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Saved from our past by the arts in our present

The Loving Story is a documentary focused on Richard and Mildred Loving and the landmark 1967 Loving vs Virginia Supreme Court case that led to legalization of interracial marriage in all states. This was screened for Charlottesville area high school and middle school students as part of the Virginia Film Festival which celebrates its 26th year this weekend.

Of the screening, Festival directors recall, “the students couldn’t believe that a mixed-race couple would be breaking the law.” They invited the lawyer who argued this case before the Supreme Court in 1968 to come talk to the children and also the Loving’s daughter, Peggy, to tell them what her experience was like. “The kids gave them a standing ovation,” the directors wrote. Every time I think about this it brings tears to my eyes.

To kids, history is just an old story. Something that happened once upon a time.When they can see it – see how people were, how people thought, how people acted – and feel it – feel how people were mistreated, neglected, denied, disenfranchised, they’re changed. When they can see how little sense it made “back then” and realize the “back then” was not so long ago, we’ve got their attention. They stand and applaud people who had the courage to change what was wrong, even as they faced incredible hardship and long odds.

This is what the arts do. They help us see the unseen, hear the unheard, and make sense of it all. They give us eyes to see and ears to hear in a new way. A more expansive way. A more inclusive way. This seems a better way. The arts make things approachable and tangible. They allow us to discuss them around a common table.

Too often we find ourselves telling our old stories, expecting the “younger generation” to learn from us. Our old stories are not pristine. In fact, many are tarnished and worn. But we must tell them in a way that opens eyes and ears around a common table because that is how we can find common ground to make new ones.

Our world needs new stories. Stories of loving that may not be lovely. We may need to start with history but if we are to learn from it, we need the arts.

Where does hope live?

“The way things are reflects the will of God.” That’s the justification for ruling by divine right that I read in ancient texts. A sort of, well I am in power and since God is sovereign and everything works out the way God intends, God must have intended this. He put me in charge. Deal with it.

One look at the world, at our newspapers, at our homes and it is plain to see that “how things are” has come very far from the will of God. Circumstances, events, headlines are a constant shouting to say, “Look how bad things are!” Where does hope live in all of this?

I see its address. It’s there inside the child hopping and jumping and tripping and falling over in a heap laughing. It’s inside the teen streaking down the field to strike the ball with such power I never saw it find the net. It’s in the surgeon’s hands who, with carpentry tools, allow a man to walk again.

God has his hands all over these. We’re masterpieces of the most miraculous sort. He knit us together without a trace of evidence. The way we are put together leaves no doubt.

But events. People. Leaders. Relationships. How can God’s handiwork be the stuff of this? Where does hope live?

I got a call Monday from my 21 year old. She worked in Anacostia this summer. Many days she walked from the metro to her internship. Other days, her boss picked her up. Every day, she passed the Navy yard where, this week, 12 people lost their lives at the hand of another. She called me in tears. “I walked right by there,” she said. I “saw the people working there.” Her boss kidded her to say, “There are your boy friends” in the Navy Yard. “Mom, there is no place that is safe!”

I let her walk there. I let her drive there. I let her take a low paying internship in a “bad part of town.” I put her at risk so she could pursue her passion. And she loved it. Loved the people, both co-workers and residents. Her passion is to bring people together through the arts. She does not see color, or race, or gender, or sexual identity, or income. She just sees people, trying to be more human. She sees God’s humanity much better than I do.

For a moment I am Abraham and she is Isaac, the child whom I must trust to God in the sacrifice. Is it me that God is shaping? Or her, a child of 21, whose innocence is gone. Whose heart is torn by the events of this week, because those people and that place are real. I wish she didn’t have to know this, but she does. She is where hope lives.

Yesterday, God in His great mercy, reminded me…

I art

I must remember. In it all, You are.

We art to listen and perceive

I write, therefore I am. Well, not exactly, but sort of.

“We write… or paint or sculpt or draw or make music or …because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Yes and yes! Can I have an amen?! This is exactly why I write.

  • To listen to my brain-workings.
  • To heal what’s hurting me.
  • To wonder about what mystifies me. 
  • To bring together what’s scattered about up there.

Madeleine and I – dare I put us together in the same phrase? – we write.

But writing is not the only way we listen and feel. Any art form will do. Any artistic endeavor will suffice. Any creative gesture will open this door.

Yep. We art to listen and perceive. Not, we do art. Not, we perform art. We art.

My mind leaps to…How great Thou art … are, really.

That means present tense ‘are,’ that is the 2nd person conjugation of ‘to be’ as in you are, familiar form of Thou art…oh my. Let’s just stick with The Great I Am.

And I’ll settle for I art, therefore I am.

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