Grace Paints Outside the Lines of Judgment

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30:11-12

Last weekend, Terrell and I went to the Goat Farm for an art exhibit accompanied by experimental music.  A circle of musicians on a range of instruments began to play while a woman inside a large box, created from a variety of old house windows, began to paint those windows.  She wore only a white oxford and white underpants and as the light shining down on her changed colors, so did the shades of her environment.  She alternated techniques from roller brushes, splatter painting, finger painting and at times, just sliding through it with her bare feet and legs.  And the lyricless music played on inside this old brick warehouse on a rainy Friday night in Atlanta.

Guests both stood and sat around the musicians, around her work in progress, and in social groups just outside the main door or by the bar.  One couple played chase through a stationary exhibit on the other side of the room only to stop without interacting and return to their own trance like appreciation of the other performances.  It was an environment where playing chase, lying in paint, taking photographs from all angles and simply sitting silently were all within the norm and all seemed both profound and absurd at the same time.

Terrell and I were not playing chase in that building that night, but does that make it stupid that the other couple did?  Does it make us less alive that we didn’t?  What is it in us that needs to judge the authenticity of others, usually determining that they are “trying too hard” or some such verdict that condemns responses to life that we don’t share?  On that night, I was simultaneously more at home than I’d been in a while and feeling a little bit like I’d landed on an alien planet.  Neither less true than the other.  I could see the freedom and beauty of the woman painting to the music and yet she had chosen a form that was outside the “norms” of our daily experience.

As my daughter begins middle school, I recognize this strong gravitational pull in me toward staying within the lines.   For her, absurdity is standing still on a patio when you could be rolling down the grassy hill adjacent to it…playing chase in a brick warehouse on a Friday night.  Her freedom helps me to see that it is not an objective reality but an issue in my own heart.  It is a heart that both fears the judgment of others and is at the same time constantly judging others.  Judgment, then, becomes my master, not Love.

 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:17-19

Until I begin to live in Grace, I cannot offer it to others.  As long as I feel constrained to earn praises from others or live to simply avoid rejection, not only is my life toxically self-absorbed but it is really no life at all.  I don’t have to start painting publicly in my underpants or playing chase with Terrell through an art exhibit to bring Life to others, but why would I not rejoice in these expressions of fearlessness which is our great gift from the Lover Himself?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  1 Cor. 13:1-3

But the Darkness

I don’t begrudge the person who gives up their faith in God.  There just comes a point when the traumatic, the disappointing, the unliftable weight of sadness overwhelm all attempts to reframe experiences of this life into something palatable, manageable, even redemptive.  Those efforts end up seeming desperate and even pitiable.  The aspartame’s bitter presence hasn’t actually given aid to those lemons.

Human connection, otherwise known as friendships, rarely have the capacity for sustained intimacy and commitment.  Ailing bodies hijack productive labor as well as the stamina needed for those desired relationships.  Emotions flare and while often submitting to some kind of control, interrupt confidence and stability.  Meaning and purpose are elusive…perhaps a bit like the gopher in Caddyshack or anticipated Godot, sought after and waited for but never caught.

I hurt for the suffocating darkness that compelled Robin Williams to end his own life.  Is that not what all self-medicating has as its aim?  Usually what is desired is just a little break from this life, a momentary escape perhaps rather than a permanent one.  But why do most of us feel we only need a momentary escape?  What gives us hope that the darkness will not ultimately prove to be a more accurate definition of our existence than the lighter experiences?

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly,but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief. Eccles. 1:12-18

“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow.  The more knowledge, the more grief.”  If you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.   It is too much for us.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Cor. 15:17-19

So, terrorized children who are publicly massacred to make some kind of power point, soul sucking depression, divorce, division and all the rest are with us.  No wonder our hope cannot be in this life.  No wonder trying to spin it pretty does in deed demand pity but not respect.

“Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.  John 11:34-36

I am thankful that Jesus did not feel compelled to make lemonade.

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  Matt. 27:46

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:17

I don’t blame people resenting Christians for always talking about “getting saved” “being saved” and making people feel like projects to be saved.  Even so, given the heavy flood of despair-causing experiences, without a rescuer, I for one will drown trying to stay afloat by my own rosy lenses and bags of sugar.