Sunday, November 29, 2009

Now that’s impressive…

The other evening, I attended an art exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art- The Louvre and the Masterpiece. As you’d expect, the exhibit featured four rooms filled with artistic “masterpieces” from the world’s most famous museum- Paris’ Louvre. I know many of you have heard of this exhibit, or even been yourself. I found it wonderful. If you like staring at old paintings and sculptures, that is.

And as it intended, the exhibit got me thinking about masterpieces. That word pops up occasionally, presumably to describe something particularly praiseworthy. There are masterpieces of painting and sculpture, of course. But there’s also books and films (Masterpiece Theatre, anyone?). Some athletes’ bodies get described as ‘masterpieces,’ which I’d call an awkward type of objectification (as if kids of both genders don’t have enough body image pressures already). There’s even a famous, self-described ‘masterpiece’ BBQ sauce. And if you go to Kansas City soon, pick me up a bottle.  

       Would you describe Christian faith as a religious masterpiece?  Is it even appropriate to use that word in such a context?  Of course, some Christians would claim our faith is the only religion worth considering for that distinction, but I certainly wouldn’t go that far.  It’s also true that some non-religious folk would contend that no religion, especially Christianity, has any worth, let alone deserves ‘masterpiece’ status.  And I’d respond with, “Boooo.” Of a more challenging nature, I believe, are those many who would claim that all religions are valuable, to the exact degree as every other one.  So each religious tradition neither is nor is not a masterpiece.  It just is.  Hmm…

      I find that final way of thinking quite prevalent in my generation.  Indeed, in some ways, I’m inclined to agree.  After all, if you were giving out medals for which religious tradition is the closest to ‘masterpiece,’ what criteria would you use?  Truth?  Whomever tells the best stories?  Whomever has convinced the most people, or done the world the most good, or respects its clergy the most (I like that one…)?  And really, would any of us know enough about all the choices to actually decide?  Yeah, me neither, and I’m the professional here!

      Still, as open-minded about this stuff as I try to be, I’m inclined to think there’s something rather remarkable about Christian faith.  If religions could be ‘masterpieces,’ I think Christianity would get a nod (while the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though irreverently funny, would likely miss out).  I’m sure one reason I say that is I’m paid to say that.  And also because I grew up in the church, etc, etc.  But I’d like to think I’ve better, less personal reasons for dubbing Christian faith a masterpiece religion.

      Try this one on for size- Two thousand years ago, a poor, oppressed peasant in a volatile, but otherwise unremarkable province of the Roman Empire, convinced twelve or so guys to be his disciples, and this year we are spending a month singing and worrying about his birth.  As have billions before us.  What’s remarkable about that, for me, isn’t the sheer size of Jesus’ influence.  Any person or set of stories can gain power, whether those people or their stories are worthy or not.  Rather, two things stick out- 1) Jesus shouldn’t have made a difference, but he did.  ALL the odds were stacked against him and his followers, and somehow they changed the world.  That’s smacks of God to me.  2) Whenever, he gets talked about, people use the words love and goodness, i.e. stuff that makes the world better.  Surely, not every Christian embodies those words, and all too often we’ve contradicted the values at the core of the Jesus story.  But every Christian learns that “love thy neighbor” part of the story.  Which tells me it’s a pretty good story, at least, and that too smacks of God.

      Those are just some simple, brief thoughts.  This is too large an issue for one letter to clarify.  But what do you think?  Can religions be masterpieces?  What makes one masterful or not?  What about Jesus?  What makes him so impressive, to you?  In all things,
Grace and Peace,