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Tweaking the Ordinary
Arts In Community
Judith Deem Dupree
Where is your heart? If you have given yourself over to Christ, the Son and Redeemer, your heart is in the heart of God. Your Community is His Kingdom. This is the ultimate, profound simplicity of the Gospel.
Although we dwell in the "penultimate" - - somewhere east of Eden - - we do want to do something more tangible with our lives, as arts-persons, than practice and peddle our wares. We know we belong first to God. Well, we know it at one level, of course. What we don't always acknowledge (if we learn it) is this: We cannot be our own Called person - - that God-designed entity we are meant to embody and express - - without belonging to the rest of humanity in a significant and creative way.
The secret to our belonging? That inimitable and illimitable adaptation He performs within us. That invisible tie that binds us to Him also binds us to each other.
When the Son of God adopted His human form, the Father did not create an "original;" He tweaked the ordinary. Jesus was an altogether basic, average man . . . with the imprint of Heaven in His genes. This Nazarene, a grown-up neighbor boy, was utterly "recognizable" to all who met Him. His claim to represent something more (much more!) than His bare-boned humanity infuriated the spiritual elite (and undoubtedly some of the neighbors) - - and thrilled that often-literally bare-boned crowd who shoved their way to Him. And yes, even His most steadfast disciples struggled with the duality of their Rabbi-Shepherd: "What kind of man is this, that even the wind and the seas obey him"? Mary's son became an enigma, full of strange sayings and astounding declarations - - but His miracles were a magnet, his heart an open Door.
Only after the Son left them/us did those who "knew" Him best suddenly know irrevocably that God's majesty dwelt in the "ordinary." Impermanence died that day. There was nothing ordinary in either the gaping tomb - - or His sudden presence within that shuttered meeting room! There, then, He gifted them with a heretofore unimaginable bestowal: That which was intrinsic in Him was now, suddenly and manifestly, intrinsic within them! God's stealth, His "foolishness," became their open Secret. This was the juncture where miracles began!
They took this discovery to the ends of the earth.
And here our inner Journey begins. We are neither aberration nor singularity; we are each an adaptation of His Son, whom we serve, whom we outwardly resemble in all the ordinary ways. (Well, some of us more than others, obviously.) Our ordinariness is as much a gift as our particular tweakedness; it defines our cell-deep relatedness and defies our endless, sometimes mindless search for fulfillment - - for that chimera, Perfection, with any of its variable guises and disguises. We may spend a lifetime struggling to rise above our fear of being nobody.
Because we don't want, no, not a whit, to be ordinary . . . we yearn, bone-deep, to be exceptional (not "different," so often a pejorative). We want others around us to concur, to tell us that our hearts are good and true, that we are indeed that. Because . . . because we are "built" to yearn for this. It is in the finding that we get so lost.
We humans are apt to huddle ourselves together with those who bear some reassuring resemblance to us - - or our idea or ideal of "us" - - and rehearse our litanies together. In doing so, we deny ourselves the enormous freedom of discovery. We grow up acquiring antipathies and enmities and all sorts of subtle, "subdermal" attitudes that challenge and demean the very concept of Grace. We reshape it to ephemera, to a notion tried and shredded by reality.
But Jesus came to us - - embedded, we might say - - redolent with the pain and joy of person-hood. Straw and dung and breast milk (initially), and sweat, blood, and tears (ultimately). Endowed with the fathomless, unfathomable Art of the extraordinary, He was without artifice. He wove or punched his words of Life into life . . . before our startled souls. Into our hunger.
Genuine Art does that. It reshapes, in-shapes the ephemeral before our startled souls. Reweaves it. Punches it, kneads it. And feeds us.
Art has suddenness and timelessness. Breathtaking beauty, and painful, almost brutal tenderness. Authenticity. When we turn ourselves inside-outward to live out His Life, we all-the-better make art, do art, live and breathe art. And when we learn to make, do, live, breathe art in all the ordinary days and ways - - following that "genetic code" He bred and bled into us - - we also learn to better "feed His sheep." We engage others because we are fully alive, whatever the degree of our talent or the practice of it. Those who need us need what art has done in us and for us, whether or not they need or desire or even "see" the fruit of our passion.
This is what life means to us. Living-by-art is the quiet exaltation of and steadfast dependence upon the Source that feeds it. What feeds our springs becomes a Cup filled and refilled.
Art is a way of seeing. A vision given and a medium chosen. It takes a turn in the road from all the essential preaching/teaching/reaching that is crucial to the Kingdom. Doing art is both a private and a communal celebration, a boundless message that will not be constricted by form or formality - - not diminished simply by our basic ordinariness nor exalted by our originality.
Art is the bend of the rainbow. The brushstroke of Creation.
All this to say that we are called beyond our palettes and poems and performances as surely as we are called to them. We are called to ache over that bare-bones poverty we see around us, everywhere, from boardroom to board-and-care-room. And no room. Especially that.
And in spite of our hesitancy, even resistance, we are compelled - - not forced - - to step willingly into the rough and tumble of life . . . and find our hands cupped full of rainbow. Running over. Because it is too fragile to cling to, too buoyant to contain. Art, the ways and means and growing sense of the largeness, the sacredness of what art is, and the frivolity and care-lessness of what it isn't, becomes our entry into real life, not our escape. Our challenge, not our backdrop.
God forever tweaks the ordinary, our ordinary-and speaks His great "HERE I AM!"
HERE HE IS, down here. We find the most exceptional people trapped inside unlikely, unlikeable exteriors, and when we hold out our ugly hands and show them how wonderfully beauty fits there, belongs there, they will unclench their own tight fists . . . and their tight faces and tight souls. I know this because once I was one of them. I know this is true because so many other once-unwhole, unlovable people have taught me what art really is, where it hides, waiting for release. And mostly, I know this to be true because now I live in it: the infinite, intimate, immaculate beauty of Christ reborn, and borne again and again in our outstretched hands.