Does this fit your mental image of what Adam and Eve looked like?  When I first saw this painting by Fernando Botero it messed with me.  Of course that is not what Adam and Eve looked like!  My mental image is one of a slender and beautiful Eve with dirty blond locks of hair flowing over her shoulders in perfect placement to cover over her bountiful bosoms. Standing beside her is Adam, self assured in his nakedness although conspicuously always pictured behind a waist high hedge (must of been lots of those hedge in Eden).

This is what this painting stirs in me.  What does this evoke in terms of my view of the human body?  And my own body(since mine bears a much better resemblance to this Adam, than the usual GQ models of typical Eden scenes)?  How does an Adam and Eve created like this affect my view of what it means to be human?   Why is Eve wearing a mullet?(ok this one is sarcasm)  How does this picture view how I would view the love between Adam and Eve?  These are just a few beginning thoughts.  But my point is…

This is what art does.  Art exposes, reveals and refreshes.

1. Art exposes our mental images

Every idea and thought we have is also associated with a mental image.  Art, especially good art, exposes those mental images and gives our mind the option of something different.  Art gets us to see something that we haven’t seen before.  Or maybe we have seen it before, but with the anchor of repression we block and ignore certain images because of what they do to us.  Some images frighten us, some pieces of art invoke feelings or emotions that we dare not acknowledge being there.

I feel this is the reason why Mel Gibson’s movie the Passion was so successful.  What this movie did was challenge our  sanitized images and versions of the crucifixion and exposed our current images as the comfortable Easter/nice little bunny season holiday that it has morphed into.  Now, although the violent monolithic picture of the cross was IMHO a little too focused on the blood and gore, it did cause me to think and to re-imagine some of my images.

2. Art exposes how static our thinking has become.

Left to ourselves we will have the tendency to hold onto those images that secure and validate our past history and current culture themes.   We cling to the images that agree with our history.  When we encounter an image that transcends our past and sends us into a trajectory that causes us to consider our own past actions and thoughts as being incorrect or incomplete, we initially want to reject that image.  

In addition to our own personal history we also have to deal with our current culture matrix.  What happens when we see an image that runs counter cultural to the mainstream culture that we are swimming in?  We can either reject the image or we can accept the reality that our image has become frozen by time and culture.  

Of course this is normal.  Remember that childhood friend that  you grew up with and have now lost contact?  When you imagine them, you don’t imagine them as they are now, but as they were when you interacted with them in grade 3.  (This to me is the reason why Facebook as a social networking frame works so well, we all want up to date pictures and images to associate with our past memories)  Deep down we all want new pictures and images.  I believe this is part of the creative God image within us all.  I also believe we have fallen out of rhythm with this creative tendency within us and instead now want to go back to the static photo album of who God has been in the past.  We must move past the scrapbook snapshots of who God was and step into the nowness of a God who lives in real time.

3. Art refreshes our barriers

To deny that we have barriers is deny our own humanity.  To be ‘full human’ is not to deny the existence of those barriers but to acknowledge that they exist and that they affect our lives.  These mental obstacles and images have a direct correlation to our lives.  

A perfect example was when my wife and I went to go visit a living Nativity.  There was a huge crowd.  Lots of people, animals, Roman Guards, Villagers etc. In the midst of it, Toree lost track of our little girl Charlotte and had the typical fear response.  Me in my, “nothing bad will happen” ideal, said to her(in the most loving and caring way of course), “Come on who is going to steal a little girl in the middle of a Nativity scene.”  The scene of love, birth and nativity had in my mind made the place a safe place, which of course, by its very nature of strangers was not.

To be fully human is not to deny the existence of those barriers but to acknowledge that they exist and affect our lives.  Art, if we allow it, can be the light that shines and helps identity our presuppositions and assumption.

What if…

One image that has become sterile and anti-septic to our souls is the picture of Christmas.  Baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manager. Silent night, Hark the Herald Angels Singing, etc, etc.  This season is filled with images.  I would like to suggest an alternative image of this picture in my next post.

This article is from a pastor in the local Portland area. I thought it appropriate due to all the media and political talk the middle class. It seems that the middle class are a group that gets all the attention. The upper class also get their fair share of press. The only group that doesn’t make the front page(or any page for that fact) is the poor. Maybe it is because we make too many assumptions.

