In Search of Community

Occasionally on here I reference my other blog and the fact that I’m one of those adults who build LEGO.

I’d be disappointed to be personally compared to the dad in The LEGO Movie; I hope I’m more easy-going and a better parent than that, but at least LEGO Movie Dad makes the point (however badly) that there are adults who ignore the recommended age guidelines and do LEGO.

Really, it’s a lot less silly than painting yourself blue and traipsing off to a football game, and adults do that all the time.

But this isn’t so much about my personal apologia for my main hobby as it is about community.

But LEGO is involved.

For a while, ever since I rediscovered my love of my favourite childhood toy as an adult, I’ve felt somewhat isolated from the main online community of other Adult Fans Of LEGO, or AFOLs, as we get called. This wasn’t by design, but a combination of ignorance, personal hangups, limited available time to invest in an online presence, and technical difficulties. I’ve still never been able to make MOCPages, the most well-known online hangout of the AFOL (the MOC stands for “My Own Creation” and means a build that you didn’t follow any instructions to put together), work for posting my creation pictures, and so I gave up.

I have a LEGO blog, but blogs in the LEGO world aren’t really that good a way of connecting. They’re great for talking about your builds, but they don’t tend to get that much traffic by comparison to other, more primarily visual media.

It’s felt like I’m over here doing my building thing in isolation, and somewhere over there there’s a whole networked, interlinked community that I’m barely even aware of the edges of and who have no clue that I even exist.

My insecurity pipes up “and why should they know about you? It’s not as if you’re anything special!” at this point, and I have to go away and strangle it with who I am in Christ.

Like with following Jesus, LEGO building has never been a completely lone endeavour. Girls are traditionally thought to be better at it than boys (this is clearly shown in the old joke that if you put two girls down with a load of LEGO bricks, two hours later they’ll have built half a house together and will know the most intimate details of one another’s lives; whereas two boys won’t even know each other’s names but they’ll have built eighteen spaceships each and be having a war) but even boys do build together, and it’s not nearly as fun without anyone to show your stuff to.

Community. It’s important for LEGO; it’s vital for following Jesus.

This past week I discovered what’s known as a local LEGO User’s Group, or LUG. My sister-in-law thinks this name makes it sound like a twelve-step program, but other than being amusing that’s neither here nor there. I’m going to meet them on Saturday – taking a day off to go and be nerdy – and I’m excited and nervous.

I’m excited because I finally get to meet up with other adults who are hopefully like me. I’m nervous because I’ve never felt like I was any good at the whole meeting-people-making-friends thing and I have a list of hangups as long as your arm.

As humans, though, we are made for community. As the Scripture puts it, “it is not good for the man to be alone”. This is the first thing in the entire Bible that’s described as being “not good”, and the only thng before the Fall to be so characterised. We need one another. We need companions, friends, community. What Christians of a certain generation call “fellowship”, back when that was the buzzword.

This is the usual main argument for why you need to be a part of a church, of course. One can’t go it alone.

But even being part of a church is not necessarily a guarantor of fellowship, sadly. It’s only too easy to slip into formulaic, empty responses to “how are you?” inquiries from those the Scripture calls our brothers and sisters, or to hide one’s true self because we’re embarrassed or ashamed or we think other people don’t want to know the real us. Our habits keep us apart sometimes even when we’re together, and we all sit, slowly dying, in our self-erected prisons of isolation.

Contemplating my first nervous venture into the deep unknowns of the adult LEGO building community, I’m struck by a suspicion that I’ve been all too guilty of hiding myself away from my brothers and sisters.

I’m an introvert, I excuse myself. I’ve never been able to make friends easily. I get befriended; I don’t make friends myself. I hate small talk. I’m just no good at this.

And yet I crave the very community I push away out of fear and hangups, clueless about how to get beyond “How about them Cowboys?” and feeling worse than useless at that level of conversational gambit. I’ve never been much of a sports fan, I have no real connection to or interest in many of the traditional Texan male conversation-starters (like hunting, mechanics or guns) and the hobbies I do have get looked on as weird.

Give me something real to talk about, and I’ll talk without fear for as long as I have something to say. But my difficulty with friendship evangelism has always been the friendship part rather than the evangelism part, and I’m not really all that much better at forging relationship connections with believers.

