Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Ghosts of the 14th

I am in the 14th arrondissement, an artistic and literary center about 100 years ago. Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Seurat, Hemingway, Cocteau, Giacometti, Matisse, Modigliani, Miller….the names are everywhere, on cafés, bookstores, buildings, cemeteries. The statue of Balzac by Rodin stands near the Metro Vavin, where I had a cup of coffee with a friend on Monday. But the Brancusi statue eludes me…although my second visit to the cemetery yielded this find of Charles Pigeon’s tombstone!

It’s a bit staggering to walk around in so much cultural history, stamped into such a little bit of geography. The ghosts of artists past are haunting discussions with artists today. Is it possible for Christians to even approach what these artists accomplished last century?

That’s the question we’re asking—me and the artists I’m meeting with daily now. Why are we so mediocre in comparison to these surpassing talents? It’s an enigma. I have a hard time believing I’ll see the church reach these heights, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to give up. “The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it."

So today I walk past these ghosts, and board the metro in a sea of black-garmented Parisians during rush hour. The sky is still dark, the moon is up, the eyes are mostly at half-mast. I travel out to the eastern suburbs of Paris, eyeing the frost on the ground, and regretting that I have not added another layer of wool. I am following up on our SALT attendee Paul Dixon, meeting with OM France leadership, other team members, and one couple considering joining OM Arts.

After a full day of meetings and meals, we inch forward, and a stake is very definitely in the ground. Some of these artists have persevered for over 20 years. Some are afraid, some broken, some mystified as to how to proceed. Or all of the above.

But we can do nothing else. As the disciples responded to Jesus when so many deserted him, and He asked if they were going to quit too, so we respond: “Where else can we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

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