Middle Class Assumptions

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of people were stranded in the city, which was soon destroyed by wind and flood and filled with diseases.  Because the great majority of people stranded in the city were black, it is assumed that latent racism underlying American society has taken its toll again.  Racism is an easy card to play—it seems to be a problem everywhere from the LA Police to grandpa’s living room.  There is the prejudice inherent in racism as well as the system in which groups are held back from positions of power. 

    Personally, however, I don’t think that the problem in New Orleans was racial prejudice.  Yes, the far majority of folks trapped in the city, lied to and even shot at were black—but certainly not all.  Nor do I actually think that the problem stemmed from authorities “not caring” about those who were stranded.  Yes, I am sure that there are some who didn’t care about them, but I don’t think that is what created the situation. 

    I think, rather, that the horrors in the city were created from the assumptions those in power had about society in general.

    The powers that be knew that there were many people who had no intention of leaving the city, no matter how many evacuation warnings were given.  These were people who had ways of getting out of the city, but they chose not to.  So, as many authorities were leaving the city, and they saw people staying behind, it was no surprise.  After all, many people were foolish and decided to ride out the storm.

    The real problem lay in what they didn’t think about.  They didn’t think about the fact that there is a vibrant street culture in New Orleans who wouldn’t have the capacity to leave the city.  They didn’t think about the many who were injured or elderly who were incapable of leaving, and without family to assist them.  They didn’t think about the poor who rely on public transportation for their daily needs, and do not have money to pay to leave the city.  They assumed that everyone could get out of the city if they wanted to.  It was never a spoken assumption.  If it had been spoken, it could have been questioned.  But the assumption was still there, still and quiet in the minds of those in power.

    And who could really blame them?  They were under a tremendous amount of stress.  They had to figure out how to take care of their families and property.  They had extra responsibilities.  They just never thought of those who wanted to be evacuated, but couldn’t be. 

    We mustn’t judge these authorities.  It is easy to point fingers after the fact, “You should have done this!”  Rather we should think about what we would have done in similar circumstances.  Would we have thought of those who had no transportation?  Would we have thought of those who had no reserve of cash to deal with an emergency?  Would we have thought of those in nursing homes and mental health facilities and prisons, if we had no one that we personally knew in such circumstances?  Would we have thought beyond ourselves to those who lack the resources we do on a daily basis?

    These questions are easy to answer.  First we need to ask, do we think of these folks now?  This is not asking—WHAT do we think of them?  If pressed on the point, I suppose that most of us would honestly say, “I never think badly about the poor and lowly.”  But the reason it is true is because the poor and lowly are so far out of our context, out of our lives, that we never actually think about them at all- either good or ill.  If we don’t think of them now, how could we expect anyone else like us to think of them when they are facing a personal crisis?  How can we expect anyone to assist the lowly in an emergency when they never thought of them on normal days?

    The stranded in New Orleans weren’t put in a life-threatening position because of racism or even because of blatant prejudice of any kind.  They were stranded because of middle-class assumptions.

    What is a middle class assumption?  It is what most of us who are middle class assume that “everyone” has in society, because everyone we know has them.  It is what we assume is the minimum standard to live and function in our society.  It is what goes thoughtless when dealing with large groups of people—from leading a church meeting to organizing a free concert to governing an entire population. 

    Having assumptions is not wrong.  It is a part of the cultural baggage we all have.  We learn it bit by bit beginning as infants, and our culture grows and is reshaped and is transformed as we get older.  The assumptions, however, is just what we get used to—what we never see missing.  If we have never (or have rarely) experienced a person speaking anything but Russian, then “normal” people speak Russian, and everyone who is not “normal” just doesn’t come to mind when we make plans.  Sure, we can understand intellectually that other people speak other languages, that they are people who are just as important as us and that they have their own need that doesn’t include speaking Russian—perhaps they speak Bengali or use sign language.   But in the normal course of day-to-day events, non-Russian-speakers don’t count because we have never experienced them. 

    And this is the case of the middle class with the lower class.  Yes, most middle class people know—intellectually— that lower class people count as much as they do and have their own needs and issues that differ from middle class needs and issues.  However, since the majority of the middle class do not “rub elbows” with those of the lower class, then the needs and issues of the lower class are unknown, not to mention the specific needs of individuals who find themselves in the lower class because they suddenly are lost without one of the things that they assumed was necessary to survive—but never really thought about it.

