Reinforced concrete was once called “liquid stone.” It is made of a combination of three main ingredients: 65% aggregates such as sand, gravel, crushed rock, recycled glass; 10-15% cement (calcium silicates and aluminates); and 15-20% water: and was invented in 1867 by Joseph Monier. The word “concrete” is derived from the Latin concretus that means, “grow together.” The crushed stone and gravel are mixed with the cement and water. And as the water hydrates the cement, the silicates grow and crystalize binding the strong rock powder, making it stronger than it was in the first state. By continuing to wet the mixture the binders grow further, strengthening the mass still more.
Interesting, the crystals are not crystalline as such, rather a more random structure (much like glass) that traps air pockets. In this way, this super strong concrete mass is also flexible. By adding twisted strands of steel—reinforcing bar, or rebar—the concrete already strong when compressed now maintains tension strength, reinforcing it against cracks. The composite consists of imperfect crushed debris, held together with a binder that strengthens in imperfect configurations, and needs to be watered in order to grow in strength. Insert chords of steel and it will take on pressure and stress with aplomb.
But sometimes alkalis in the cement will react to silica in the binders that cause the “crystals” to grow more slowly and leave the concrete more vulnerable to cracks. Water can more easily seep into the hardened concrete, reach the steel and promote rust. The resulting pools of rust are referred to as “concrete cancer.”
This process, as you might guess, reminds me of community, the Body of Christ. We are the imperfectly shaped crushed rock and glass that actually make the whole combination stronger. The binding agent is the relationship that builds between us, imperfect bonds, randomly formed, at once strengthened and flexible. God waters. A tri-chord rebar is Christ, or the Trinity – either works in this metaphor – supports the pressure and tension. But we react to one another and cause division, cancerous to a community. Cracks evolve and the concrete-community breaks apart, no longer useful—in fact, damaging to anything attempting to traverse it.
This week Lysander is performing his debate on the importance of Feminism. We worked on his slides this past weekend. It is just so aggravating to me that though the Equal Rights Amendment was first written in 1923, and the first feminist convention gathered 75 years before, in 1848 (initiated by two Quakers, James and Lucreia Mott), we still have no ERA to our Constitution. There is still a gendered wage gap (even after all confounding factors removed), the US is 1 of 4 countries (of 189!!!) that has no parental leave policy, and rape and sexual harassment has increased exponentially with new technologies!
It only takes a tiny crack for water to seep in and begin the chain reaction that leads to concrete cancer, ultimately destroying the foundation. I believe inequality is an alkali-silica reaction that slows growth and weakens community, the Body of Christ. Whether or not you feel directly impacted by this malignance does not alter the reality of its existence.
There are many things we do to promote justice, to make things right in this world. The easiest is to hashtag and tweet, share Facebook articles and heart an Instagram post. But not much of substance happens until real action takes place. One suggestion I found while helping Lysander with his research is that we need to hold our social media platforms accountable for inconsistently responding to sexual harassment complaints and failing to remove memes that champion violence against women. Another, is to just be way more involved in each other’s lives, particularly our children, and notice what they are posting, what others are posting to them on social media. Perhaps the biggest issue is that we don’t always know the extent to which harm is being done if we are not directly affected. And perhaps I do not always know how my split-second text might actually came across to the recipient.
So, here is a start: will you practice mindfulness texting (tweeting, commenting) with me?
Read the text (email, comment, tweet).
Breathe in the presence of Jesus.
Breathe out my first reactions. See it for what it is.
Breathe in the wisdom of the Spirit, the Love of God’s unending grace.
Breathe out a blessing over the sender of the note.
Write a response and maybe repeat the last four steps before sending.