A strange new museum opened in Covent Garden this week. Its displays include prosthetic limbs, a piano, cuddly toys and this somewhat battered gnome.
They are mementoes of misery, symbols of strife and heartache, for this is the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Usually housed in Zagreb, the museum is visiting London for a few weeks, where I’m sure it will generate much interest.
Why should that be so? What would make someone pay £3.50 to look at artefacts which have nothing in common except their symbolic value? Why would someone want to see the gnome thrown at the car of a deserting lover, or the cell phone displayed with the legend “It was 300 days too long. He gave me his cell phone so I couldn’t call him any more.”?
I think there are 2 main reasons:
First, the vast majority of us are pretty voyeuristic: we love the opportunity to peer into other people’s lives and see every last, intimate detail. It’s the same impulse as that behind the desire to gossip and to watch Big Brother. It’s also probably the same drive as that of historians, archaeologists and amateur genealogists to delve into the past.
The positive aspect of this tendency is that it enables us to learn: we want to know what has gone before us in order that we may avoid the mistakes of the past and live better in the future. The negative, of course, is when we simply want to delight in the pain of others because it makes us feel better by comparison.
The second reason why people will go to the museum is linked with this. Sometimes we want to see the pain of others simply to stop ourselves feeling so alone. A museum like this gives us a place to come together and share our wounds.
When the night is darkest and the pain sharpest, we don’t want to be alone; we want to feel that someone knows, someone understands, someone else has walked the road before us.
This is what the Museum of Broken Relationships provides, and this is why it continues to receive exhibits from around the world. It is offering an outlet for people to share their grief, their anger, perhaps for some their shame and fear. Its curators have created a space where people can gather together and say ‘this is my story.’
We may claim we want to be individuals, maintaining our autonomy and our independence, but in fact we are created for community, for relationship. The Museum of Broken Relationships illustrates this just as surely as does the Peckham Wall of Love, and the flourishing of social media.
I was talking with colleagues today about hospitality at our church, and we concluded that no matter how warm our welcome on a Sunday (and I know I’m biased, but my church does this extremely well), the greater impact on people’s lives comes when we invite them into our homes to share a meal with us.
Coffee and conversation are wonderful, but the people walking through our church doors each week are aching for community; they want to find a space where they can share of themselves.
Do you make that possible?
Are you crying out for someone to offer it to you?
What could you do this week to take steps towards making a difference?
Are you willing to be vulnerable and share of your life in order to create a safe place for others?
Let me know how you get on – or where and how you’ve seen this modelled in the past.