As of today, I’m exactly three weeks away from retirement. It’s kind of hard to get my head around this. What a strange year to be retiring! I’m humbled by the kind words people have been sharing with me. Yesterday I received a gift I knew was being sent to me. It is a print by one of my favorite artists, James Christensen. Although I know a lot of Christensen’s work (and have a few of his prints), this is one I didn’t remember. It is called “After Clouds Sun”. If you want to take a moment, this is a good time to look it up.
I admit my taste in art is a bit eclectic. To better understand this print, it’s necessary to learn about the print Christensen painted before this called: “Sometimes the Spirit Touches us Through Our Weaknesses” (yes, I do have a few extra minutes if you want to look this one up, too). This first print depicts one of Christensen’s hunchbacked characters (referred to as Everyman) sitting on a box. Written on the box in Latin is “post nubila phoebus”, which translates to “after clouds sun”. An angel is touching the man’s hump. Christensen wrote: “The hump represents his troubles, and we all have them, but there is a little light at the place where the angel spirit’s finger touches the hump. I wanted to show how we grow from coping with adversity. Humbled by our weaknesses, we can be more open to things divine.” 1 Behind the man is a dark, arched, doorway. It’s too dark to see outside. The floor is checkered, suggesting “light and dark, yin and yang”2. I find the floor to be rather lifeless.
In the print I received (After Clouds Sun), dark clouds and the sun can be seen through the doorway. The light from the sun makes it possible to see more color in the floor. The man is now standing. Though the angel is still touching his hump, light is coming from her other hand reaching out to the sun. The man is also reaching for the sun. Another way of interpreting “after clouds sun”, is “look for the silver lining”3. Some of Everyman’s burdens have now been lifted. I wonder how many people look at this print and miss most (or all) of the meaning? They just see a strangely dressed character.
If we just look at people, we are going to miss most (or all) of who they are. Better understanding comes from getting to know people, including knowing some of their stories. I was struck by how Martin Gugino, the seventy-five year old man in the news for being pushed by police during a peaceful protest in Buffalo, New York (this is where he fell backwards and hit his head on the cement), was described in vastly different ways. The Buffalo mayor, Byron Brown, said Gugino is an “agitator”4. His lawyer, Kelly V. Zarcone, said: “Mr. Gugino has been a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and overall fan of the U.S. Constitution for many years.”5 I wonder what it would be like to get Gugino together with Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski to share stories about who they are as people? McCabe and Torgalski are the two officers who are accused of pushing Gugino. Would they see each other differently?
As humans, it’s easy for us to draw lines, and add labels. We often do this without really knowing the other people. The labels we put on people impact the way we talk about them, think about them, and act towards them. Labels have the power of dehumanizing people. We no longer see the individual. How quickly do we pass judgment on others primarily based on their appearance, or limited knowledge about them?
As Christians, we need to look deeper, and judge slower. Sometimes we make decisions about others before we even know their names. They fit the “mold”. It’s time to break our pre-conceived molds! Let’s take the time to intentionally look through the eyes of Jesus as we look upon other people. Let’s create opportunities to hear each other’s stories. Maybe, just maybe, we will see each other in a different light.
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Further thoughts: Is it possible there could be a silver lining in all that is happening? Perhaps there is a chance we might start valuing each other more as human beings created by God. A pastor can dream, right?!?
4. “Buffalo mayor says elderly protester pushed to ground by police was an ‘agitator’”, Oliver O’Connell, The Independent, June 6, 2020
5. “Buffalo police officers arrested after shoving 75-year-old protester”, Aaron Katersky, Matt Foster, Christina Carrega, ABC News, June 6, 2020