Beloit, WI

Beloit, WI
photo by Rod Gottfredsen

Monday, December 31, 2018

What do you normally see?

When Dawn and I were in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, we visited the Art Institute.  We spent nearly 6 hours looking at the exhibits.  Although my feet were beginning to hurt and my attention span was fading fast, I felt so refreshed when we left.  It was truly renewing to spend a day looking at beautiful things - things which people gave their passions and best efforts to create.  My favorite section was the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which document the interiors of homes from the 1200s through the 1930s.  Each room was created in amazing detail - down to the carpets and the doorknobs.  On the walls in these rooms are original paintings created specifically for these models.  Of course, there were many other exhibits which caught my attention.  It was unbelievable to stand before Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic" (the man with the pitchfork standing beside his wife in front of their house).  It was also amazing to see first-hand Marc Chagall's "America Windows."  We spent an incredible amount of time just gazing at them and trying to isolate the details.  I also enjoyed viewing the Japanese pottery and the period furniture.  It was an incredibly relaxing day.

For a long afternoon, we were completely isolated from the violence, deception, hatred, and unkindness that so often characterizes daily life today.  If this sounds a bit hyperdramatic - tune in to an episode of the daily news, browse a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today, or maybe just scroll down through your newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter.  I am convinced that our culture is fixated on anger and senseless drama.  Americans can't seem to get enough of the scandals and hatred that's fed to us constantly by the media outlets, and it's simply not good for us.  It's harmful to our mental well-being, our relationships, and our outlook on life.  I don't have the answers for how to resolve our society's vast problems, but I can tell you that the Bible has some insight on how we might live better.  God, Who made us, knows what is best for us.  The Scriptures hold the keys to what we need, and we do well to heed them as much as we can.

In Paul's letter to the Christians living in Philippi, he encouraged them to " 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[d]be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:4-9).

The lesson here is whatever we focus on is what we will continue to notice.  A number of years ago, I decided to buy a Chevy Blazer.  In the coming weeks, I was surprised by how many Blazers I saw on the roadways.  Of course, they had always been there - but because they were in my thoughts, I now noticed them more frequently.  Paul tells us that if we give more of our attention to what is good in this life, we will see a lot more good around us.  We don't need to go to an art museum in order to see beauty and scenes which warm our hearts.  My favorite artist is Norman Rockwell.  Have you ever stopped to consider the subjects of his art?  Rockwell portrayed the scenes of daily life in such a way that we began to see their beauty.  The simplistic beauty was always there, but after Rockwell drew our attention to them we saw their beauty and wonder.  All around us are scenes of wonder.  Children and their dogs still go sledding, barbers still provide shaves, and people still gather at the coffee and donut shops.  I can't paint like Rockwell was able to paint, but I can see what he saw.  Rockwell's secret was that he knew what really matters in this life and how to appreciate it.