ART Isn’t Easy

In Stephen Sondheim’s marvelous musical, “Sunday in the Park with George,” the artist Georges Seurat sings, Art isn’t easy. He then details what he means. The struggle, suffering, and pain of producing great art take an unimaginable amount of work, commitment, and dedication. Those who appreciate art cannot realize this struggle in the way artists can. We can, however, relate it to other parts of our life, such as creating and maintaining relationships.

Relationships survive through the artistic efforts of the people involved. There are no formulas or cookbooks that guarantee a magnificent outcome. It is all art. We start with a canvas, some clay or bronze, or balls of thread, and begin mixing colors, textures, shapes, and contrasts until the art emerges. We take two or more people and go about the same process of trial, error, and starting over. The key is never giving up. We commit to the relationship and the process of nurturing and maintaining it.

I have thought of God as the great artist ever since I read a children’s book that presented God in that way. This image of God speaks to me, sparks my imagination, and informs my theology. God interacts with the creation in the way an artist does with her art. Jeremiah uses the image of a potter to declare God’s relationship with Israel. The chosen people have become a cracked pot, so God must begin again to perfect the crown of creation. The spinning clay is out of control until the skilled potter produces the desired shape. God’s people are out of control, so God will provide a new shape to their existence. They will no longer be defined as a nation state, but now as a servant people. God will not give up on them, but through forgiveness and renewal, God will create them anew.

My call to stand for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comes out of this exact dynamic. I refuse to give up on the PCUSA and the people and congregations who make it what it is, has been, and will be. I won’t believe God has given up on us either. This undying and eternal commitment is what makes me so sad about the efforts of congregations to leave the PCUSA. They have given up on us and are hell bent on breaking covenant with us. It seems to me to be an example of unredeemed human sin run amuck as righteousness and godliness. It tells the world that God’s commitment to God’s creation is limited and dependent on human behavior. I simply don’t read that in scripture.

I call on those of us who remain to create new relationships of ART – Appreciation, Respect, Trust. Doing this will honor God’s desire for creation, and it will demonstrate to the world the truth of the Reign of God. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes to great lengths to counter the Corinthian tendency to divide into competing groups. He uses the image of a body with different parts, each having a specific and unique function to the whole. Taking away any part damages the whole body. He is demonstrating God’s characteristic of appreciating the beauty of each part of creation. As an eye, I will quite likely not appreciate the contribution of the ear to my health. I don’t understand the functioning of the ear, so how can I? Paul’s answer is that we appreciate it because God created it and blessed it. Appreciation has been the missing element in the PCUSA for more than a generation.

Lack of appreciation for the other contributes greatly to our disagreements in the church and society. We treat the other who disagrees with us as an enemy, adversary, opponent, or unclean demon instead of another part of the body that has a unique function. Think of the gall bladder or thyroid gland. The gall bladder has such an unsavory filtering function that it would turn the stomach of anyone who had to deal with it. And the thyroid gland is so tiny as to seem insignificant to the functioning of the body. We can even get along without either of them with the help of modern medicine. Some are approaching the churches who wish to leave our denomination with the same disdain. They are not needed, so we won’t be disturbed when they leave. Instead, I have chosen to appreciate my brothers and sisters who come at the experience of faith so differently from me. I consider their contribution, which I do not understand, as invaluable to the healthy functioning of the body.

Gaining appreciation for others is at the heart of Christian love. After showing the Corinthians how futile it is for the eye to say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” or the head to the feet, “I have no need of you,” he tells them about agape love, the kind of love God exhibits for us. It is a love that exhibits in word and deed an appreciation for the other.

ART isn’t easy. And ART is essential. Create new works of ART with me in our PCUSA and in our world, and we will serve God faithfully.

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4 thoughts on “ART Isn’t Easy

  1. Randy – I came across your blog today and was wanting to ask you about your ART theme. Given the Administrative Commission you all formed against Westminster, Lubbock, how does that fit into your paradigm of Appreciate, Respect and Trust? Now, I have no dog in this fight so I am truly inquiring from the standpoint of an apparent dissonace that I read.

