Sunday, May 1, 2011

Really Beautiful

Spring is in the air...and in my friend's flooded basement...and in the obscenely aromatic lilies sitting on my coffee table...and in the Mount Pleasant Mobile Home Village.  The return of growth and growing things, of torrential rains and flowers that reek like a middle school boy experimenting with cologne reminds me that life is messy.  It is good and it is messy.

In fact life, real life, is utterly uncontrollable.  Only dead things are completely predictable.  Only dead things can be precisely managed in such a way that all outcomes are assured ahead of time.  Life is risky.  It is dangerous.  It is a mixture of good and bad, easy and hard and just plain boring.  And that is precisely what makes it beautiful.

This is something I know with my head but that I struggle to know truly in my heart.  I, along with the rest of the human race, am bent on control, on the extinction of risk, on the gradual homogenization of all things.  And so we create things like Disney's "Animal Kingdom"...designed to look, feel and smell just like a variety of wondrous, exotic locales--minus any possible way of dying or being injured (unless you choke on your $10 serving of Frozen-Space-Age-Ice-Cream-Pellets, of course).

Want to know something that's weird about places like that?  Places where we've totally managed all risk and ugliness and difficulty out of the environment?  Pictures taken there aren't as beautiful.  Something inside us knows--just knows--it's not real.  Yes, there are real lions and gazelles and kookaburras.  But I will never in good conscience be able to hang any of the "nature shots" I took at the Animal Kingdom on my wall.  Not because the pictures aren't well composed, but because (I mean this mysteriously and seriously) they're not truly beautiful.

They're not beautiful like the pictures that are on my wall. David, the pastor from a secret church in Laos, simply sitting in a chair by himself, but obviously deeply concerned about friends he's just learned are missing.  My friend Liz and another friend Skye sitting on a stoop at the Village in the sun sharing a peaceful smile.  A shot from the side of a Thai mountain looking down on a massive tangle of wooden huts and jungle canopy...taken from inside the heavily guarded fence.  Granted, most of these photographs aren't as exciting or exotic as the shots I took at Disney featuring gigantic gorillas and spider monkey's swinging on the "lost ruins of a South American jungle civiliation", but they are infinitely more beautiful. Their beauty comes from the fact that they're real...really real.  In each one, if I look close enough, I can see hope.  But I can also see fear.  In each one there is a story of rescue, and in each one another story of pain and loss.  The good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the realities of life in a fallen world are exactly what make these pictures worth hanging on my wall.

I think that Christians get off track when they start to believe that God wants them to fix the world's problems.  Now hear me out...I am as firm a believer as anyone that followers of Jesus ought to be acting in the world to undo injustice, to help the helpless, to bring hope to the hopeless, and to do all of this through practical, hands-on activity.  That's a non-negotiable.  What I'm getting at is the "fix-it" mentality that leads, however gradually, to anger and bitterness and isolation from things (and people) that will not "be fixed".  Taken too far, it seems like this perspective on "mission" leads us to put "results" before relationships, to value some people more than others because they are more "compliant", to legitimize a hyper-mobility that rips us from real rootedness and from opportunities to let God's word and work seep down to the places of our deepest motivations.

When's the last time you read the book of Revelation?  (Reading the Left Behind series definitely doesn't count!)  I think this kind of perspective on mission--this "fix it" mentality--would be unrecognizable as a Christian attitude to the author of this much-misunderstood biblical book.  For one, the folks he was writing to were so despised (and likely, so generally poor) that any thought of "transforming the world" would have been utterly unrealistic for them.  What is the message of John to these scattered folks whose lives are wracked with pain and uncertainty and loss and dishonor?  Maybe it's best to spell out first what it is not.  It is NOT a message to get busy fixing the broken, immoral, unjust Roman empire.  Conversely, it is NOT a message about self-defense and self-protection.  What it IS is a message about endurance in identity.  Keep being the faithful, peculiar people of Jesus!  It will not keep you safe, and it will not "fix" the world.  But it is what is most necessary, because it is what is most real.  Jesus is the Savior.  Jesus is the Protector.  Jesus is the vindicator of the mistreated.  Jesus is the gardener tending the Tree of Life whose leaves bring healing to the nations.  The surprising message of Revelation is that what God wants most is a people who are truly and wholly His...He's got the rest of it under control.

That's what, at its core, the Village Art Project is about.  It's not really about art.  It's not really about "fixing a neighborhood".  It is about being a certain kind of people...together.  The kind of people who look and smell and talk and think and befriend and spend and pray and act and see like Jesus.  And for all its brokenness, the Mount Pleasant Mobile Home Village helps us down that path.  If we realign our views of what God wants from us, we realize that this TRULY is a mutual experience.  If we will be patient and open and prayerful, we will all be changed.

But we will all--always--be alive.  And that means risk.  That means pain.  That means laughter and surprise.  It means really good days, and really, really bad days.  But the pictures that result hang on my walls...and on the walls of heaven.

Because they are truly beautiful.

Love to you in Jesus, and with growing anticipation for a truly beautiful summer,

No comments:

Post a Comment