Use your tools beautifully

In 1991, a man wielding a hammer beneath his jacket attacked Michelangelo’s David, one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. In 1972, Michelangelo’s Pieta–in my opinion the most beautiful sculpture in existence–was also attacked and disfigured.

Michelangelo crafted the Pieta in the late 1400s and David in the early 1500s, wielding a hammer and chisels. In the case of David, he was faced with a giant block of marble that had stood rejected by other artists for 40 years. Yet in that shapeless piece of stone, he saw beauty. He released David. Removing rock and shaping limbs, he released the hero, revealing beauty.

Each of us are given daily choices. We can use the tools we have been given to highlight and reveal beauty, or we can use them to destroy. So much of what I see on social media is disintegrating and destructive. People seek to press their opinions without seeking to embody love. Yet divisiveness isn’t limited to social media. How we speak with our families can also prove destructive rather than encouraging and upbuilding. Our judgmental glances, looks, and words toward those who are different from us are destructive.

Each day, we are given choices to seek peace or conflict; to live beautifully or cruelly; to seek commonality or promote division.

What are you doing with your tools?

Lord, Thou has made Thyself to me
A living, bright reality,
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any earthly object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the closest earthly tie.

-Charlotte Elliott

Seeking Shalom

Yesterday, my oldest daughter and I had a daddy-daughter date. We got matching tattoos with the Hebrew word, shalom, a core theme in how I want to live my life. When I wrote Soil of the Divine last year, my intention was to try to explore the idea of shalom through poetry. In some cases, I believe I succeeded, but in others, I fell short.

Most people upon hearing the word shalom either have never been exposed to it before, or have heard it defined as “peace.” Traditionally, Bible scholars have interpreted it as peace as well. Peace is certainly a part of shalom, but it is incomplete. Doug Hershey makes the observation that “the common Western definition of peace is–the absence of conflict or war–but in Hebrew it means so much more.” In truth, shalom is not so much the absence of something, but presence.

One of my favorite quotes–in fact I shared it at the opening of my book–comes from Neal Plantiga’s excellent Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that employs joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

When God created the cosmos, it was the way it should be; it was true, good, and beautiful. More importantly, it was filled with the manifest presence of God, who is love. Yet when sin entered the world, this perfect state of affairs was marred. We have longed for it ever since.

As believers, I think we are not called principally to avoid conflict, but to seek shalom. We are called to a higher existence. We are called to be, as my friend Curt says, “outposts of goodness and beauty.” Every thought, every action that we engage in moves us toward an integrated state or a disintegrated one. We move toward wholeness, or away.

When we respond to others with disrespect, dismissiveness, or self-centeredness, we are acting in disintegrating ways. When we seek to listen, understand, know, and love–particularly those who are different–we are behaving in integrating ways. We are pursuing shalom.

Every person we meet is longing for completeness. As Christians, we know in whom completeness is found and God calls us to be ambassadors of shalom.

Strong Opposition

From my book, Soil of the Divine:

The Father stands
in strong opposition
to those who
abuse His children.

He sweeps the fatherless
into holy embrace.
He comforts the widow,
drying her tears.
He feeds the destitute,
setting a place at His table.
He heals the hurting,
binding their wounds.

But to those who judge unfairly,
He stands in opposition.
Justice for the downtrodden
requires justice too
for the oppressor.

Give justice to the weak and fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
-Psalm 82:3

Americanity

Welcome to the state
of Americanity,
nine parts patriotism
just one Christianity.

We justify the sins
of leaders in the land,
when they represent
our ole party? Grand.

We call for prayer in schools
and Merry Christmas in our stores,
but rage and spit our hatred
toward Muslims on our shores.

We tear children from their parents
destroy the family unit,
and quote St. Paul from Romans
all the while we’re doing it.

Immigrants aren’t welcome
unless they fit the master plan,
rich and learned? Sure come in.
The tired and weary we ban.

But Jesus said the opposite
he welcomed the distressed.
“Come to me all you weary,
and I will give you rest.”

Each life is a fresh canvas on which [God] uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions that he has never used before.–Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses

Balloon

Recently, while making up a song on the spot, my son asked me why I was so weird. I said, “I’m just expressing my #joy.” He said, “why must you express your joy so differently?”

I told him, “in a world filled with dandelions, I’m a balloon.”

A culture of fear has never produced great culture. We do not create great art in response to fear and anxiety; we create great art by loving culture, loving the materials and stories from which to create art. We create great art by having faith to love our neighbors as ourselves and even love our enemies.-Makoto Fujimura

Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.–Makoto Fujimura

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