By Erasing Art We Forget Our Flaws and How it Mixes with God’s Grace

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?

Crack in the Wall: Guest Blogger – Lindsay Layton

The below essay is from a parishioner at St. Julian’s Episcopal Church in Douglasville, GA where I serve as priest. I asked this parishioner, Lindsay Layton, if she would write down her thoughts and feelings after she shared these with me after service this past Sunday. Some would consider her thoughts on a crack in the church sanctuary a hindrance or barrier to worship; but what Lindsay reminds me of is that one person’s hindrance is another person’s glance towards salvation. Thank you, Lindsay, for taking the time to write, to reflect, and to remember. Enjoy. ~FB

The sanctuary of my church is very beautiful and orderly. There is a perfectly centered communion table adorned with an ornate tapestry tablecloth and symmetrically-placed candles, all surrounded by a symmetrical communion rail. Care is taken so that two fresh flower arrangements complement the colors of the tablecloth. The flowers arrive from the florist on Saturday morning, and I witness our altar guild members placing them on their symmetrical pedestals, and stepping back to enjoy the view. Because I am standing there, I am directed to move this one an inch to the left…(no that is too far) … (back the other way a half millimeter) …(rotate the arrangement another 2-1/2 degrees clockwise) … (there, that is better)!

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Behold! Centered high on the wall behind this display is a large and magnificent circular window, completely filled with the cross of Christ dividing the window into four quadrant-shaped window panes, unequal but still orderly and symmetrical. There are tall and majestic trees visible through this window. As we worship we can commune with God in nature as we witness the foliage responding to the changing seasons, and as we witness dark and light as the Earth rotates on its axis.

All of this is good. Episcopalians thrive when order abounds, not only by recognizing beauty in their orderly surroundings, but in their own proper behavior during their worship services. Perhaps maybe a little bit of spontaneity to defy our rigidity! But not too much to upset the apple cart of our proper decorum! Orderliness is next to Godliness!

Alas! There is a long vertical crack in the drywall in the sanctuary of my church. This crack starts near the top edge of our large Cross-filled circular window about 8 inches to the right of center. Due to the steeply peaked ceiling, this crack is able to extend up the wall to a magnificent height. The juxtaposition of the imperfection that this crack creates in such an otherwise orderly sanctuary holds profound theological and spiritual significance for me. “I belong!” For the years I have worshipped at St. Julian’s, my eyes are drawn to this crack, and I am reminded of my own brokenness. I am also reminded of the brokenness of God, how God freely chose to be broken through incarnation because of the immensity of His love for us. And I am overwhelmingly filled with the love of God, and with tears and gratefulness!

The crack in the wall is also right of center. Being a person who tends to be left of center in most things, this crack reminds me that God is not created exclusively in my own image: that God can be found in the center and both right and left of center. This reminds me to not settle into a fundamentalist position pertaining to left-centeredness.

Oh, you humble crack! I honor your place in our sanctuary. You have done a glorious job of holding God in your crevasses, of reminding us that God is to be found in all places, low and high. God is truly in the cracks (and crackheads) of our world. Our broken world is one of sheer beauty in all of its manifestations!

I glanced through the minutes of the last vestry/business meeting. It appears that the vestry is determined to reestablish beauty and order in our sanctuary. It is deemed, dear crack, that you have got to go. My beloved crack, I will miss you! I grieve for you. I believe that you are beloved of God as well, just as God loves all creation. Being on the fringe of this church with no hope of influencing policy, I feel powerless to save you. But maybe, with God’s grace, your death could be delayed by having you fall a little lower on the priority hatchet list. That would give us more time to say good-bye to one another.

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As you know, dear crack, there is much brokenness in this world and you and I both are to be about the work of Christ. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have lived out your life in service to Christ; I am witness to this. You remind me to live for Christ as well. And just as Christ ultimately gave his entire life for us, I have to be willing to allow you to do the same. I will remember you as long as I live. Come, Holy Spirit, that I may give my life more fully for Christ as well. The wall will be “repaired” one day soon, but I will look upon your ghost and remember.

~Lindsay