Thursday, July 26, 2007

Card Games & Paint Spatters

By now, pretty much everyone who reads this blog is aware that I'm somewhat obsessed with my hobby, collecting & playing board games. (Those of you who've seen the game room are sniggering at my use of the word "somewhat" in the previous sentence - stop it.) One part of my enjoyment of the hobby is online conversations about board games with other folks who share my enthusiasm.

One of those conversations yesterday (on Spielfrieks) took a very interesting turn. We had been talking about a new "take that" card game (the best known "take that" game is Milles Bornes) which has weak gameplay & even weaker card art. That got some folks wondering about the ugliest card art they'd ever seen... which then led someone to bring the cliché that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". And then I felt compelled to tell my story:

I'm reminded of our visit to the Art Institute in Chicago... after hours of perusing art by Seurat, Rembrandt, CĂ©zanne, Van Gogh and others, we found ourselves in the lower reaches of the Institute, in the "Contemporary" section.

After looking rather askew at a Jackson Pollock (I understand intellectually that I'm looking at something "fraught w/meaning", but it still looks like paint spatter to me), we turned to see a small African-American woman in a guard's uniform standing beside.

"I painted that," she said... and smiled.

My wife & I laughed and turned to look at an abstract nude of an obviously overweight woman to our left.

"That's my mother-in-law," she said.

I don't think I ever appreciated art quite as much as I did that afternoon.
Matthew Frederick responded:
One afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after having spent a week straight touring the city with my daughter, I plopped down exhausted on a bench to wait for her to finish with something and come find me.

I'd felt exactly as you do about Pollock, that it was just paint splatters, and that though in theory I should see something or be moved, there just wasn't anything there for me. Turns out I was sitting across from a huge Pollock, but I pretty much ignored it. Suddenly, though, WHAM, I could see it. Motion, and flow, and depth. The painting was simply stunning. My brain had finally worked it out.

To this day I can immediately find depth in Pollock paintings, but my brain's never quite worked out improvised jazz. Similar to the Pollock, I know it's a matter of my brain "getting it," and perhaps someday it will. I'll never forget my sudden awakening to the painting style, though, and the realization that there are some things that I just don't get yet, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there.

(Not saying that you're saying there's not... just a memory and an observation.)
To which I responded:
Actually, Matthew, you've just given me one of the best sermon/message illustrations ever. That's the way I feel when I try to explain the grace of Jesus Christ to someone - like I'm talking & talking andthey're looking at me like I'm trying to describe a Jackson Pollack painting.

And then there's that moment when they "get it"... sweet.
With some more time to think about it, I've come to a trio of interesting conclusions about art & faith:

  1. I think we feel like it's our "Christian duty" to be able to explain everything there is to know about an infinite God... it's this impulse that leads televangelists to claim to know why God allowed 9/11 or a Christian friend to jump quickly to "they're better off in heaven" to a grieving friend. Since we can see, as Matthew put it, the "motion & flow & depth" of a life that orbits around Jesus, we want desperately for other people to see it, too.
  2. According to the Bible, our primary obligation is to live a life of "motion, flow & depth" - to do what Jesus did. (Romans 8:29) We should be "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), but that verse doesn't imply that we should explain the ways of God. Our responsibility is to tell our own story... (BTW, explaining the ways of God is gonna be pretty darn difficult when the Bible claims that "his ways are higher than our ways" (Isaiah 55:9).)
  3. Finally, notice how Matthew ended up in front of the Jackson Pollack painting. He wasn't planning to be there - but someone (the curator) had placed a bench where he could take his time to soak it in. Another part of our job as followers of Christ is to metaphorically put up paintings & place benches so that people can have the opportunity to examine Jesus... the chance to have one of those moments where the "motion, flow & depth" becomes clear... a moment where they can clearly experience the grace of God. Our churches need to be that kind of place - where people weary from life can come in, sit down & see what it looks like when people in love with Jesus give themselves to Him 100%
So... what are you thinking? What's God saying to you out of my silly conversation about board games & art?

This article was adapted from an article originally published in the 7/26/07 edition of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

If you'd like to join the aforementioned gaming discussion group, spielfrieks, here's a great article (from my buddy, Larry Levy) on why it's so diddly-dang hard to get into an "open" group... and how you can join the conversation!

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