We built bombs there. Big ones.
Torpedoes, actually. The Mark XIV big green was assembled there.
At the end of WWI the US Naval Torpedo Factory on the waterfront in Arlington, Virginia was built and put into service. The idea was to prepare in case of future world conflicts. The powerful and terrifying weapons built there were designed to prosecute victory at sea.
Until the end of WWII torpedoes were produced at a frantic pace. But when peace finally came, the factory closed and became storage for surplus military goods.
In the early 1970s as the old buildings were facing demolition, a unique idea came into play. The massive, sterile structure was to be retrofitted and repurposed. A large artist’s guild converted the building into a multi-story labyrinth of studios and galleries.
Such was the birth of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
What once was the generator of bombs would now be the genesis of beauty.
My wife and I recently walked through the 160-plus studios there. We were just two of the half million who will do so this year. To say we were impressed is a grand understatement.
Artisans of many different stripes work with paint, sculpt with clay and stone, sew and embroider with exquisite fabrics. All this alongside calligraphers, screen printers and woodworkers. It is a haven for artists to create as well as a vehicle for them to share their work.
We wandered wide-eyed through the literal explosion of creativity and I off-handedly remarked to Dianne, “This reminds me of a Scripture: ‘They will beat their swords and weapons into plowshares.'”
It’s a reference from Isaiah 2:4, “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The place that once manufactured thousands of weapons to destroy now houses hundreds of artists who create.
A place of death has become a place of life.
As I’ve reflected on that walk through the factory I realize that our lives are not so very different from what I saw there. At least mine isn’t.
Truth is, each of us faces pain, endures rejection, receives abuse or battles with despair at some pretty deep levels. Often, we have make knee-jerk decisions that became horrible mistakes in reaction to that pain.
- Choices to cope result in actions that hurt
- Pathways for escape become highways to Hell
- Defensive postures often lead to destructive isolation
- Last straws grasped for survival become last chances lost in shame
In our broken places we tend to construct defense mechanisms designed to protect our fragile hearts. Too often those patterns and behaviors torpedo our relationships and sink our souls.
But the great news of grace is that dark places of destruction can become incubators of life and healing. The spaces in our broken souls where we once manufactured devastation, now through grace become the very places we create hope.
Beauty for ashes…
That’s Isaiah’s picture of hope recovered and life restored.
“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3)
It is a consistent reality that where we have been most hurt or most hurtful will become the place of our greatest Kingdom value–if we allow grace to invade and transform.
Not only can our hurts be healed and thus become healing, so too can the very psychological and relational weapons of self-protection we have used to keep others at bay.
Our soulish bomb factories can become the very points from which beauty emerges in our lives.
Exactly the same place where…
- We have failed we can offer understanding to the friend battling bad choices
- We have betrayed we can model faithfulness to the one tempted to stray
- We have abused we can encourage forgiveness in the heart of the angry reactionary
- We have used we can demonstrate repentance to the calloused soul of the haters
- We have lied we can become beacons of truth and authenticity to those living lies of their own
Scripture is full of the biographies of people who have had their worst morphed into His best by the touch of grace in the wounds of their souls.
- Jacob’s deception becomes the deep push that causes him wrestle with God until he comes out new.
- Rahab’s open door to men as a prostitute becomes the safe harbor for God’s spies and she winds up in the lineage of Messiah.
- Gideon’s insecurity drives the sensitivity that gives him a keen ear for God’s voice and heart for His purpose.
- David’s misplaced passions become the seedbed for the hunger that makes him a man in pursuit of the heart of God.
- Saul’s prosecutorial rage which drove him to travel widely to snuff out the life of Christians became his fervent drive to cover the world with the life of the gospel
Then there is the poor guy Luke called the demoniac of Gadara. Living in a graveyard he wreaked havoc in the lives of all who came by. He was completely isolated by his own bitter brokenness and self-protective habits.
But grace sought him out…literally crossing a sea just to find him.
It was that meeting with Jesus at the very spot where this man’s lunacy thrived that changed the entire trajectory of his pathetic existence. Substantially healed–“Clothed and in his right mind”–Jesus told him to go home to his family and friends and show them that beauty can rise from any pile of ashes. (Luke 8:26-39)
There is such peace in arriving at the place where the factories of destructive behavior that run non-stop in the broken soul become silent.
In those places we no longer calculate self-protection and cipher self-defense. We become open hearts inviting others to see the beauty grace has introduced into those once-darkened laboratories of pain.
Finally, through the power of grace that changes our destructive tendencies, we can stop destroying and start creating.
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.