Death (An Uplifting Post)

Image

Death is at the center of everything that has ever been profound. This statement transcends the obvious examples such as martyrdom, assassination, suicide, or revolution. Death is often associated with the end of life, but it is actually the beginning of living.

By saying this I don’t mean some esoteric idea about life after death in some evacuated beyond human sci-fi experience. I mean living and creating right now. In my context there are numerous insulators and systems of propaganda that are specifically designed to prevent crossing the threshold of death and ultimately creativity.

Just today I was listening to NPR and some psychiatrists want to diagnose certain stages of grief (like after someone dies) as a disorder. I would need to know far more about this particular discussion to comment, but what is interesting is the assumption that the ideal state of a human being is stagnant happiness. If you are not inoculated and insulated enough and something traumatic happens and you find yourself grieving, or experiencing any emotion arbitrarily decided upon as “negative”…then there’s something wrong…

One can live as though personal security is the goal. One can buy a big SUV to protect themselves, a gated community to be insulated, insurance to protect, invest for tomorrow, and make friends that will benefit, and you can buy into slogans like, “a penny saved is a penny earned,” “I better save for a rainy day,” “make friends and influence people,” or, “it’s the little things that count” (an aside: I take particular issue with this last phrase. Its phrases like this that I worry inoculate people from believing that they can actually do great things. Sure little things are important, but I often here this phrase used by people that have WAY too much, and are justifying no doing more. 1 billion people don’t have clean water, half the world’s children live in poverty, thousands of children died deaths today that could have been easily prevented…if we can stop this, which we can, let’s not hide behind phrases like, “it’s the little things that count”).

BUT one has to ask…is this really living? Is this really what it means to be a human being? Is this really a recipe for a more creative world?

What if this whole system is wrong?

Perhaps this is why whole cultures rebel against so-called “westernization,” because they know that there is more…

And this raises the question: if “life” isn’t working for you why not try death?

At the heart of the personal insulation scheme is fear, and if you push that envelope the root is the fear of death.

BUT what if you faced that fear head on instead of living in denial?

To create you have to die. You have to die to the personal insulation scheme.

Artists are the people that step out of the systems of security and lay themselves and their work bare for the world. They die to self-preservation and pray that there is life on the other side.

Image

The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat speaks to this. On the surface his paintings seem chaotic or too esoteric to mean anything to anyone other than the uppity art collectors. To say this, however, is to miss the true brilliance of his work.

Here is one of his paintings:

Image

It looks deconstructed and broken down, and even dark.

If you know in the background of this image, informing Basquiat, is this painting:

Image

All of a sudden, it begins to make more sense.

What makes Basquiat profound, for me, is that his art is not painting, it’s himself. What he is doing in this painting is synthesizing the world around him: New York, the art world, his perception of himself, the language of his culture in his time and he is bringing it to bear in a painting, but the real art is the human being doing the synthesizing of all of that input.

Perhaps this painting is designed to ask the world: if you could really see me, see my thoughts, my dreams, my despair, my world…what would you think? How would you react? Does this challenge you? Your categories?

In an act of total self exploitation this painting asks profound questions of both the artist that painted it and everyone who sees it.

Think about every revolutionary. Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther, Che, Michael Collins, William Wilberforce, Malcolm X, the Dhali Lama, Nelson Mandela, to name a few. Every single one of them has given up the path laid out for them. They have died, so that they can really live. They have deeply impacted the world but the first step was to give up personal security and dare to imagine a bigger life on the other side.

All of this makes me thing of crucifixion. Perhaps Jesus is deeply aware that changing the world will take everything. In order to enact enormous change, there will be an enormous cost. The cross is the ultimate in both death and vulnerability.

Image

The cross, and the resurrection are no guarantee that anything will happen. Jesus has laid everything out there, quite literally painting with his own blood on the world’s canvas, with no guarantee that anyone will change. History has shown that people, even “Christians” can look at Jesus and not be moved.

However, Jesus is revealing the most beautiful painting, picture, sculpture, song, and poem about God.

Jesus, God incarnate according to the Christian tradition, steps in to human history and preaches, teaches, heals, and transforms and then allows himself to be killed. Jesus understands that the kind of world transforming kingdom he is preaching will only be able to be realized if the old kingdom dies. In stark juxtaposition to any kingdom of personal insulation Jesus is stripped naked, beaten, and crucified.

What if Jesus, just like Basquiat, is saying: look at this. This is what God is really like, and if you saw God naked and bleeding, non-violent and loving to the end, would you love him? If you saw this would you change, would you believe that God really loves, would you believe that the world is bigger and more mysterious than the little kingdoms that lay claim to it? What if the cross is God’s ultimate work of art?

Jesus risks it all for his art, the art of love and restoration. Jesus resurrection announces in vibrant color that the only way to truly live is to die. Let go of insulation and embrace the possibility that on the other end of death is true life.

Advertisements

28 Comments on “Death (An Uplifting Post)

  1. Inoculated, insulated, taught to ignore and learning to forget. We have always been at war with the East. 😉 God stepped into our world to break us out, to deliver us out of fear and into love. I love the idea of Jesus risking it all for the art of love and restoration!

