ANCESTRAL ARROGANCE

1,000 years of art. Hundreds of caves in the far reaches of the Gobi Desert in China are filled with ancient carvings and delicate, brightly hued wall paintings that depict life from the 4th to the 14th centuries, during the height of Buddhist culture.” NY Times 10/18/15.

Dictionaries define ‘arrogant’ as being proud, self-important, snooty, puffed-up and boastful. I’m sticking with the first two descriptions. They’re not so bad. My hunch is the evolutionary scientist to whom I referred in my prior draft probably preferred to rely upon the snooty, puffed-up and boastful behavior when he declared that Homo sapiens will just vanish from this earth no matter how much our species thrive in our days in the sun.

Was it too egotistical for young people centuries ago to rely on graffiti to convey who they were and what they felt in this world? Those ‘brightly hued wall paintings’ may have reflected the affection of a young Buddhist’s favorite Aunt, an art piece that would last longer than ten centuries?

The creative artist might have been one who learned that his grandfather traveled across the desert to stake a claim in the sand long before he was born. If so, stories of such a rigorous journey likely got lodged in his reasoning faculties. If they had chewing tobacco back then his grandpa might have impressed his grandson on how accurate he was in getting rid of it. Those tender bonds between the two of them had to have been imbedded in the deepest parts of their crania and the grandson chose to tell the world about it.

What about graffiti in our day? Gangs often use it to mark their turf and intimidate their adversaries but there are some who attempt to convey their own feelings privately about life apart from their gang members.

We will have to admit that there are some pretty imaginative and colorful portraits on boxcars that might make it to the coasts and go global. My hunch is the Buddhist boys and gang bangers might have needed to reveal their deepest emotions such as compassion, anger, rage or sexual impulses. OK, maybe the Buddhist bunch chose to limit their scrawls to Nirvana matters but they too probably wished to make their mark in this world and not just their neighborhood turf.

Most of us would like to etch our name or paint a portrayal on something solid that may last for a long time no matter how old we are. When our daughter and a friend were in their early teens they chose to paint their names on a large rock near the dining hall at a church retreat site. They were caught and chastised by the camp director. He handed them wire brushes and had them spend the rest of the day removing their names. I urged my kid to not add her pastor’s last name if she tried it again.

Preaching can become an arrogant practice when pastors begin to feel proud and self-important in the pulpit. It’s not so much snootiness, puffed-up or boastful conduct but they may begin to think they will carve out delicate, brightly hued walling paintings for all time through their homiletic efforts.

I never forgot a statement my preaching professor made early on in the class. He claimed we clergy will have the privilege of preaching on the theme of “the ultimate purpose of human existence every week.” I cringed thinking I would never be able to live up to that task. Ah, but after a few years I began to get used to it.

After retiring I thought former laity in my churches would be able to tell me they could recall an entire sermon I preached during my tenure and they might refer it to their kids and their grandkids’ kids. I figured a sermon might make it through ten centuries. No one has stepped up to tell me so since retiring fifteen years ago. Bummer!

Marjorie, a middle-aged church member pulled me aside on the patio recently. She said “I have always wanted to tell you how important your sermon illustration was 25 years ago. You told the story of your young mother in her final year of life with breast cancer. Your mom urged you to pick up a package at a dress shop and you did not want to go to a dress shop. No problem, your mom assured you, it will be in a tied sack. When you got there three smiling women stood behind the counter and one of them said ‘You must be Buzzy! Is this what you’re looking for?’ She held up a special medical bra. You grabbed it and ran out of the place. Your mother had called ahead and set you up.”

Marjorie claimed that illustration helped her immensely when she contracted breast cancer. So, I’m thinking she might tell that story to her offspring and their offspring and their offspring and……. I figure that it just might make it to a rock, boxcar or a wall painting someday.

 

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