God is pink

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I first entitled this post “Pink dream.” You’ll see below why. But I later had to change the name to “God is pink,” and I hope you’ll appreciate why that’s better communicates what’s going on here.

My daughter, Jessica, is Deputy Director of the Iraqi-American Reconciliation Project (IARP). This month they’re featuring the work of a young Kurdish Iraq photographer some of whose photos I’ve included here.. She writes:

For the month of August, IARP is showcasing the art of photographer Jamal Penjweny. Jamal is an Iraqi Kurdish photographer, filmmaker, and war artist. This week we will be featuring photos from Jamal’s new project, Pink Dream. When discussing the project, Jamal said “These are black-and-white photographs onto which I have scribbled bright and rosy drawings. The original images speak of sadness and loss, but my additions elevate them, telling the viewer to read instead a message of hope. When I thought of a color to represent peace and happiness, I could see only one – and that was pink.”

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Jamal’s photos beautifully embody the truth that God has put himself at the center of human consciousness in that irreducible appetite for truth, beauty and goodness that defines us at our core. Who and what must God be if he gives himself graciously as the ground and end of our irreducible, indelible desire for truth, beauty and goodness, if his existence is, unlike ours, the fullness of a truth, beauty and goodness which does not achieve or derive its fullness through sources and reasons and realities outside himself Reminds me of Flowers in Auschwitz.

Music1While I’m in the Arab world (my home for half my life) linking the work of local artists to traditional Christian anthropology (viz., our being inseparable from the divine beauty that creates and calls us), let me draw your attention to the work of Faried Omarah.

What belief do you see at work in his depiction to the right of music as antecedent to, not a consequence of, the layers of identity that define us materially and culturally? I see a created icon of divine apatheia in the midst of finitude and suffering.

 

The coincidence of loving and being loved

unity-rhiannon-marhiFellow Californian Rhiannon Marhi combines captivating colors and themes that settle the heart down and help it find its center where all is gift – where one experiences oneself most fundamentally as graciously gifted. It’s popular (and correct, I think) to argue that beauty describes a more fundamental, more primal mode of knowing than language. That’s why ‘ineffable’ doesn’t imply ‘irrational’ or ‘meaningless’. When I find a great quote, I think of what it would look like if it were painted. Nicholas of Cusa’s quote here speaks of self-knowledge as coincident with knowledge of being loved by God. I thought that quote sounds like Marhi’s painting appears.

“The likeness which seems to be created by me is the Truth which creates me, so that in this way, at least, I apprehend how closely I ought to be bound to You, since, in You, being loved coincides with loving. For if in You who are my likeness I ought to love myself, then I am exceedingly bound to do so when I see that You love me as Your creature and image.” (Nicholas of Cusa, 1401-1464 CE)

Skeet shoot

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Emperor Trump’s treating the nation like a bully,
Wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the outfit ain’t too woolly, no more.
Yeah, his stark nakedness is a shame,
But American white supremacy just lets him play the game.
Meanwhile, coppers pull on a black man and aim like a skeet shoot,
For the melanin, they swoop like pelicans, that’s how they treat you.
Rough you up, engulf you up, cuff you up, and then seat you.
Later, you try to get justice, and they use the Law to defeat you?
That’ll make a sane people crazy, instant pathology,
And then you’ll have a real Clash of the Titans, instant mythology.
We will only take a foot on the neck for so long;
We wanna do right, but don’t push us, cuz things might go so wrong.
When you chose the Infamous Leader, you showed your true colors;
So don’t come to us actin like we all sisters and brothers;
Yeah, we love you, but it happens at a distance,
Because of persistent ignorance at your insistence.

(Dwayne Polk)

Hidden with Christ in God

blog-featured-image-iam-1_1I reconnected with with a friend and colleague in missions who works in the Middle East with Muslims. We haven’t spoken for a decade. I asked him what sort of response to Christ he’s seen from Muslims in his country during that time period. Last I knew there were maybe two dozen Muslims who had come to faith in Christ. He said that today they’re working with 5,000 small groups of such believers. I was astounded. He added that in the last fifteen months eleven of their number have been killed on account of their faith, two having been killed this last week. All of a sudden I realized that I don’t really have any problems. I sit comfortably in the United States contemplating life from the security of my home and office while many others know faith only as a life-threatening choice.