Hopefully meeting some adult LEGO fans will help to kickstart my paltry ability to connect with others. I’m honestly not trying to be a hermit. I recognise that I need friendship and fellowship from others. I get it that small talk is vital for those first stages of forming friendships. I’m just feeling deeply incapable when it comes to actually making it happen, and I don’t like feeling incapable.

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Adventus: Down Into Darkness

Something I do every year in the Advent season is to dial in my focus onto a particular aspect of the Christmas story.

Some years it’s been Mary and the incredible act of faith it took to react to Gabriel’s announcement with a simple “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according th what you have said”. The year after my eldest was born I found myself focusing on Joseph and what it must have taken to be a father to the Son of God. Some years it’s been the shepherds, some years the Magi. Last year it was the inherent contradiction and upside-downness of it all: while the world was focused on the rich and great, Tiberius Caesar, Governor Quirinius, Herod in his palace, the real story is two dirt-poor displaced persons and a baby being laid in an animal feeding trough to get him off the floor. And it’s this, not any humanly-great historical figure, who’s going to change the world.

This year it’s the Incarnation itself.

It’s not the first year I’ve focused on the Incarnation, but I wasn’t blogging the last time that was the case, so I get to talk about it all fresh.

This year, too, at least initially, my focus in a little diiferent to last time.

Last time I focused on the Incarnation it was the idea of Emmanuel, God With Us, the Lord of the Universe become a man like me.

This year it’s the idea of Jesus the Light coming down out of His heaven of light to take up residence in this dark world among all of our chaos and pain. The idea of descent, of coming down from the perfection which was His right into our darkness and mess.

The Incarnation isn’t completely unique to Christianity. Other religions, particularly Hinduism, have their gods taking on flesh and living among men. But what sets Jesus apart is the purpose of His taking on flesh. He’s not cavorting among lesser beings for His own amusement or because He wants something from us; it’s part and parcel of the Divine rescue plan.

If you’re trapped in a burning building with toxic air, having a set of instructions broadcast in to tell you where the fire exit is is all very well, but it’s less helpful than sending in fire fighters. When the air itself turns toxic with lack of oxygen and presence of all manner of chemicals, reason gets bent sideways and you can’t always rely on your thought processes. Neither can humans, unaided, get free from the sin that afflicts us and corrupts our minds so that we can save ourselves. And that’s what makes the Incarnation special: God is coming Himself to rescue us from the spiritual conflagration that we started.

“Down Into Darkness”

As an initial expression of this idea of God coming down into our mess, I built this LEGO model, in which I’ve tried to communicate the concept of the Light coming down into our darkness.

Not all that brilliant as a piece of art, perhaps, but I hope it gets its point across.

The Incarnation means God coming down into our darkness, living among all of the corruption and arrogance and cruelty and greed and indifference of which humans prove themselves capable every time it’s day. Perfect justice coming to live in an inherently unjust world. Grace being born among the graceless. Purity and light shining in the night of impurity.

More, it’s the beginning of the transformation of the world. Now that the Light has come, we don’t have to walk in darkness any more. We can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We don’t have to keep on acting like corruption is inevitable or that arrogant self-centred cruelty is just the way it is.

As Jesus Himself said: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden; neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father, Who is in heaven.”

Trusting in Jesus isn’t just finding the fire escape; it’s also a call to action. We’re called to be lights, shining His Light, doing good in a corrupt and sinful world. Good works alone won’t save us, but as Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, we are called to incarnate His Incarnation, to be His vessels of grace. If we aren’t doing good, are we really incarnating the One who is Good?

At the end of a year which has seemed especially full of chaos and darkness and human mess, the idea of spending some time reflecting on the “true Light that gives life to everyone” coming into our dark mess of a world is a potent one.

Light, stepping down into darkness.

Maranatha.

Repainting the House Divided

Reposted from my LEGO blog “Square Feet”:

What happens when a red astronaut from the LEGO Classic Space faction and a black-clad astronaut from the enemy Blacktron alliance fall in love?

This build went through several iterations as I toyed with the scene. It actually started out as a plain Blacktron base corridor scene, though I neglected to photograph it at that point.
The two astronauts already looked as though they might have been falling for one another, so I went with that and rebuilt one end of the corridor in Classic Space LEGO colours and made the astronaut a red one.

The heart followed, making the point clearer, and then, under the influence of a 13-years-married-and-still-gloriously-in-love relationship I decided to make it a bit more domestic.

