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This is the first of a short series of short posts I’m calling Block Pile Meditations. Like Adam before me, I named them that because I couldn’t think of anything better. –Sam
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In our family, we play a game with wooden blocks called “Castle Wars.” Maybe you do something similar. In short, it involves building opposing towers and secreting little figures (lego men, whatever) inside. When both towers (or more) are ready, we wage full-scale war with various balls. Victory is achieved when all the men inside your enemy’s castle are toppled.
It’s fun. We’ve played it a thousand times. As you might guess, the more fortress-like you can make your tower, the better chance you have of winning the game. The ethics of the game for kids might be a little questionable. Just what am I training my kids for?
Well, I hope it’s not all bad. When I build my castles, I try to make them look arresting, majestic –something beyond the utility of survival. Architecture is theology, I think. Beauty is a high, noble aim. This is a value we are determined to communicate in as many ways as possible. The results are often mixed.
With the enormous pressures of time that come along with modern family life, it’s pretty easy just to factor-out the impractical.
Is this food nutritious, or handy? OK, let’s eat it. Is this an item we need? No? OK, get rid of it. Do we need this for survival? Yes? OK, let’s get it.
I get being practical. I get being thrifty. I get avoiding materialism. But we are more than beasts made to survive. We are written into a story where peacocks have feathers like that. We’re born into a world with a night sky full of stars and a moon hung just so for poets.
We live in a world where trees spread out their branches in a kind of graceful glory which, if it were not so common, would mesmerize at every sighting. We live in Joyce Kilmer’s world, where “only God can make a tree.”
Sure, trees are useful. There’s wood for sheltering homes, for warming fires, and lots of practical stuff. But what else?
Ornate, carved pipes. Statues, cricket bats, guitars, and whatever else you can imagine fashioned for playing and pleasure of every kind. Flowers bloom to delight the eyes, fruit the mouth. Trees keep a secret supply of sap for syrup (which contains a rather high amount of sugar –a word that starts with s and is fun to say). There are limbs from which to fix tire-swings and a thousand other happy things. And then there’s my favorite reason for trees: as things to look at.
Oh, and wooden blocks. Blocks for Castle Wars.
Remember that the castles built for utility (for the practical purpose of defensive strength alone) are more successful? Well, sometimes the greater vision of life fights its way into even the very practical concerns of Castle Wars.
My then five-year-old son surprised me one day when he made an announcement as we started building. “Daddy, I’m building my castle for strength and beauty.”
Practically wonderful. Like a tree.