lenten journal: onward, christian artists . . .


    “Study the faces of the new tyrants,” Berger says has he begins the last section of his book, Bento’s Sketchbook: How Does the Impulse to Draw Something Begin? What follows is a series of incisive descriptions:

    They are impeccably dressed and their tailoring is reassuring, like the silhouette of high-security delivery vans.

    They have foreheads with many horizontal creases. Not furrows ploughed by thought but rather lines of incessant passing information.

    Small, swift eyes which examine everything and contemplate nothing. Ears extensive as a database, but incapable of listening.

    They are familiar only with their own impressions of their own rackets. Hence their paranoia and, generated by the paranoia, their repeated energy. Their repeated article of faith is: There is no alternative. (147)

    Not just tyrants, I thought as I read, he’s describing most of our politicians. And then I wrote in the margin, “This is antithetical to hope.” Faith as well. We were breathed into being by a God of endless possibilities, a God who has yet to quit slinging stars into the night sky, a God who inhabits the joy of laughing children and the smell of new puppies as fully as layered lavishness of a Texas sunset and the comforting power of the waves crashing on a New England shoreline. To say there is no alternative is not an article of faith but a declaration of vapid cynicism.

    I listen to Santorum and his ilk define all there is to be afraid of, listing everything from presidents to birth control pills, as though the best working metaphor for the faithful is that of the warrior, the protector, the good soldier who holds the line against the raging enemy. Even though I know it’s not original on his part and I grew up singing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” I don’t want anything to do with it. To see oneself as a soldier means to live looking for the enemy, which means the energy gets spent on building walls and weapons. Those are not articles of faith.

    “Love your enemies.” Quick – who said that?

    We are not soldiers. We are artists, creatives made in the image of our Creator.

    Drawing is anyway an exercise in orientation and as such may be accompanied with other processes of orientation which take place in nature.

    When I’m drawing I feel a little closer to the way birds navigate when flying, or to hares finding shelter when pursued, or to fish knowing where to spawn, or trees finding a way to the light, or bees constructing their cells.

    I’m aware of a distant, silent company. Almost as distant as the stars. Company nevertheless. Not because we are in the same universe, but because we are involved – each according to his own mode – in a comparable manner of searching. (150)

    An exercise in orientation. What comes to mind first is an encounter I had in the parking lot of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. Ginger and I were checking out of the hotel and I was carrying bags out to the car about nine in the morning. The two men in front of me were still living the night before. Both were in cut off jeans and Hawaiian shirts.

    “Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” said the first with great emphasis and volume, “there’s two things you’ve got to know in life: where you’re at and where you’re going.”

    “Well, hell,” said the other, “I always know where I’m at, but I ain’t never knowed where I was going.”

    I want to sing a new song: “Onward, Christian artists . . .” Forget about marching, about defending, about protecting. Create. Search. Remember. Remember we are not searching to discover God’s plan, we are searching for God. We are searching for every way we can find to connect with one another, to include one another, to love one another. The trees find their way to the light and we find our way together. We find our way to the God of Many Alternatives.

    onward, christian artists
    drawing close to God
    searching for connection
    the faithful and the flawed

    fear’s fomenters crumble
    while all creation sings
    of our divine alternatives
    as our hope takes wing

    onward christian artists
    drawing us to God
    stars and saints are cheering
    and the trees applaud



    1. Brother, you are expressing in the best beautiful way some of the thoughts I had just yesterday when someone close to me suggested that MR would make a good pres because he is a “self-made man.” First I thought, “no, no, no, he’s a God-made man” and anyone who thinks being self-made is a basis for leadership is seriously ignoring the fortune of race, class, location, every helper, mentor, teacher, spouse, child, employee, and 100s of other people and things, not to mention neglecting gratitude to and humility before one’s Creator. Second, and I wasn’t quick enough to say any of this to anyone but Jose, I thought how we are forever denigrating the wisdom of the weaker ones. We don’t value the wisdom of children or the elderly. We ignore the experience of the disabled. We cordon off the lyrical knowledge of our poets and artists, much as we cordon off the impoverished. And last, I concluded that if my Aunt Helen who had Down Syndrome ran the world, it would be a much friendlier, lovelier place, filled with laughter and hugs and forgiveness. What about those qualities in choosing a leader? Thank you always, Annie

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