Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Brush with the Lord

I visited the Art Institute of Chicago today and saw wonderful things - like black vases from China nearly a thousand years old! And of such beauty!

They were beautiful (small “b”) and radiated Beauty (capital “B”). The beauty captured my attention, but the Beauty took my breath away. I think God’s bestows Beauty, which is part of himself, on the artist’s creative process and so blesses the artist, the creation, and the viewer.

At one point today I walked into a room – and gasped: six brush and ink drawings, Korean, late 19th century. I became so peaceful in their presence. They didn’t ask me to solve a puzzle or figure out how the artist “did it.” They were what they were – serene, elegant, evocative. They evoked that part of me – often harried, often hidden – that is peaceful and beautiful.

I believe that when God saw that creation was good, he was seeing the Beauty of creation. And creation, that is, God invites you and me to look for that Beauty in ways special to each of us: a Tiger Woods drive on a challenging fairway, sailboats in the Grant Park marina in Chicago, newly baked bread, a conversation with a friend.

“Count your blessings.” “Find God in all things,” I find I’m sometimes embarrassed to do such things: too pious, too much work. But they are my guide to a better place in myself that’s not about me. I’m always better off when I do this, and always worse off and self-absorbed when I don’t. And I’m better off now, remembering where God found me this afternoon – in some brush and ink drawings.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Brown Eggs, Colored Eggs

First, his mom dropped a dozen eggs in a pot of cold water. Then she pulled the papery brown skins from some yellow onions, added the skins and a little vinegar to the pot, and set the pot over a low flame to come slowly to a boil. Then she turned off the heat and let the water return to room temperature.

His mom dried the now-brown shells of these perfectly cooked hardboiled eggs and rubbed each one with a little bacon grease from the can she kept by the stove, giving each egg a polished luster. The family ate these golden eggs every Good Friday evening with a soup of kale and boiled potatoes thickened with a little oatmeal.

This simple Good Friday meal honored the Lord’s death and prepared the way for the Easter Sunday feast, served this time with brightly colored eggs.

As my friend told me this story about the German-Kentucky family of his boyhood, his face lit up with excitement. Telling a story about something one loves, especially from the distant past, to a good friend of the present brings delight to the teller and the hearer. It deepens their present friendship and honors those about whom the story is told. Today God added his own blessing to my friend’s story-telling. And our friendship glowed with a happiness we cannot give ourselves.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I walked out of a showing of “300” last night. The New York Times reviewer said that “300” is as violent as Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid. And he is right.

The dominant theme is that Spartan men are real men: gym-goers who are aggressive, domineering, rigid, unyielding, in-charge and in-control. The movie dresses this up as patriotism, the Spartan queen proclaiming that “Freedom isn’t free!” but the message is hard to miss.

So, why, exactly is this movie “stupid”? Primarily, because it is stupidly and wrongly self-congratulatory. First, the Spartan legacy to the West is Thermopylae. The Athenian legacy is philosophy, politics - especially democracy- literature, drama, dance, history, mathematics, architecture, and science.

Second, men – and women – aren’t really in-charge and in-control. For example: American farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops each year. This year thousands of colonies, some numbering 60,000 bees, are disappearing, and $14 billion worth of crops are at stake.

So, what would a Spartan do? Being aggressive, rigid, and unyielding – not to mention being in-charge and in-control - won’t pollinate crops. Even, the art and science of Athens won’t pollinate crops.

Being aggressive, rigid, and in-charge won’t bring about human salvation. Nor will human philosophy, art, history, and science, brilliant as human learning can be. Salvation comes from the one who made the bees – and who sends us little reminders, like disappearing bees, that we’re not in charge.