A Facebook friend of mine has a really big camera. He took it to Italy and posted a picture that he took of a second story window. Imagine this; on crowded cobblestone street, he has set up his tripod and the camera, which is about the size of a microwave oven. It has bellows and takes pictures on sheets of film that are as big as a paperback book. It has a special feature that allows you to raise the lens to correct for the natural tendency of buildings to go all pointy at the top when you look up. The parallel lines in my friend’s photo of a crumbling Italian building, did not converge.
Simone Weil said, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not.” Fortunately, many church leaders know their church’s image is not her reality. Well to do, suburban, congregations often are deluded into believing that their church’s charismatic pastor and modern facilities makes it a great church. Intuitive and theologically aware church leaders know that the congregation’s mission, hope, and strength, lie elsewhere.
In the dark places of our lives, exhaustion gives way to self pity. Our desire to have the time and resources to accomplish what we want becomes a road block in the way of doing what we can. Our demand for always, as in, ‘he always should be there for me,’ or ‘she always forgives me this,’ or ‘I always get to have…,’ blinds us to current reality. We want our lives to be a perfect fairy tale and can’t adapt to the pervasive presence of mess in the story that God has cast us to act in. We no longer see the beauty in this chaotic moment of life, or the hope that lays beyond death.
One of the most famous paintings in the London National Gallery is Turner’s 1838, “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up.” The bold, romantic, colors of this masterpiece makes it worth the long title. The back story, however, is relevant to the church today. The 98 gun, ship-of-the-line, Temeraire represented the height of war technology in 1805 when it played a significant role in Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. Here, 32 years later, Turner shows it being towed to the scrapyard with the setting sun behind her.