    It doesn’t seem to me that you Appreciate their points of view, that you Respect their wishes or Trust in their process. Again, I am asking for my sake, not there’s. They have no idea I am even writing this. I would really like to know how you, personally, are engaging them with this theme that you want for the whole PCUSA should you be elected moderator.

    You clearly write that “we treat those we disagree with as the enemy, adversary, or opponent” and you seem to say that’s wrong, but then you turn around and form an AC that is (historically) adversarial and immediately pits people in an “us vs. them” stance.

    You and I have always had a good relationship so I just wanted to hear your thoughts on this as it pertains to the greater denominational issues.

  2. So, Randy, I assume you are not really responding to this stuff you’re writing, just putting it out there? Interesting… I REALLY wanted to know what your thought were regarding Palo Duro’s treatment of WPC Lubbock and you thoughts of ART in regards to them. As one standing for Moderator of PCUSA I thought you would care to respond. Anyway, best of luck to you on your journey’s and your ministry.

    • Matt, I did reply to your first post from my iphone, but I must not have known what I was doing. So, I’ll respond to both comments by saying, “ART isn’t easy,” and the meeting with WPC proved it. I was disappointed with the entire process, but since I am no longer a part of COM, I had no input into what was done. I thought I was being helpful to the leadership at WPC in presenting their case to the presbytery, but there were those who disagreed. Such is the challenge of being a leader. The people of PDP continue to struggle with the new way of doing business. This will be the challenge of moderating GA220 and the PCUSA, to create a new way of doing business that is less divisive. That will require a new attitude on the part of commissioners, one built on ART. Since we did not get into this mess over night, we won’t get out of it soon. I hope to take a constructive step with the GA in this new direction. My entire campaign is built on “building new relationships in Christ,” as opposed to the old relationships built on agreement on issues or theology. When we care about another with deepest Christian love, we are less eager to defeat them in a divisive vote. We’ll look for another solution. As my last post indicated, my goal is get people in the PCUSA to appreciate the unique ministries of one another. That will be difficult with those who want to label others as apostate, immoral, unclean, or evil. It may be impossible with those who break covenant relationship with one another. I am greatly grieved by the churches who are leaving the PCUSA because I’m losing dear friends, and the whole church is losing a valuable witness. I hope this addresses some of your concerns. I truly appreciate you and the ministries you lead. I pray for your success in mission and in calling people to discipleship.

      • Randy – thanks for your thoughts on this subject. I guess the questions I have are, “What is constructive in this process? What are you/we fighting to save? How can we continue together when we are so diametrically opposed?”

        If I had an acquaintance that came to me and said, “Matt, I fundamentally disagree with everything you do. We don’t hang out together, we don’t talk except 4 times a year at a meeting, when we do talk we disagree, I don’t support your organization, I won’t give it my money, I won’t do anything with it because I think they are fundamentally wrong at the core of it’s being” – I think I would tell that person, “Then go, I hope you find happiness and a new friend.” I just don’t see how holding churches hostage and MAKING them begrudgingly stay is a good thing. All this talk of trying to create a new way of doing church is a one sided conversation. Churches that want to leave are done with the conversation. I think the problem is that the liberals are saying, “Let’s dialogue. Let’s talk this out.” The Conservatives are saying, “We’ve been telling you for years we don’t like this and you have never listened! And now you want to talk??!??!!”

        Does that make sense? I think the PCUSA has to find a new way of doing church and it has to start with weaning out churches who don’t want to be there. Get it down to those that want to stay (both conservatives and liberals) who like the PCUSA and start over from there. Why not propose to do a 2 year window where anyone that wants to leave can leave – total immunity from property clauses and money. Then hit the reset button with those who want to stay – start over with the churches that WANT to dialogue. That would be radical – that would be a new way of doing church.

        Just my thoughts…

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