As in Art, So in Life

Once a painting professor assigned me a project in which I could only use two colors for the piece. He told me, "Constraints are good. They teach you to use your imagination." As in art, so in life. Today is one of those days where from the blare of the alarm until this present second I feel the demand of living. It's nothing unusual, it's just life and the pressing of it. Demands, needs, hopes, tears, fears—some mine, most not, but belonging to those I love and therefore still mine. I don't know how to use my imagination when what's in front of me just seems to be so mundane and monochromatic, constraining and constricting. I feel kept and caught, and I'm questioning the great Artist for giving me this palette with which to paint my canvas of life.

David knew what I feel, and maybe what you feel too,

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”

David felt a very real constraint—the threat of death on his life—and maybe my constraints today aren't of equal kind, but I think they're similar.

Living within constraints means dying to myself and my desires, my demands and my mood. It means the temptation to run away, to live outside the boundaries God has given me and put me in, will be pressing and constant. Psalm 16 says the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. That means God has designed this day perfectly within His bounds and it is a delight—I only need to trust the artist who made it so.

Where are you finding yourself stretching at the boundary lines today? Where are you frustrated with the lot you've been given? The lack of finances? The lack of marriage prospects? The lack of children? The presence of children? The office building? Instead of running away or standing on the edge, stretching for more, why not live within today's constraints and trust the Maker of heaven and earth?

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All Theology is Rooted in Geography

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. ‘If you would do good,’ wrote William Blake, ‘you must do it in Minute Particulars.’ When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived ‘on the economy,’ not aloof from it, not superior to it. The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names – Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida – these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, ‘more of a challenge’ or ‘a larger field of opportunity’ has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are ‘spiritually deep,’ attuned to each other, and quoting a cabal of experts.

The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor’s continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored: this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, ‘a particularizing love for local thing, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

From Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 128-130.

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