Sunday, April 17, 2011

Waiting: A reflection for Easter and Passover


Waiting is hard. Jump in a time machine and any Israelite living in Egypt about 4000 years ago could tell you that. 

But God does listen; He does hear; He does respond. Not according to our demands, however. He is not one to be swayed by our offenses. He hears our “hosannas” (read Psalm 118 or any Triumphal Entry passage) and acts according to His loving mercy. 

A tough pill to swallow.

This year Easter and Passover gracefully coincide. I am so happy when this happens. First because it means my family gatherings can be two-part. And secondly, that’s just the way it should be. The Resurrection makes so more sense in light of the Exodus and the Lord’s redemption.

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of sermons online. I’m a huge Mark Driscoll fan, but recently I’ve added Tim Keller to my playlist. This stems partly from my desire to hear both of them at the Gospel Coalition convention held here in Chicago last week (I didn’t go, but I wanted to). Anyway, on the first evening, Keller gave a sermon entitled, “Getting Out.” It was all about the Exodus and the Gospel. And it got me thinking—mostly about the power of redemption. 

Keller begins by saying, “There is no more basic word in the Bible than ‘redemption.’” In the simplest of terms it means “release from bondage”—to be let go, to be freed. But he argues that redemption has many layers. We can be freed from bondage objectively, but the subjective freeing is the one that really matters. This salvation comes only through grace. Crossing over, as Keller describes it.

In the story of the Exodus, God provides a way for the Israelites to escape out of Egypt. After hundreds of years in bondage to Pharaoh, they are free. They follow the Lord’s instructions to the T (Read Exodus 12:3-11). And the Lord says,  “Eat it in haste, for this is my Passover.” They hightail it out of Egypt with matzo drying on their backs. Life is good. But then they make it to the Red Sea. You can just imagine the panicked faces as the people began to realize their dilemma. How will they crossover?

This is the action scene in the Exodus story. God performs a monstrous miracle. He parts the Red Sea--two walls of water with a dry path in between.  Keller makes a keen observation about this scene. The Israelites had two choices: they could marvel at the Lord’s redemption or fear the walls of water. The same is true today. We can either praise God for His provision and steadfastness, or we can faint at the idea of following Him in faith. I guess it’s a good thing we are saved by the object of our faith and not the quality of it.

The celebration of Passover tells the story of God leading His people to freedom. First they are led from their oppressors in Egypt, and then (more literally), through the torrents of a wild sea.  It is here, on the other side of that crossing over, that the Lord gives His people the law. It is here that the Gospel is most evident. For you see, God did not give the law and then free the Israelites from bondage based on their obedience to it. On the contrary, He first freed the people and then mercifully gave them the law—a clear path to follow, in order that they could be holy.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Finding my Way Home says, “Waiting is a dry desert between where we are and where we want to be.” The Israelites could totally relate to that (and unfortunately for them, the Exodus was just the beginning of their desert experience). I have been seeing this season creep up a lot lately in my own life. I don’t like it. But I’m sure that’s not the point. In another of Nouwen’s works he writes, 

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. . . Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment . . . [being] alert, attentive to the voice that [speaks], “Don’t be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention.”

I am not alone. The Scriptures are full of stories about people waiting for God. Joseph, Naomi, Hannah, David—they had hopes and fears much like ours.  But at this point in history, I am thankful to have the assurance of a Savior. My waiting is reduced to petty human imperfections and trials. Pale excuses in the face of Jesus’ whole and lasting redemption, don’t you think? 

First on my Easter/Passover checklist:  To remember that redemption is the full reflection of God’s mercy and grace. All I have to do is be still and wait.

And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." - Exodus 14:13-14

Sunday, April 3, 2011

History, photography and the human condition

Humans are fallible. Mankind has fault.
And yet art is beautiful.
It is not always pretty, comfortable or tame, but art holds beauty. It speaks of life, death, redemption and grace. It evokes, inspires, awes.  
A conundrum.

This past Thursday I took advantage of the Art Institute's free extended evening hours. I will be the first to admit that I'm thrifty and frugal--but more to the point, I believe visiting the museum on a free day makes the experience all the more enjoyable. One is not required /expected to view two hundred pieces of art in two hours at a rate of $.06 a pop. Rather, I was able to take my time, visit my favorite friends, take photos of things, places and people that caught my eye. And I even ventured into uncharted spaces--galleries I had never paid attention to before.

But the most memorable this time around, was the new photography exhibit. Located in the basement, across from the paper weights and adjacent to both the Thorne Rooms and the bathrooms, the photography gallery changes exhibits every couple months. It's pure genius. For while I love knowing that Monet's Haystacks will always be in the Impressionist gallery on the second floor, there is something wonderful about discovering new pieces of art. This particular exhibit was entitled "American Modern: Abbott, Evans & Bourke-White." Not really a majestic title, nor one that caught my eye when I first walked in. But what did catch my eye were the photographs themselves. And then, being trained in the art of label appreciation, I went back and read what the curator wanted to tell me, the viewer. (Read: It really is a fascinating relationship, that between the creator and audience).

Anyways . . . The photographs! They were stunning! Stunning in the way that 1930's, Depression-era, photo-journalism-style photographs ought to be stunning. And as I walked through the gallery, taking in picture after picture of the city and the country, the lowly and the down-trodden, I couldn't help but think how timely--historically speaking--exhibits like these are.

Sponsored by an alphabet soup of Depression-era Federal programs and administrations, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White captured the 1930's experience with brilliant incite and imagination-- the dust bowl, the grime and routine of industry; skyscrapers, bridges; beggars and laborers. They were storytellers, really. Their tools: shadows and light. And yet, the styles and techniques they created and enhanced became trademarks for photographers to come. The final label of the exhibit read, "By the end of the decade, the values of authenticity, accuracy and balance that Abbott, Bourke-White and Evans all sought through their subjects . . . had become commonly associate with photography itself."

In a time when there was little hope, and more struggles and torment than satisfaction and joy, the techniques of photography and photo-journalism were being used to evoke an image of Modern America. They were simple and direct images of daily life. Nothing glamorous or ornate, yet they evoke both emotion and understanding. I walked away from the gallery invigorated and inspired, feeling oddly apart of something grand.  For, to share in the history of any time period--that is an honor. But to examine visual representations of that time, transmitted from one feeble human to another--that is priceless.

Humans are fallible, indeed. Capturing that need for redemption--perhaps that is what makes art so beautiful.
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