should reconcile solemnly within ourselves the fragility of our humanity and elect to destroy our ego and self in sacrifice, escaping the enclosure of that which is familiar to us and harness that experience of discomfort and even the lessons of pain and repetition to be builders of all works.
It is the last quarter of 2020, I know the year has been a huge reminder of our fragility as a human race but also one I think can teach us the most enduring lessons about how to build like Hiram, for brokenness is the seed for skills, but first we must be surrendered to planting, watering, gardening and waiting for the harvest of all those forms of work; wood, stone, linen, gold, brass, silver, engraving, etc. The future does not belong to any particular skill or a single profession; it belongs to builders who harness different skills to solve problems, create communities, share ideas, educate minds and transform landscapes.
I wish therefore to inspire someone in this quarter and perhaps for the rest of whatever life may offer us, that let us aspire to build. That each day we may elect to be builders and not destroyers. Let us be reminded however that, the building journey is not free from destruction. Like Sisyphus, the bolder may roll back again and again, demanding that we start all over again. The Akans say, ‘if the king’s palace burns, it gives the people the opportunity to build a bigger palace by the next market day.’ Electing to being a builder therefore is a choice to be minded that, even in destruction is an opportunity for the vision of building something even more grandiose.
We may not be careful to choose our lots in life and thus we will know the pain of brokenness; a broken marriage, a broken pocket, and perhaps a broken soul. I invite you to reconcile that pain from those losses and elect to harness it for a new construction. As we rebuild from pain, let us tell ourselves yet a concluding story, the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.
In the late 1970s, NASA worked on a test vehicle that was needed to ensure the lighter airframe could handle the stress of space flight. NASA thus commissioned the construction of a space shuttle in 1979. After 4 years of building the first flight was ready on April 4, 1983. After such a remarkable human feat, the shuttle was destroyed tragically on January 28th 1986. Just 73 seconds into mission STS 51-L, a booster failure caused an explosion that resulted in the loss of seven astronauts, as well as the vehicle. It appeared that the brokenness of the work of the master craftsmen who had built that shuttle had come to an end and indeed ‘the disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program.’
For 2 years and 8 months, a commission of inquiry sought to find what went wrong. The pain of the loss festered and it appeared destruction was the end, even in building. But that single disaster became the groundbreaking learning that revolutionized space travel with new builders learning from the failure.
In conclusion, building is an art form and a science but more importantly, building is a state of mind. Anything that was ever built was first built in the mind, then an architectural plan, before the first block is ever laid. The process demands patience, diligence, and a lot of sacrifice. The pain of the process does not however guarantee against fragility or the envy of the lazy ruffians who may wish the end without the means. Choosing to be a mason is therefore a choice to be free from the life of the ordinary, it is a path to elect to embrace brokenness as necessary for overcoming fragility. So as we welcome the last quarter of the year 2020, I encourage you to choose the state of mind of a builder and not a destroyer, for the beautiful rich land of the African woman has witnessed enough brokenness. It is time to demand the strength of builders.
My name is Yaw Sompa, I am sold to solving problems, creating communities, sharing ideas, educating minds and transforming landscapes. I am a builder committed to the building of Africa. Uhuru.
 1 Kings 7:14
 2 Chronicles 4:14
 Songs of Solomon 1:5