Last week I was working in New York City for a couple of days and I had a chance to steal a couple of hours and go to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. It’s one of my favorite places in the world to go visit, a constant rotation of new art, some of which calms me and some of which excites me. I am always challenged and filled with new ideas and inspiration when I go there, even for a short time.
They had an exhibit by Bruce Conner, who I knew nothing about. It was an eclectic mix of traditional art, posters, music, films and inexplicable (to my mortal eyes) things. Frankly, it did not do a lot for me, but outside the exhibit was the statement in the picture above. THAT did a lot for me.
Because it’s so true of all of us.
I’d like to think I was “This” and I was “That” and I am easy to define. I would like to be able to categorize the people and groups in life as “this” or “that” as well. I think we all do. Life is simpler and easier to understand, easier to work with, when things are clearly defined. From an early age we do it, separate things into categories and groups. Red blocks. Blue blocks. You get the idea. It helps us function. It helps us make decisions. At times, it helps us love and it helps us hate.
The trouble is, that for most of us, it’s a lie.
We aren’t all this or all that. We’re some kind of complex stew of subtleties and contradictions. We’re an odd stew with a little of this and a little of that, with some of the ingredients being wonderful things and some of them disgusting things. Stuff that happened in our childhood when our feelings distort our thinking, stuff that happened when we were teens, full of perception altering hormones and constant changes in our minds and bodies, stuff that happened in our adult lives, traumatically horrid or dramatically wonderful, all mix though our too often flawed lenses and makes sure that almost none of us are simple. Almost none of us are perfectly consistent. Even when we want to be.
This leads to hurt sometimes. To confusion sometimes. To frustration sometimes. To anger sometimes.
We want consistency. Life is whacky enough without it. It’s scary without it. It gives us an anchor, something we can count on. And the truth is, it’s hard to find.
Connor’s statement is much like my own. I could make one or two changes and make it mine. I am mostly this and that, but there are dollops of bleah, and nasty and just plain strange. I crave simplicity, and I’m maddenly complex. My mind wanders, yet I can be crazily focused. I am spiritual but not religious, even though I am a pastor. I have an “artistic” temperament and yet I’ve worked in high technology most of my adult life and have loved my work. I adore people. I am an introvert. I can be deeply insightful. I can miss the obvious. I am mostly a happy guy, yet I fight depression every day.
And so, for all my quirks, I am just like everyone else.
I get the category thing. We need to be able to do that, because our minds can’t keep up with all those details and mish-mash contradictions in all the people we come in contact with. So we try to find the key components of the people around us that’s what we call them. They are strong. They are stupid. They are…. whatever parts of them we choose to label them by. I do it. We all do it. It’s how we survive.
The problem, at least for me, is that when we start to get close to people, those labels become less true. If I carry those generalizations without refining them with the contradictions, that person will always…. let me repeat that, ALWAYS disappoint us. They will always hurt us. Because they won’t be what we have categorized them as.
That’s why grace is so important. The ability to give people the benefit of the doubt, to appreciate the good in people while not dismissing the less than good stuff. The recognition of value even when there is stuff we don’t like about someone.
We seem to be slowly loosing grace in our world. It’s all “us” and “them”. People are heros or villains. We build people into Superman, and then when they are exposed as merely human, we dismiss them as losers. Our ability, or willingness to see people as incredibly complex mixes and contradictions, to see that stew of reality becomes less and less of our cultural makeup. I have thoughts as to how that has happened, but they would take a long time to sort out and lay out and you dear reader, would be bored into a stupor in no time. Too complex.
Most of us don’t want complex. We want heros and villains. We want lovers and cads. We want it clear.
It’s never clear.Not really.
Only by grace do we still get to love consistently. Only by grace do we maintain deep relationships. Only by grace do we build each other up. Grace is partially forgiveness. And partially something else – a realization that flaws do not diminish our value, our beauty, our wonderfulness. Flaws are part of it.
I am not sure we can teach grace. Heaven knows I had a lot of it taught to me in Sunday School and growing up in church. But I know plenty of people who were taught about grace all their lives, yet have virtually none. No, I don’t think we learn it.
We experience it. We feel it. Or we don’t.
I was blessed I think. With the exception of just a few people in my life, I have been extended a lot of grace. A lot of my foibles and flaws were, maybe not dismissed, but seen in the context of the larger and more complex me. Even when I messed up sometimes, people did not dismiss my value as a person. They continued to love me, even when there were things they didn’t love so much. They showed that acceptance daily. And so I learned it by experiencing it. To say I am thankful for those that extended their grace to me would be one of the great understatements of the Western World.
“Grace is hard.” I have had people tell me. I think it IS hard when we haven’t experienced much of it in our own lives. I think it is easier when we have. That’s why it’s so important to surround ourselves with people of grace. We tell our kids that it’s important that they have the right kind of friends because of peer pressure. And it’s true. It’s also true of us adult types. When surrounded by people of grace, we get to feel it and experience it and it seeps into our DNA.
Surround ourselves with rancor and anger and one-dimensional thinking and something else seeps into our DNA.
Grace is why I can associate with some terribly flawed people, and enjoy the heck out of them, love them dearly, hold them close to my heart. I take the time to learn their whole, their different essences, and hopefully they learn mine, and find my own value in the midst of the rubble that is me.
Yes, Connor’s statement is true. For most of us. For me. All true.
Deal with it.
Be well. Travel Wisely.