I love this image. Not only is it the image that I use for the banner above it's also framed up nicely and hanging on a wall in our living room. Yes, I did take the picture but like most art that I can attribute to myself I didn’t intend for it to turn out like that.
I snapped this image of Bourbon Street on a chilly January evening in 2007 during a meaningful visit to New Orleans. When I took a closer look at the unintended obscurity with the colors and lines all blurred together I was thrilled.
Sometimes things work that way. Outside of our intention and control what was planned as sharp and clear turns out obscure and ambiguous and the distinct mystery and beauty that results ends up being more honest to the reality of the moment.
I'm no student of modern art but I often find it compelling. When my wife and I visit the Denver Art Museum I know she'll gravitate toward impressionism and she knows I'll feel pulled to the second floor which is the modern and contemporary art. And we respect one another's preferences.
Art leaves its mark on us. American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein said, "Art doesn't transform it just plain forms." But how does art form us?
Engaging a work of art is a lot like engaging with a person in conversation. A piece of art itself can be compared to a joke. Getting a joke requires sensitivity to a whole background of context - presuppositions, intended and unintended meanings, so "getting" a work of art requires attention to problems, questions, attitudes, and expectations. It's about context.
It's almost always about context. I wouldn't expect just anyone who enters my living room to see the blurred Bourbon Street photo and instantly "get" it. Maybe they've never been to New Orleans and maybe they don't know the background - how a handful of trips to New Orleans that year ended up shaping the trajectory of my life and ministry work.
Text, conversation, & art are often meaningless mediums without a deeper sense of context.
More and more people are finding the Sunday event known as church less meaningful to them. I wonder how much church has become like engaging a conversation or a piece of art detached from any appreciation of contextual background?
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul reserved a serious word to describe people. He called us poiema, which just means we are God's poetry - God's art. He's saying each and every human life is a meticulously composed, complex, and often highly obscure piece of art. With that in mind, to take on the work of the local church is like being an appreciator of fine art. The job of a minister is to discover and name the deep value attached to the story or context behind these artistic masterpieces known as human beings.
Each human life is a masterpiece containing artistic depth obscured within both wounds and beauty. And the ultimate reason behind these artistic expressions is to be seen - to be known and appreciated.
How many of these artistic expressions feel seen when they go to church?
Our surface impression of people is not unlike the obscurity of my favorite photo above and just like my image of Bourbon Street it's the obscurity that draws you further into the story. But to truly appreciate requires a further investigation into the context. The latent story behind the art takes time to see. It requires a persistent presence and careful attention to detail.
Art wants to be seen for all of its potential and possibility. The latent beauty waits to be drawn forth.
Soul care is the craft of art appreciation and in my experience christians have struggled to accept and appreciate art. So often I come in contact with christians who can't seem to see themselves as art - flawed and obscure - but a masterpiece nonetheless.
Rembrandt was said to have painted as many as sixty-three self portraits. Rembrandt felt that he had to enter into his own self, into his dark cellars as well as into his light rooms, if he really wanted to penetrate the mystery of a person's interiority.
As I said in an earlier post I believe that soul care will be the ministry that carries the church into the future. It's not just a ministry from the vocational minister outward, but it's a culture of encouraging and appreciating self-portraits.
Henri Nouwen believed,"We will never be able to really care if we are not willing to paint and repaint constantly our self-portrait, not as a morbid self-preoccupation, but as a service to those who are searching for some light in the midst of darkness."
Incorporating soul care as a central aspect of our spirituality means taking on the attitude of the artist, one who paints self-portaits and facilitates fellow artists to do the same.