    • Is that a quote? that is freaking brilliant! As always, it’s a pleasure to here your thoughts Brian!

      • The part about the East is from Orwell, the rest is mine.

      • Ah! It all makes sense! Great Stuff, I’m glad I have that written down in the internet world…I’ll probably quote you

  2. “What if the cross is God’s ultimate work of art? Jesus risks it all for his art, the art of love and restoration. Jesus resurrection announces in vibrant color that the only way to truly live is to die. Let go of insulation and embrace the possibility that on the other end of death is true life.”

    YES! Excellent insight Ryan. I don’t have much constructive to say, just to applaud you for such a cool idea!

    • Thanks! i appreciate it, I was struck with the idea that we use crucifixes as art objects, but what if the real artist of that moment was God and Love was his medium? It seemed like a cool idea!

  3. “what is interesting is the assumption that the ideal state of a human being is stagnant happiness”- This brought to mind a show that was one of my guilty pleasures from the past, Sliders. It was a cheesy sci-fi show about a group of people that each episode went “sliding” into an parallel universe, trying to work their way back to their own. One of the most striking episodes was one where they slid into a world where everyone had a wrist band that fed them a constant concoction of drugs to keep them “happy.” To some, it was a perfect world, others though, chose to live with real emotions. A little heavy-handed in the metaphor to be sure, but it was a great episode to explore these things.
    When I was in Europe I had the opportunity to think a lot about art and the role of the artist. These are much the same conclusions I came to, and it was very creatively inspiring for me to begin to think of myself more in these terms as well. Thanks for this Ryan!

    • Perhaps this is showing my age, but when I first read “Sliders” I immediately thought you were going to describe a hard hitting documentary about the injustices perpetrated in our culture by the axis of evil hitherto referred to as ‘White Castle.’

      • I know, it’s horrible isn’t it! I looked it up, and apparently it is season 4 episode 7 entitled “Just Say Yes.” You can also apparently get episodes on Amazon. Anyway, I’m glad it was a source of some amusement! 🙂

  4. Ryan – This was fantastic! I liked how you captured me at the very beginning. What a writing! I liked the direction you took things… hat goes off to you. I continue to believe, and worship everything Jesus stands for. NICE WORK!

  5. “This is what God is really like, and if you saw God naked and bleeding, non-violent and loving to the end, would you love him? If you saw this would you change, would you believe that God really loves, would you believe that the world is bigger and more mysterious than the little kingdoms that lay claim to it?” –I like it Ryan. I also liked the part about stagnant happiness…. lots to explore there. Good post!

    • Thanks Mark! Yeah, I’ve been wondering about “happiness” being a normative feeling. There’s a lot to be angry about and upset about if we just inoculate ourselves from feeling we will miss out on the biggest stories and adventures of our day.

  6. Ryan, your writing in trully amazing! I am looking forward to seeing a novel someday.

    • It’s in the works! Haha thanks for reading!

  7. Another stellar blog post. Who was in the painting Basquiat was basing his work from? I’d like to know the history behind that. Also, the NPR debate is huge in psychology. I personally disagree with their take on it -I believe grief is a natural part of life. Like anything else, it can take a twisted and unnatural form and become disordered. That’s how the personality disorders were classified: normal personality types taken to extremes (narcissism, etc) But if they make grief a disorder, I think it will become an excuse to start overmedicating people without treatment of the real problem. I believe that’s what’s being done with depression.

    • The portrait Basquiat is working with is a self portrait by Van Gogh.

      Sorry for the late response 🙂

    • Getting to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam was one of the highlights of my trip to Europe. It was fascinating to learn that he originally was planning on being a street missionary- he was VERY passionate about it and sure it was what he was supposed to do with his life. But someone encouraged him to try out art (not sure why, maybe they could tell he wasn’t cut out for the life of a missionary?) and it set him down a whole other path that he went after with the same “religious” fervor that he had originally put into missionary work. Either way, he was someone with very strong convictions and sense of self that allowed him to push past the work of other artist and find his own creative center of self-expression.

  8. Beautiful thought and line…”Jesus risks it all for his art, the art of love and restoration. Jesus resurrection announces in vibrant color that the only way to truly live is to die. Let go of insulation and embrace the possibility that on the other end of death is true life.” Great stuff!!!!

    • Thanks. I’ve really been reflecting on God as an artist.

  9. What a beautiful blogpost and great analogies! I very much enjoyed reading it and i completely agree with it! Great job , Ryan! Keep it up! – Ruth’s big sister, Oana

    • Oh thanks for the kind word! I really appreciate you reading it!

  10. Great post. I think the profoundness of your post, in regards to the concept of embracing death, is the parallelism to what Jesus seemed to promote about death. “Those who save their life will loose it, and those who loose their life, for my sake, will keep it.” I think we all need to die to the things that inhibit us from being as creative as God created us to be. I was really inspired by this bro!

    • Thanks Mike! I was struck by the juxtaposition of life and death as I wrote this and also I’ve been thinking more and more about God as an artist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: