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October 27, 2009

The Glory You Got

in_his_eyes_lg.jpgEarlier this month, in the first part of October, Mimi and I took a vacation to Maine. Maine is a place I have longed to go to since I was 16 years old. We had a really wonderful time there. One of the reasons I was excited to go was the opportunity it gave me to see the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Andrew Wyeth is one of my favorite painter. Prior to this trip, I have only read one biography of Wyeth (which is by necessity also a biography of the whole extraordinary Wyeth clan). In the Farnsworth Museum store, I picked up another and am now about halfway through Richard Meryman's Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life.

Wyeth was a fascinating man. He just died this year actually. His ability to see deeply into a place and into people and then capture the essence of either or both in paint is literally breathtaking. His technical skill is likewise overwhelming, and yet his technique doesn't overwhelm the painting itself - it serves it. He paints in a way that feels mythic. The intriguing thing is that unlike his father, he did not paint mythic or elevated subject matter. Rather he plumbed the depths of the ordinary - what most people would pass by and mark with sentimentality, if they marked it at all. Wyeth saw the places and people surrounding him with dignity, pregnant with emotion and a narrative that demanded deep presence and attention.

I was just reading about a particular relationship he had with a local farmer, Adam Johnson, the very type of ordinary, mythic person that populated Wyeth's imaginative universe. Wyeth was forever walking the length and breadth of the land, connecting to it and the people that lived off of it. Meryman relates the following story regarding Wyeth and Johnson.

"One day when Andrew passed by on a walk, Adam called out, 'You out sighting, are ya?' Gesturing to an upstairs room, he said, 'I've been up there sighting the Bible. You want to come sight me?' On the windowsill of that little room Adam kept a stone tablet inscribed with a verse from the Bible. On a table was his own huge Bible, festooned with colored paper markers, indicating passages that illuminated issues in each day's news. Adam was a student of the nobility and the limitations of God's children. He once said, 'Andy got one power and he won't get nothin' else. Andy got a glory of painting. I got a glory of cuttin' grass and I won't get nothin' else'" (190).

Perhaps this is the kind of wisdom - a wisdom of contentedness - that comes from sighting the Bible over a lifetime, of attending to a place, of becoming a student of the nobility and limitations of God's children.

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Comments

maux

There's a Wyeth exhibit up at the Kemper--have you seen it? It's evidently three Wyeth men and their paintings. I think I'll go now, after reading this post. I don't know much about the Wyeths, but I am familiar with Andrew Wyeth's painting of the woman laying in the grass with a house in the background. Can't remember the name, but it's stunning.

Tim

Yes, Maux, I have been to see it. And I am going to go back again. You are referencing "Christina's World," his most famous painting. His father, NC, was the famous illustrator who did artwork that you'll likely recognize from "Treasure Island" and "Robin Hood." Jamie Wyeth, his son, rounds out the exhibit. Spend some time in front of "Battleground." You'll get a sense of what I am trying to express I think.

Timothy

I love this concept of contentedness, the ability to be happy where you are and who you are. Content in who God has made you. But how does one know when one has "found the glory?" It seems to me that the simplicity of a single vocation or a single place is a wonderful dream, but not one I see many people able to practice or even given the opportunity to practice, especially as the world is actually changing, as you say early in Intuitive Leadership. I don't know that it is any longer possible to say that every follower of Jesus is called to one vocation, or one place, as desirable as these things may be.

Even in this post, you talk of longing to go to Maine, and then going there, rather than simply attending to your own place and being content where you are. How do we know the grass cutter or the painter were not better suited to some other thing in some other place? How would you have been able to delve deeper into Wyeth without your yearning to go to another place?

And then, it's very easy for a leader to call out contentedness onto a group that in all actually is being oppressed by the current situation. Do I say to the slave, be content in your situation, your glory is in service, expect no justice? Do I say to the poor worker, you were made to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, be happy you have work at all, expect no just compensation? Do I say to the single mother, do not go to college nights to learn to paint or be a secretary, be content with a minimum wage job in a city where your son cannot get effective education? Maybe we do. I don't know. But It seems confining and oppressive to say to someone else. Perhaps specific contentedness is only something you and God should call onto yourself?

Lately, I've been trying to reconcile my conflicted thoughts on this, and my wife, Jill, made a great point this last week as we talked about the busyness of our Sundays going from morning to night with serving at church, and then with youth after church, and then having training for serving youth, and then church for ourselves, and then a communal meal. An ideal Sunday is rest, yes? How do we deal with not having this as an option we want to/can take? She made the point that the key to living a Sunday for us is being present to every place and situation, rather than trying to idealize what the place and situation should be. That active presence is the center of the way we operate, rather than contentedness or idealism. So, not, "I got a glory of cuttin' grass and I won't get nothin' else," but maybe, "I got the glory of cutting grass today, and I wont' get nothin' else for that time. And whatever I get tomorrow is what I'll get, and nothin' else."

Tim

Tim - I think you are describing, perhaps, a struggle with place? This is a really important thing to struggle with I believe. What does it mean to be in a "place." And not just be there, as in being geographically pinpointed at an actual location but rather to "be there," as in being fully present. To be somewhere does not necessarily rule out being in other-wheres, too. At least, I don't think it does. Seeing Wyeth see his place helps me to see my place much differently. It was amazing being in the Flint Hills last week after being on the Maine coast. I saw it differently. And besides, at least in the spirit of my post, Wyeth lived deeply in two places simultaneously: Pennsylvania (his birth home) and Maine (his adopted home). I think this post is more about a way of being present - to yourself, to your people, your environment, to God, his glory, both that which is reflected onto, and out of, us - even if it is only the cutting grass kind. In the economy of the upside-down kingdom of Christ, that might be the best kind of glory...

cHaRiTy!

The ONE program I volunteered for at SpS was ArtSmart. I remember thinking of you as I discovered his appreciation for the nature inspired poetry of Thoreau and Frost along with a love of music and movies.( I even told MiMi that I thought you should do an ArtSmart presentation, which she then told me you had already) but I actually chose him because of a painting that has haunted me for sometime called Wind of the Sea. Which I think very closely reflects this idea of struggling with "place".

cHaRiTy!

...as well as, "living deeply in two places".

@MaUx- that painting has a good story in it, too :o)

Timothy

Good point, I think I am, at least partially, talking about a struggle with place. Not "should I be present here," but rather "in which here should I be present?" Or even, "can I even consider other wheres of presence?"

A step further, perhaps, in the world as it his becoming, environmentally and economically, can I justify going to 'Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.'

Adam

This reminds me of a quote.

I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood. -George MacDonald

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