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The Bricoleur

March 6, 2014

“The Bricoleur” 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10 © 3.5.14 Ash Wednesday by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

In the 1980s, near Emory University in Atlanta, there was an artsy shopping and dining area called “Emory Village.” I recall a wonderful pizza place named “Everybody’s,” and I have the t-shirt to prove I ate there once. But there was also “Arnold’s Archives,” which advertised itself as “a bookstore and more.”

What, or actually who, added the “more” was John Haycock, the poet-in-residence. He turned out fine editions of books of verse on a restored printing press. Haycock described himself not only as a poet, but as a “bricoleur.”

The word is French for “handyman,” but Haycock preferred a more elaborate definition. He said a “bricoleur” is someone who takes the old and discarded around him or her and fashions it into something new and useful. Haycock and his team restored a rusty 1908 press that was near ruin, taking months for the work. Finding type for it turned out to be an ongoing job. But all the effort was worth it, because as Haycock put it, the press had “no sound”; it ran like it was “one day old.” (Note: This account is from the newspaper “Creative Loafing.”)

We may not be professional poets, but we all make meaning. We do it not with rollers and blocks and type, but with the words we speak, the decisions we make, the actions we take. Our life stories are written not on paper, but on hearts. Sometimes our poetry soars and our prose inspires as relationships take on a pleasing and surprising complexity and touch others with their power. Other times our rhymes sound forced, and our prose falls flat as our failures outnumber our successes, and whatever we do seems only to add to the pain of the world.

So we don’t really need to be reminded we are dust. We know that already. What we want desperately to hear is that this dust can be human, that from ashes a phoenix can rise, from rust strong iron can be recovered, from brokenness can come wholeness, that in our mortality we can know new life.

Thanks be to God, then, that he is the bricoleur par excellence. By his creative Spirit, he takes rust and dust, ashes and sackcloth, shattered dreams and broken hearts, and turns them into something useful, something whole, something restored so they’re as good as new.

Yes, Lent starts with ashes, but it ends with resurrection. God will not give up until he sees his creation, including you and me and our neighbors and all the natural world, renewed and at peace and alive with hope and joy.


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