Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Am A Stranger Here Myself



Several years back I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and I had some time to myself so I took in the four art museums that were serviced by a free shuttle everyday. I was on the longest leg of the tour between the National Portrait Gallery and the Dean Modern Art Museum and there was no one on the bus but me and a few college girls. They were busy with makeup and cell phones and chattering about all sorts of things that were unintelligible from my seat but their American accents and one particular phrase jumped out at me. The girl closest was talking about “back home” and “back home” was about 20 minutes from my birthplace on the east coast. I politely and somewhat shyly mentioned to them that I was born on an Air Force base very close to their hometown. I wasn’t flirting or trying to be nosy, just merely trying to make a connection, feeling somewhat isolated and far from home. I had only wanted to say “I am a stranger here myself”. But I only ended up feeling strange. The look on their faces was a mix of condescension and annoyance. Like when you tell a music aficionado that you like a band who’s t-shirt they are wearing and they are offended because if you know that band then that band has lost all underground credibility and has become too mainstream and therefore is relegated to the dustbins of independent music history. Ah, nothing like a little elitism to put you in your place.


I don’t know what made me think of that girl this morning as I was driving to work. I can’t remember her face, or even the city she was from, but I can still feel the slight burn of embarrassment resting on my cheeks. It’s funny the souvenirs we keep, and then the ones that keep us.


At the Modern Art museum there was an Andy Warhol Exhibit that I skipped because it was ten pounds, around 17 bucks at the time. I walked around the rest of the exhibits slowly soaking them all in, hoping I think for a little inspiration and maybe some clarity. I remember having very few strong reactions to the Art but one piece stands out, though it would anyway if for no other reason than its sheer girth. It was of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan by sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Vulcan was the blacksmith who forged weapons for the gods and heroes and in the sculpture he is shown swinging his hammer and marching across the Great Hall. Half-man and half-machine, Vulcan is a monument to the modern age.



But what I remember most about this two story massive sculpture as I was standing on the 2nd floor balcony staring directly across about shoulder level with the mythological blacksmith, is how when I walked across the balcony with only the weight of normal footfall, the giant metal machine-man would sway. At first I thought it was an illusion, but after walking a little heavier back in forth across the suspended balcony I saw the sculpture was indeed moving, directly in response to my steps, and somewhat more than just slightly.


So years later, thanks to a wayward thought of a somewhat snobbish coed, I am thinking of how frail that massive man/machine seemed and how it made me feel somewhat insignificant and uneasy myself. And if there has ever been a better testament to the state of the modern age, a better visual representation of it, well I haven’t seen it.


We have built for ourselves such machines as to move earth by the ton. We have built sky scrapers that seem to do just that. We have technology, and exponentially so, that allows us at anytime access the whole world from anywhere. And yet all these works of our hands cannot stop our world from swaying; cannot save us from the great clock of the earth winding down and the great cloak of the sky wearing thin.


Over and over again in scripture, God warns His creation against trusting the works of their hands. “I alone”, He entreats them, and us, “am worthy of your confidence, your hope.” Continually He reminds them, and us, that what we see, what we feel, and what we treasure here on earth is all food for moths, made for blight and rust and ruin, but the things of the Spirit, are made of such sterner stuffs from the perfect world to come. And yet still we trust in our humanity, our human “spirit”, the works of our hands, and our ability to define our destinies. And all around us, suffering, and bloodshed, and exploitation continue unabated, unaffected by our idols, mute and dumb, the most impressive works of our hands.


One last thing about Vulcan, he was lame, having been cast off Olympus by his mother as a baby for his ugliness thus falling to earth and breaking his leg, which is the reason he is aided by a support in the sculpture. We too are lame. Having been thrust out of God’s presence by the hideousness of our sin, but we are also made whole whoever would call on Jesus to reconcile them to the Father.


One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is “If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it that you don't feel at home there?” He asks in similar passage, do you find in yourselves desires that this world cannot fulfill? In essence he asking, do you feel like a stranger here? Are you like Vulcan, a man-machine, forging out your existence through self-reliance on such shaky ground or are you man-spirit, trusting in the One who made you, to deliver you, un-lame, without spot or blemish, into the firm bright bosom of Heaven, and the tender arms of Abba.


I am a stranger here myself, and I am still longing for home.


M.

2 comments:

  1. ah!!! I just found that CS lewis quote a month ago or so. it was definitely facebook-worthy! I think I shall also put it on my blog

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