Art evokes many things: Truth, beauty, goodness – emotion, controversy, pleasure, and contemplation. Artists can be a bit more complicated. They can be mystics, manic-depressives, manipulators, or murderers. They have been lovers, fighters, pedophiles, perverts, and prodigies.
Often times we equate the work of art to the artist (think Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel) but this oversimplifies the complexities of the human condition. Michelangelo, for example, not only painted and sculpted masterfully, he also ate, drank, slept, had relationships, emotions, and longings. By virtue of being human he also made mistakes. You might say Michelangelo was flawed even though his work (arguably) was not.
The same line of thinking could be said for all mankind. No matter what one’s vocation may be, that vocation does not ultimately define a person – it’s simply a part of the person, an extension of the (flawed) self. For example, popular characters from the Bible – Moses, King David, and the Apostle Paul – were all murderers in their lifetimes; yet, for billions of Jews and Christians these are three of the most respectable men in the Bible. Moses freed a people, King David ruled with valor, and Paul wrote masterful letters to the early Christian communities. Again, these were flawed individuals, but (arguably) their life’s work was not.
Could we not make the same argument for the founders of this country? They most certainly were flawed, but their life’s work was not. Taking down statues, plaques, stained glass, and other works of art that depict the founding fathers forgets the complexities of being considered great (and flawed) all at the same time.
- Augustine was a sex addict; yet because of his work is now a saint. Should we burn his writings?
- Lewis Carroll was a pedophile; yet because of his work his stories are read in nurseries around the world. Should we ban “Alice” from “Wonderland”?
- Martin Luther once suggested a child with a mental disorder be drowned because he had no soul. Should all Protestant Christians return to “Mother Church”?
- Jesus Christ often told parables where many of the characters were slaves. Should we edit these stories out of the Bible because Jesus did not object?
Why do we leave the statues, plaques, stained glass, and other works of art that depict the founding fathers up? I would argue – You leave them up because of grace – amazing grace, dare I say?[i] You leave them up to help people and parishioners remember that great women and men make mistakes – sometimes huge – yet grace and mercy are still available. And if grace and mercy are still available to them, then they are available to us as well. Personally, I like remembering flawed people because I am a flawed person. I especially enjoy remembering them and their work knowing that they were sinners just like me; and yet, by the grace of God they were also loved.
As a Christian, I don’t define myself solely on who I am, but whose I am. In other words, I am a child of God. That is what ultimately defines me. The same can be said for Moses, Augustine, Washington, Jackson, or Lee. We can choose to label them good or evil, but ultimately they too are children of God – warts and all. As citizens in our country debate tearing down, building up, or leaving art where it stands, consider your own flawed nature compared with the goodness of God. Nobody stacks up; therefore, it is by grace that we can all be called children of God.
[i] Slave ship captain, John Newton, wrote the song “Amazing Grace”. Should we get rid of his music in our churches too? Sterilizing history is a slippery slope. At what point do we cross the line?
6 thoughts on “By Erasing Art We Forget Our Flaws and How it Mixes with God’s Grace”
WOW! How powerful, Brandon. Your insights and sharing are a blessing. Thank you so much.
Sent from my iPhone with blessings to you – denise
Good insight for an important issue. Erasing history is a scary thought.
This is very powerful and thought provoking. Thank you for your insightful words. Mom
Sent from my iPhone
Truly resonates with the world today. I wish all people would remember and be more respectful of “flawed” people who came before us and also to learn from their mistakes as well. Thank you, Fr. Brandon, for putting it so eloquently.
Wow. Just wow. ☺️
Sent from my iPhone
WOW, Beautifully written, acknowledging the universality of art and life.
We should have a paper holder where we can place your writings for people to take home them to read and share; like at the Diocese where extra copies of sermons are displayed near the information office.