Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lunch at Barnes and Noble

While waiting for his glasses to be crafted, my son and I decided to visit the local bookseller and redeem gift cards we had received for Christmas. After finding a few books, there was enough time left to visit the in-store café.

As we sat in the café, we noticed the mural above the café counter. Stretching for about forty or so feet, and being about four to six feet tall, the mural displays likenesses of fifteen famous authors – Faulkner, Hemingway, Parker, and the like. They are sitting in a café themselves, most at tables, but with one or two standing. As we studied the mural, a few things became obvious that we had previously not noticed. The first is the most obvious – of the fifteen authors, only two are women. Not overly exciting this, but curious nonetheless given the recent and somewhat extended push for gender equality and recognition of women's contributions in previously male-dominated fields.

The next detail that became apparent is that the few "extra" people in the mural – those who are not authors - either have their eyes painted with little or no detail, or that their eyes are not visible at all. Essentially, the only people with eyes are the authors. We could chalk this stylizing of the non-authors simply to the idea that this mural is in a bookstore. It would be reasonable that the authors would be the main and possibly only object of the painting, with the others simply filling in some open space. 

The foregoing would make the mural interesting enough, but there is another detail that highlights this only-authors observation. It seems that the authors are looking at something, or perhaps are intently pondering some grand idea. The authors aren't all looking at the same thing, but they are all intently looking at something. Nabakov for instance is holding his glasses and peering at them in his hands. Neruda though, seems to be staring into space, pondering some idea or site perhaps only he can see.

There is clearly more going on in, and behind this mural than what initially is apparent. The message seems to be that authors – those with classic staying power – are observers of people and life. It isn't suggested that they are simply observers though. No, these authors are observers that intently study the goings on around them – people, ideas, and events. The only author who is actually writing is Hughes who seems to be writing in a bound journal. Maybe he's recording his observations – or writing poetry about his surroundings for later delivery to us as classic.

It occurs to me that perhaps God followers could be in this mural. After all, what better group of people to closely observe the human condition and pass on their observations to the rest of the world? Maybe if we spent a bit more time observing the world from the perspective of God – from the perspective of the image in which we were made – we could more effectively communicate the Good News to the world full of people who remain confused and wondering, with no one to lead them. To do so though, requires that we set our Bibles down, let go of our perceptions of what doing life "right" looks like, and allow ourselves to become and experience real humanity. Can we do all this without lecturing, without castigating our fellow humans that don't seem to get it?

It seems that we must do this if we expect to have a continuing positive impact on our world. Have we become so ensconced in our churches, so shallow in our faith lives, that the realities of life shock us overly much, or even scare us? How can we minister to people whose lives scare us? I suggest that we cannot.

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