I’d already thought about calling it “Across A House Divided” or something similar, and I started thinking, “what if that’s their actual house?”.

Ergo the paint rollers. And the icing on the cake is that she‘s getting ready to paint her half in his colours just as he‘s getting ready to paint his half in her colours. That’s what love is like.

Obviously there’s a message here, in our increasingly divided times. With seemingly everything becoming increasingly politically coloured in lurid reds and blues, maybe LEGO’s old smiley-faced, cooperative, friendly astronauts can teach us a thing or two.

I characterised the Blacktron faction as “enemy”, and that certainly seemed in the late ’80s to be the case, from their predatory, slightly sinister ship names (“Invader”, “Renegade”) to the fact that once the Space Police were introduced it was Blacktron astronauts in the jail cells. But even though they were enemies, the catalogues of the day still showed the two factions cooperating and working together in the vital project of colonising the galaxy.

Maybe our current “enemy” divisions into the Red Camp and the Blue Camp aren’t as terrible and world-ending as some people would like us to think. Most of my in-laws hold vastly different political views to my wife and I, but we’ve just managed to make it through a Thanksgiving without a single political argument. For which I am duly thankful, believe me.

But the point is that love transcends all of that. For all that I disagree with the political narrative most of my inlaws have chosen to accept, they are good people. And I’m not going to accept the contemporary myth that says you have to define yourself and everyone else purely in terms of political affiliations.

So slightly unintentionally I seem to have built that in LEGO bricks. Here’s a situation in which the political colours of their surroundings are unimportant beside the love they have for one another. Black or blue-and-grey, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re together.

This isn’t a blog I usually get political in, but the “message” is an important one right now. Thanksgiving has just come and gone, and Christmas is on its way. Maybe it’s time to step back from the brink of metaphysical total war with the opposing ideology and remember that those who hold it are human beings just like us.

Independence Planet

A cross-post from my LEGO blog Square Feet today.  This seemed appropriate in both places.


It’s quite out-of-the-ordinary for me to be building a Fourth of July-themed LEGO model.

Although I live in the United States, I was born and raised in the United Kingdom, and American Independence Day is the single US public holiday I’ve had the hardest time getting my heart around.

In all honesty, Britain in 1776 doesn’t look to me like the “tyranny” of you Americans’ popular belief, based as it is on half-remembered childhood school lessons. We had pre-Revolutionary (and later post-Revolutionary) France sitting next door inviting comparison, and besides that the citizens of the American colonies seem to have had in large part a lighter burden than those of the mother country. “British tyranny”, as you so delightfully put it, hardly seems fair.

It’s taken most of a decade now to get past my offended national pride at this seemingly mentally-lazy accusation of “tyranny”, together with my secret fear that you Americans might be still holding a sort of grudge about it all with your closely-held popular memories of your Paul Reveres, your Boston Tea-Parties and your “rockets’ red glare” (from missiles fired by one of our warships, as I can’t quite ever forget).

Really, the Fourth of July is a weird time to be a Brit in America, if you have any sense or knowledge of history. I love America, but I love my homeland too, and it’s difficult to enter into the spirit of a holiday which persists in painting my home country as the villain.

For all that my country of birth and my country of residence are now staunch allies, such that your Red, White and Blue flies proudly beside ours, and the idea that we might be deadly enemies is frankly ridiculous; still, every Fourth of July I’m reminded that it was not always so.

However, in recent years I’ve been far better about not working myself into a frenzy over it in the run-up to the Day itself, finding ways to love America even on the Fourth of July that don’t feel like I’m being subtly asked to reject the land of my birth.

Really, it’s nothing anyone else has ever said or done. This is my own love of my homeland running headlong into the reality that it was that country that those early Americans had to fight to gain their independence. I’m quite happy to celebrate American independence; what I feel sometimes like I’m probably not going to be allowed is permission to love my other country too, even on the Fourth when you memorialise that former enmity.

Silly? Maybe. Weirdly insecure? For certain. Neurotic? Perhaps.

Rather English, though. We never want to impose on anyone; I wouldn’t dream of sounding a discordant note of Britannic pride in the midst of the United States’ birthday celebration. Hence my annual patriotic neurosis.

