We have a budding artist in our house. Don’t ask me what genetic mutation occurred for me and Mark to produce a child as artistically gifted as Hayden; he keeps surprising us with the stuff he produces. Although he has been pursuing his drawing habit for some time now, only recently has he been pushed out of his comfort zone (charcoal pencil and paper) into other forms of expression (collage, pastels, markers, paint!).
As his high school applications require an art portfolio with examples using a variety of media (this, in itself, is an outrageous injustice against parents of 8th graders), I asked Hayden the other day which tools he likes the best. He told me that after trying everything in the art room he’d have to say his least favorite tool is a charcoal pencil.
I confess I was surprised because I know he loves to draw. He told me, though, that charcoal gets all over everything. You can’t erase it very cleanly; it smudges all over the paper; it doesn’t allow for the clarity of expression that a paint brush with one color of acrylic paint would, for example.
On the other hand, he wavered, it’s amazing the effects you can create with just a sheet of paper and a stubby charcoal pencil. Rather than limiting yourself to one form of expression (like a very definite red colored marker), you can practice enough to use the charcoal to produce straight lines, too, but also to add various textures and shading to a piece. And with charcoal you can even produce a wide range of colors, from a very light gray to a deep black, shimmering silver or even, with appropriate shading, a more brilliant white.
I thought of the institution of the church as I listened to Hayden explain his art to me. Existing as it does in the middle of a society bent on commandeering every ounce of power and influence for its own purposes, the church walks a fine line. We’re often tempted, I fear, to pick up the colorful brush of one specific issue-theological, social, political-and, before we know it we’ve been painted into an institution that can’t remember why it started in the first place.
Do we exist to advocate for women’s rights or fair wage practices? Do we gather every week to sound the call for immigration reform . . . or was it racial reconciliation?
With the showing of For the Bible Tells Me So at Calvary on February 3 we continue the conversation we’ve had for years around here about how best to be a welcoming, nurturing place for everyone. But in the art box of issues I think we all know homosexuality and the church is a brightly colored marker if there ever was one.
We must choose carefully now, as we have done and continue to do over and over on any number of issues, how it is we will illustrate this next chapter in the life of our community. Sitting right there in our congregational art box are any number of colorfully definitive tools. But right alongside them is the charcoal pencil of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, stubby with use and likely (if we pick it up) to get all over everything! It doesn’t always draw exact lines or choose just one color. In fact, it has a tendency to add all kinds of depth and shading to anything we create.
Love God, love each other, Jesus said.
As we listen to each other, act in faith with courage and tackle yet another issue-one in a long line of “issues” that have faced and will face the church of Jesus Christ-others will know what it is we truly value by how we color this picture. And, as a matter of fact, it is the Gospel message that has drawn people to Calvary’s sanctuary for almost 150 years and will keep drawing all of us for years to come . . . if we stubbornly insist on faithfully proclaiming it.
And so I must say I hope we choose this tool to illustrate the next chapter in our life together because it’s so much more than one “issue.” The Gospel’s rigorous and relentless call to live like Jesus always trumps any issue you or I could ever bring to the table.
Hayden’s right. The charcoal pencil is messy. It gets all over, not just his masterpiece drawings . . . but also the desk tops where he works and the cuffs of his new white turtleneck. But I’m glad he’s reconsidering his favorite tool-after all, it’s a plain old charcoal pencil and paper that started his whole love affair with art in the first place. And, I think it’s the medium that will keep drawing him back, no matter which of his pieces end up in the National Gallery of Art (recent comment from the back seat of the van as we crossed the National Mall: “Hey Mom, let’s go into the National Gallery of Art! I have to choose the wall where one of my drawings will hang someday!”).
I hope the same is true for us: love God, love each other, Jesus said.
I think that’s enough.
A note about the art: I’ve included Hayden’s recent work, a charcoal rendering of a hand, here. When I asked Hayden about a title he was unsure . . . I suggested something like, “Reaching for Hope.” The response I got to that suggestion was along the lines of: “What the heck, Mom?!?!?” Turns out he prefers, “Reaching for Allowance.”