Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Fear Not?"

What was Jesus up to as he entered Jerusalem?

The drama of his “royal” entrance – like a wily raccoon walking into a trap knowing it’s a trap but sure he’ll outsmart it. The theatre of his “flipping out” on the moneychangers in the temple. His thinly veiled parables exposing the Priest’s power of piety as naked threats in the eyes of GOD. Finally, his sevenfold “rant” against the hypocrisies of the Holy men - spoken with a sad anger at the human condition that seeks to work compromises with Roman swords - taking the reigns from GOD’s hand.

That week was all about one thing. I want to boil it all down to one single statement. 

“Fear not”.

My dad asked me to take a walk last weekend. We’d had “words” earlier in the week about my blog statement that I would not vote in this election. We both wanted to find some common ground to share.

He spoke to my responsibility as a Minister of the United Church to lift a lamp of hope in the dark world. (my words) (my dad had spent his life holding up that lamp – lifting it still at 82. To be United Church is to be actively political – involved in the struggle for a better world.)

I told him that a year ago I could do that. But now, after all that’s happened to the once-secure future I’d been working on…marriage, home, job disintegrated…I could no longer be so hope-full that everything would turn out okay if we just keep going...

So why not be quiet then? Why cry out like a wounded animal?

I told him the story of Asher Lev. I’m in the middle of this novel “My name is Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok.  The story is about this Jewish boy in 1950’s New York whose father and mother are devoted servants of the Hasidic way. Serving the Rebbe, their lives are all about preserving their culture in the face of an evil world. The father risks his life to bring Jews out of Russia. But his son. All his son wants to do is draw and paint. These gifts have no place within the Hasidic culture.

His father cannot see it. His father tears his hair out. Storms and yells and says his son is lost to him.

His mother is torn apart. She loves them both and cannot bear to see her family split. She fights for the son.

The Rebbe sees and hears everything in his close little knot of believers. When the boy comes of age, he sends him to be an apprentice to a great master artist who is a Jew but who has left the religion. The Rebbe obeys the call of the gift upon the boy and must trust that the words of Torah that the boy has fed upon these thirteen years will stay in his bones as his flesh is exposed to the evil world.

The Rebbe gives the boy to the artist. Because he loves him, he gives him away. Even when the father’s whole life is about bringing people into the safety of their world on behalf of the Rebbe, the Rebbe sends his only son on a path that will take him away…

I told him this story because I feel that my gift is taking me outside of the world that my father has served all of his life.

He started talking about his father – the farmboy who became a CPR locomotive engineer. (I became aware again of how powerful the life of his dad was still upon his shoulders.) His dad had not been happy when he chose to go into ministry. He was afraid that it would be too hard for his sensitive son. Why choose to live with people’s harsh judgments?

“Keep your nose clean” was the advice he passed along from his father. I wondered what the old railroad man meant by that.

My dad interprets it as “Never give up”. But I hear it as “be true to your self”. Be true to what GOD has put inside of you. Be true to the way you feel – more than what you think. Thoughts come and go. Right thinking changes over time. The only thing that is real is our experience. How we experience the world is all we really have. How the world makes us feel. How our encounters with each morning, breeze, sunlight and strong wind, rain filled creek and birdsong.

I want to tell the stories told by the lines on the faces of the storytellers that belie the words that come from their mouths. Feelings don’t lie. But so rarely do we share those sad and angry feelings about how this world gets distorted by greed and fear.  

I need to be in places where I feel like I belong.

Right now, I feel like a stranger in my own country. I feel like a stranger in my own church. Where I belong is somewhere on the other side of the crucifixion. A place I have yet to discover.

This morning I read what the master artist tells his young student:

“I see the world as hard-edged, filled with lines and angles. The world fills me with disgust more often than it fills me with joy. Are you listening Asher Lev? The world is a terrible place. I do not sculpt and paint to make the world sacred. I sculpt and paint to give permanence to my feelings about how terrible this world truly is.

Nothing is real to me except my own feelings; nothing is true except my own feelings as I see them all around me in my sculptures and paintings. I know these feelings are true, because if they were not true they would make art that is as terrible as the world. 

As Asher Lev works at a painting of a boy in his class, he asks if he hates the boy.

“In art, cowardice and indecision can be seen in every stroke of a brush. If you hate him, paint your hatred or do not paint him at all. One must not paint everything one feels. But once you decide to paint something, you must paint the truth or you will paint green rot.”
p. 216 “Asher Lev”

And as I read the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem I hear him saying “Fear Not.”

“Millions of people can draw. Art is whether or not there is a scream in you wanting to get out in a special way.” said the teacher.
“Or a laugh” said Anna “Picasso laughs too”
P203 Asher Lev

(yield sign cartoon is from

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