Really, though, I have been getting better. The War of Independence isn’t exactly current affairs even in the UK where it’s so much closer to 2017 than to 1066, and no-one is asking me to choose sides for battle. I’m gradually realising that it really is a free country (still); I don’t need the nation’s permission to be British even on the Fourth.

And there’s much to love about America, land of liberty, welcomer of those “huddled masses” and home of opportunity and an inventiveness that has blessed the world with so many wonderful devices.

America really is great, and not even Donald Trump can take away that proud legacy.

Hence this build.

A deliberate homage to that famous image of the Flag-raising on Iwo Jima, it uses some of my new red and white LEGO Classic Space astronauts, and my slightly older blue Classic astronaut.

Indeed, the whole build owes itself to the way I had my new astronauts arranged on my son’s LEGO display shelves. Independence Day rapidly approaching, it occurred to me that the visual combination of red, white and blue astronauts was very patriotic. “I’m sure I could do something with that, for this holiday I’m actually beginning to come to terms with”.

Thoughts turned to that famous USMC image, and the rest is as you see.

Have a happy Independence Day, everyone.

Unexpected Connectivity

Last Friday was my birthday, and I got LEGO, which automatically means it was excellent.

This is probably going to be another LEGO-nerdy post, so if you’re not interested, feel free to stop reading now.


Still here? Great!

In terms of sets, I got only one, but it’s an awesome one that I’ve wanted ever since I discovered it: the LEGO Ideas Exo-Suit originally designed by the amazing Peter Reid.

Building has certainly come a long way from the days of the original 1979 Space Cruiser and Moonbase. In those days, the 338 pieces of the Space Cruiser made it a huge set; now you get almost that many in a low-end to midrange model.

What’s the difference? In a word, greebles.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “greebles” is a sci-fi modelmakers’ term for all of the pipes and flanges and nodules and things that contribute to the illusion of functionality. In LEGO terms, I’m using it to refer to all the tiny bits and pieces of clips, pipes, connectors, robot arms and other elements that not only make wonderful meaningless detail but also offer new and unique construction possibilities.

The Exo-Suit, for instance, is assembled almost entirely from the things. In the entire model there are maybe ten or twelve bricks that would have been familiar to me as a child; the rest is all new pieces. And even what would have been familiar is used in unfamiliar ways: 1×1 “eyehole” plates fuse with old-style robot arms, bricks stand on their sides or upside-down, minifigure tools get new life as structural connectors…

It’s going to revolutionise my building.

The other things that are going to revolutionise my LEGO building are the two LEGO books I got for my birthday. The first, Brick Wonders, details various “wonders of the world” built in LEGO. Beginning with the Classical seven Wonders, it goes on to detail other ancient wonders including Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge, modern wonders including the Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam, and natural wonders including the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.

Along the way, there are lots of instructions for building several mini-models, such as triremes, fountains, wind turbines and Mediæval houses, and it’s these that are going to contribute to revolutionising my building, as well as one crucial piece of information concerning relative LEGO geometry.

Any LEGO builder knows that one standard brick is exactly three of the flat “plates” high. This is basic building geometry and lets you combine plate elements alongside brick elements for different effects.

But what I didn’t know was that two studs’ width is exactly the same as five plates’ height.

Oh, I knew that you could pin a Technic 1×4 brick’s 3 holes vertically to 2 horizontal Technic bricks by sandwiching 2 plates between them, but I hadn’t calculated out the implications of that. Specifically, I hadn’t worked out what that meant in terms of the new-style bricks with studs on the sides: that you could combine vertical and horizontal bricks into a single shape without gaps.

The other book that’s going to revolutionise my building techniques is Peter Reid and Tim Goddard’s LEGO Space: Building the Future.

Yep, this is the same Peter Reid that designed the original Exo-Suit mech, and it tells the story of the exploration of the Solar System and beyond through those early LEGO Space sets, or more precisely, from new creations derived from that unique visual style but making full use of the building capabilities of new bricks.

His vision of the Classic Space LEGO universe is vastly different from my own – I always pictured the action happening on far more distant worlds orbiting other stars – but it might be truer to the LEGO Group’s original concept; after all, it was the “Space Cruiser and Moonbase”. But this is not really going to affect how I perceive the old Classic Space sets. Peter Reid’s LEGO creations are awesomely cool, but his near-space vision is only one possibility among many. Yes, the crater baseplates they used to sell were grey. But all that meant to me was that it probably wasn’t Mars (I did, however, consider spray-painting my crater baseplates orange to make Martian terrain, but I wasn’t sure I wanted anything that permanent).

No, what’s going to change is my whole style of building.

This book, too, has instructions for a number of the models, usually the simpler and less cool ones. But it also serves as a massive visual reference for what might unexpectedly connect to what.

Already my LDD (LEGO Digital Designer – a computer program for building things in LEGO) modeling is changing. Witness the hoverbikes I produced before the revolution (very much in the style of the ones I made as a child) and after (my own unique design, but definitely drawing on Peter Reid’s creations for inspiration):

Hoverbike from before my birthday

Hoverbike from before my birthday

The new Mark 3 Hoverbike

The new Mark 3 Hoverbike

I haven’t had much time around my paid employment to put the new techniques to work in a model using real bricks, but I have several ideas Stay posted on my LEGO blog Square Feet.

If I want to draw a serious lesson from all this, I guess it’s how things can unexpectedly fit together. I often get comments from people wondering how on earth my wife and I are together. Apparently there’s something about the way our relationship works that completely baffles many Americans’ expectations.

Now I have a new metaphor for why it works. It’s like LEGO. You see a modern Master Builder creation with pieces used upside-down and on their sides and in , and it looks like “how on earth did those fit together?”

And then you put on your own Master Builder glasses and begin to trace out the shapes of the pieces, and you go from “what on earth…?” to “Aha! I could do that!”

Maybe that’s the point. Stop freaking out about how it’s so unnatural or bizarre that it works, and maybe learn something you can replicate in your own situation. God, the One true Master Builder, put us together. I guess I should be thankful you weren’t in charge.

Blog, son of Blog

I’ve been toying with the idea of a second blog for several months now, ever since I downloaded a free Lego CAD-type program and started building with it. Obviously, I’m going to keep building stuff with my digital Lego, as well as any actual bricks I can get my hands on, and equally obviously, this blog isn’t really set up as an appropriate place to showcase what I build.

But do I really want to get into having multiple blogs?

As it happens, yes.

It’s a new year. Time for new things. I don’t expect to be posting at anything like my normal rate over here on The Word Forge, but as a personal showcase for my Lego building, far better to give it its own forum than to try to do two vastly different things from a single platform. The Word Forge would lose its focus if I tried, and anyone actually interested in my Lego building would have to wade through all of my other content looking for it.

So enter Square Feet, the Lego adventures of a construction worker.

It’s a brand-new blog at the moment, so there’s not much on it as yet. That will change.

Go on, take a look. You know you want to.

Fun for all the Family

My wife got the Meccano (“Erector set” in American-speak) she deciced she wanted for Christmas. I got Lego. So did my kids, and since it’s all going to be pooled together I’ll get to play with that too 🙂

In some households, this would be how you spell “mid-life crisis”.

Around here, it’s just this branch of the Horswoods being themselves.

Some time in the last year or so I decided to stop being embarrassed about being a grown man that still wants to play with Lego. It is, after all, no greater a potential expenditure of money than football tickets, it lasts longer than a cricket test series, and is no sillier than painting your body in your team’s colours. And grown adults do all of these without shame or embarrassment. In the case of sports fandom, it’s culturally the done thing. You get respect for it.

If an adult admits to building things with Lego, though, we think they’re childish. Having a midlife crisis. Trying to avoid the reality that they’re getting old.

I guess I might be. But if so, I’m not going to be bothered by it.

I’m reminded of something CS Lewis wrote once:

“As a teenager I read fairy tales in secret and would have been embarrassed if anyone had discovered it. Now, as an adult, I put childish things behind me, including the fear of looking childish, and read fairy tales openly”.

So I’m going to take it as evidence of maturity, not childishness, that I can openly have a hobby of Lego building.

And given some of the creations that adult Lego builders make, is it really “just” a children’s toy?

I’ve often wondered why the Lego sets have an upper age limit on their “suitable for” age suggestion box. I suppose that it helps the non-builder relative of an avid Lego fan kid to avoid getting something overly simple. But even the simplest little car is still a good source of bricks that you can build into anything. Fun for all the family. In this case, with the probable exception of my wife, quite literally.

Though I still think that if I got Heather some Technic Lego she’d have a lot of fun. She has a mind of wheels and gears, like a sort of unfallen Saruman, and she wants to make something that really works. Hence the erector set.