I moved on prayerfully after that conversation but haven’t gotten this amazing explosion of faith in the Muslim world out of my head, and these 5,000 groups are a small part of a much bigger story from the Muslim world which you won’t hear about on the evening news. As I contemplate the cost which faith presents to so many in the world today, I come back to three passages around which I revolve like a satellite, kept in obit by the gravitational pull of their truth.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2.20)
There’s a difference, someone said, between ‘seeing the Cross from where you are’ and ‘seeing where you are from the Cross’. In the first case, I’m not crucified with Christ. How could I be? I’m ‘here’ observing Christ living, dying, and rising ‘over there’. I observe the Cross from a distance. And at a distance it cannot be my death, my crucifixion. I might love Christ. I might believe that what I see on ‘that Cross over there’ achieves my salvation. I have faith in it. And I don’t doubt that God knows how to honor sincere but incomplete faith wherever he finds it.

We all start here in our faith journeys. But eventually we’re meant to adopt a new perspective as we draw closer, closing the distance between ‘seeing the Cross from where we are’ and ‘seeing things from the Cross’. At some point you move from that location to seeing the world from within the event of the Cross. I think the failure to travel this distance is part of what accounts for dysfunctional penal views of the Cross. As long as the Cross is Christ suffering what I don’t have to suffer, I observe the Cross from a distance and that distances is viewed to be my salvation. In this case I can’t join with Christ in that suffering. I can’t cross the distance to make it my death. Problem is – it is my death and I am meant to participate in it. Salvation isn’t the distance, it’s the collapsing of the distance.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3.2-3)

It might seem at first that “setting you mind on things above” means contemplating those things “from where we are below” and thus is born ‘the distance’ that defines a two-storied worldview. Whatever the “above” is, it’s not where I am. It’s above where I am. For me to set my mind on the above, I have to leave behind, in a manner of speaking, the “below” where I actually live my life. But too many things Paul says make it clear that he didn’t think of that sort of distance between us and Christ. Whence the distance if we are “hidden with Christ in God? If I’m hidden with Christ in God, then my everyday mundane life is hidden with Christ in God. “Below” is only a mistaken way of perceiving the ‘here and now’, falsely identifying it as separated somehow from God. Setting your mind on “things above” is not to escape the ‘here and now’ in our minds. It is to uncover the ‘here and now’ through contemplation into the ‘above’, to remove the distance. We can be anywhere and be “set on things above” because the above things are everywhere and the trust of all things.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8.15)
Who cries “Abba, Father!”? Only the Son. And we are given his cry as our own. We are given his own identity for our own. Now we relate to God, to ourselves, and to the world from within the cry that defines God the Son. The power of the gospel to heal and transform us is its power to include us within the Son’s own identity, a cry which cannot be deconstructed or undone by any severity of pain or suffering. It has already endured death and rose on the other side.

We ain’t playin’ that

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“Godforsakenness” is fiction like Puff the Magic Dragon,
and we slayin’ that —
Mental games from theodicy frames,
and we aint playin’ that —
God dudn’t forsake his children;
Quote us cuz we sayin’ that —
Lord, open our eyes and mesmerize — we prayin’ that.

(Dwayne Polk)

The bridge to nowhere?

bridge-to-nowhereYes, to nowhere – but just for three days. What?

“If without the Son no one can see the Father (John 1.18), nor anyone come to the Father (John 14.6), and if, without him, the Father is revealed to nobody (Matthew 11.27), then when the Son, the Word of the Father, is dead, no one can see God, hear of him or attain him. And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father accordingly inaccessible… While the grain of corn is dying, there is nothing to harvest.”

(Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ch 2 “The Hiatus,” in Mysterium Paschale).