Color me confused
Modern art scares a lot of people. What is the blue square supposed to mean? The squiggly lines? The warped, misshapen body? I don’t always know, but there are some pieces that I like, just because I do. On a gut level, judging solely by emotion, something in them resonates with me.
But some pieces — well, it takes me back to my college honors humanities class, you know, the one at 1:00 in the afternoon during winter quarter, right after lunch, when the warm classroom and full stomach and last night’s all-nighter would catch up with me and I didn’t stand a chance. But on the rare occasion when I could stay awake, I was frustrated. How am I supposed to know that this author wrote his satirical essay in response to the politics of the day or that he composed this poem in response to the loss of his entire family to the plague? Why does a red hat have to mean anything besides that it’s a red hat? Did the author intend for all the symbolism we’re now studying, or is it just something made up by literature teachers everywhere?
In other words, I sure could’ve used a translator in that class. And that’s what I think occasionally as I stare at a piece of art, wondering what on earth qualified it to be placed in a museum. If you’re right there with me, don’t feel bad for your confusion or uncertainty. The art is simply speaking a language we don’t understand.
Language is designed to help us communicate, but sometimes it has the opposite effect. Look back, all the way to the Tower of Babel, when God used language to separate us. In today’s high-tech society, global communication issues have been more or less solved, but in our towns, communities, schools, churches, and even on Facebook, language can be a giant barrier. Words of judgment, division, separation, accusation — of course those things push people away. But so do many innocuous-seeming words used by well-meaning, sincere believers.
On my walk… we must die daily… I’m broken… covered by the blood… I crucified my old man and put on my new man… feeding on the word… born again… I’ve been delivered… God has brought me to the Promised Land… I’ve been to the mountaintop… victory march… is she showing any fruit?
I confess, I’ve used Christianese myself. Sometimes the jargon just seems easier — it’s the shorthand we use among others who share our beliefs, simple phrases that communicate profound meanings. But here’s the danger: it can make other people feel like they’re not in the club. It becomes a tool for exclusion, not inclusion. Instead of sharing your testimony, you may have created a stumbling block, another way for someone to doubt their faith (I don’t know what she’s talking about; I’ve never felt that before; my faith must not be real or right; who are you to decide if I’m ‘saved’?).
As believers, we’re all looking at the same things: The same Bible. The same miracle-working God. The same Savior. But we’ve had different experiences. Different expectations. Different issues and prejudices and hurts and lives. Because of this, the same words won’t work for everyone — the one telling the story or the one listening. By all means, use whatever words you have to tell people about the wonderful God you serve. I’m not suggesting that you stop. But watch for eyes glazing over, people shifting in their chairs, glancing at their watches. What people want — in art, in relationships, in their faith — is authenticity. Understanding. Connection. Something that will draw them in, not push them away. Something real, something true, something that will resonate with them at a gut level, way beyond intellectual understanding but with deep emotion. Something they can understand without a translator.
Jesus … said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19