What are these assumptions?  Well, it is beyond my ability to list all of them.  But below are a list of those that I and those whom I know experienced.

Ability to remain clean
The idea that everyone in our society has the capacity to a shower or bath with a change of clean clothes and proper hygiene items, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.    However, this is a huge assumption to make.  To remain clean in this way requires many resources that people, especially those who live on the street, do not have.  Think casually how much you pay for your cleanness—between water, a place to have privacy, all the various items to clean clothes and hygiene items.  Even a quick overview can help us realize how expensive hygiene is.  Now we can know that cleanliness is next to godliness because only the gods can afford such a standard!

Ability to gain identification
Most people assume that identification is simple to obtain.  But if you had all of your identification stolen from you or lost in a fire, then you might find that you were in a grave situation.  For legal state I.D. you need two pieces of identification.  And you cannot obtain any other identification without identification.  And without identification, you cannot even check out a library book, let alone get a job or cash a check.

Well spoken English with no or minor accent
This is an assumption that many immigrants face daily.  It is assumed that because they learned English with a strong accent that they do not know English well at all.  And this is a barrier to many avenues of our society, although bi-lingual services are being provided more and more frequently now.

Basic knowledge of national events
Most of the middle class assume that everyone has access to a newspaper or at least watch television news.  However, for those who do not have televisions or who do not choose to pay attention to news, this limits conversation and the main source of knowledge of basic cultural information for the middle class.

Personal transportation
According to the middle class, “normal” people have access to an automobile, and thus can drive to places quickly as often as they like.  However, the cost of an automobile is such that a large percentage of the lower class cannot afford to pay for the car, insurance, repairs and gas.  

Ability to travel out of town
This is the assumption that stranded many people in New Orleans.  It is assumed that if necessary, with some planning, anyone can leave to another county or state if they so desire.  However, many people are limited to public transportation, which is limited to a metropolitan area.  Or Greyhound, but if you can’t book two weeks in advance or have extra money, then you ain’t going anywhere.

Well dressed, (but not necessarily fancy)
This is the assumption that keeps many lower class folks from attending church services or weddings.  It is assumed by most of the middle class that everyone has at least one set of “nice” clothes for special occasions.  However, many people, especially those of the lower class, just do not have them.

Computer literate
It is an assumption being made more and more often that everyone has the ability to get on a computer and know what one is doing.  Along with this assumption is the idea that we can send important information to people on the internet, or through email, and that is adequate for all who need it.  However, not everyone can use a computer and a large percentage of people have difficulties accessing the internet.

Health insurance
Some assume that everyone has some kind of health insurance, although is it becoming widely recognized that most people’s insurance is extremely inadequate.  Again, it is a large percentage of the lower class has no insurance whatsoever, and a growing group is being turned away from almost any medical care due to past unpaid bills.

No mental illness
This is the most widespread assumption and the one that is most wrong.  Perhaps some 10 percent of people have a diagnosed mental illness.  And perhaps another ten percent has a mental illness that has not been diagnosed.  But every single one of us has a mental weakness that makes us inadequate in an area that most people are adequate in.  Some of us are weak socially, some are weak in mathematics, some are weak in self-assessment.  But more often than not, those of us who are strong in an area cannot understand or appreciate those who are inadequate in some area of mental ability.  What we must remember however is that mental weakness is what is normal.

Disposable money
It is assumed and expected that everyone has some money, even if it is a small amount, that they can use for an occasional lunch out or for an emergency.  However, those of low income, while they might have the occasional financial surplus, they cannot predict ahead of time when they will have disposable income.  Thus, having a middle class friend ask if they want to do lunch together is just embarrassing.

The education system of the United States has done a remarkable job of teaching most people to read.  But there are many people—almost exclusively of the lower class, with some rare exceptions—who are not literate, except in some rudimentary ways.   But we all  establish things for others

Place to sleep
It is important for all of us to recognize these assumptions and to fight such ignorance, both in ourselves and in others.  To know that many people do not have these culturally significant items for the middle class is important for all of us.  It is especially important for those who organize events or lead large groups of people to recognize what assumptions are being made, for the more assumptions we make, the more people we are excluding.  But most importantly, it is important for those in civil leadership to be aware of their assumptions, so that they could truly represent all of their people, and not just the middle class and above.