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We Have to Build

 Ole Kirk Christiansen was a master carpenter from Billund, Denmark. He made ladders and furniture and, when he had time, a wooden toy or two. His 12-year-old son Godtfred helped around the shop. One day the two of them stumbled across an idea for constructing children’s building blocks with small pegs.

Father and son decided to pursue the idea. Christiansen pegged together the two Danish words for “play well” and he had the name Lego. It was only years later that someone told him he’d inadvertently used the Latin phrase for “I build” and also “I study.” By this time, the factory had burned down and the Christiansens had made the decision to switch from wood to plastic in their bricks. And Legos were catching on.

Today, Lego stands proudly with Coca-Cola and Kleenex in international name recognition. There’s a Legoland theme park and Lego computer software--all from adding the simply joy of connecting to the human impulse to build. I’ve become an expert on Legos; I’ve had no choice in the matter. Robert, our family’s mad scientist who turns six today, spends most of his waking hours constructing edifices that must have Frank Lloyd Wright spinning in his grave. When I come home exhausted from work, Robert greets me with, “Daddy! We have to build!”
And so we do. Ole Christiansen provided a way for Robert and I to peg together, to forge a tight connection for a few hours. I hope the personal connection outlasts the plastic one. A few months back we set out to build a tower together. Babel II got off to a fine start. I showed Robert how to connect a brick to as many of the surrounding ones as possible, strengthening the hold. We added tall windows and other strategies to make the bricks go farther. Could we reach the ceiling?

Each night at bedtime, Robert granted solemn permission for me to “play Legos while I’m asleep.” I’d blush and order him to his bed. Then, when I could hear him breathing regularly, I’d play with the Legos. The important thing was the tower--the tower! It had to rise higher--HIGHER.

One morning at breakfast I was eager for Robert to see his tower’s progress. It was nearly six feet off the floor, and featured a balcony with an arched arcade and ornamented ballustrades. I had worked feverishly until midnight, a daddy possessed. G. I. Joe and Barbie whispered that I was taking this thing too far.

Robert’s face was pale when he saw the tower. “Daddy, you needed me to help you!” he said several times. He reached upward, but the structure now exceeded his reach. He could no longer add blocks; I’d forgotten the principle of connection. But together we finished the tower. Sitting on my shoulders, Robert, with a big smile, placed the flag on top. Gayle snapped our picture to preserve the memory.

The imposing tower dominated our home for about two days. It would be there still if it hadn’t sat too near a doorway. Robert, suddenly realizing he had to go to the restroom--and had to go NOW--shot by it like Godzilla and Babel II suddenly crashed to the floor. Robert was actually philosophical about it, probably because he’d never seen his dad sobbing like an old woman.

We never know when or how we’re forging connections with family, friends and strangers. The Lego people will tell you that two 8-stud bricks can be fit together in 24 different ways; three of them will fit together in 1,060 different ways. But six 8-stud bricks offer 102,981,500 opportunities for
connection. It’s up to us to find as many as possible.

The more connections we make, the stronger are the walls of what we construct in life. I study. I build. I play well. And in the end, hopefully I’ve built a tower that rises to provide a view extending beyond my brief lifetime. Ole Christiansen and his son tried it, and look how well they succeeded.

Jesus, Peter and Paul all spoke of tower-building. My favorite instance is found in Ephesians 2, in which Paul discusses the great wall that Christ has brought down, Berlin-style--and the amazing tower that rises from its rubble. There had been an invisible wall of hostility and prejudice between people, but now there’s a new invisible architectural project in the works. The cornerstone is Christ, who takes the pressure of every “brick.” The foundation is made up of apostles and prophets--that is, the Scriptures. And from that perfect base, Christ and Scripture, a tower made of human bricks “rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).

“In him you too are being built together,” according to the final verse of Ephesians 2. That’s my fondest hope---not simply within my family but in all my relationships. To that end, I study. I build. I play well. And I look for 102,981,500 connections to bring us together.

c.1999 Rob Suggs. If you’d like to subscribe to Rob’s D.Mail, visit or send an e-mail to

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