New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 8, 2018 (Bright Sunday)
Earlier this week Andrea and I went to Washington DC to visit the Botanic Gardens, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Hirshhorn Museum. By the time we got to the Hirshhorn, I had walked over 11,000 steps and we still had to make it back to Union Station. So while Andrea ventured upstairs, I took my hurting little puppies down the escalator to the gift shop.
an art installation that covered every surface of the lower level lobby: floors, walls, even the sides of the escalators. The artist, Barbara Kruger, surrounds the viewer with language, with provocative questions and statements writ large in red and black and white, (reminiscent of what’s black and white and red all over?) that poke at our assumptions and our desire for certainty. Through this piece of artwork, Kruger said she was “interested in introducing doubt”, especially in these days of sound bites, fake news, and propaganda. One panel on the floor read: “WHO IS BEYOND THE LAW? WHO IS FREE TO CHOOSE? WHO SPEAKS? WHO IS SILENT?”
PLENTY SHOULD BE ENOUGH. and YOU WANT IT. YOU BUY IT. YOU FORGET IT. IT’S A SMALL WORLD BUT NOT IF YOU HAVE TO CLEAN IT. THE WORLD SHRINKS FOR THOSE WHO OWN IT. and MONEY MAKES MONEY. speak to economic justice issues. WHOSE BELIEFS? WHOSE BODY? WHOSE POWER? are questions we’ve been asking since humankind developed the language to ask them, and we’ve been struggling with and often dying because of the answers ever since.
BELIEF + DOUBT = SANITY is the first statement you see when you come down the escalator. But not all the statements and questions are so serious. There’s a bit of whimsy if you look for it. You have to look up to read DON’T LOOK DOWN ON ANYONE. In a wry bit of humor the statements BELIEVE ANYTHING. and FORGET EVERYTHING. are interspersed with happy face emoticons. My favorite one is the question over the entrance to the women’s restroom: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU LAUGHED? Laughter is one of the many treasures of being human that helps keep our beliefs and our doubts in balance. Laughter keeps us sane. Like doubt, laughter prevents us from taking anything, even ourselves, too seriously.
William Sloane Coffin once said that “the primary religious task is to think straight (which is funny, because many people would say religious people don’t think straight); we can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If our heart is a stone, we can’t have decent thoughts about personal relations or international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind.”
Laughter has that limbering effect on our hearts as well. Laughter is one of things that make it possible for us to love, especially when it is difficult. It’s too easy these days to give ourselves over to fear and anger and despair. So every day, laugh some. Get your news from Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, or Stephen Colbert. Turn off the news once in a while and listen to some George Carlin or Robin Williams or Dave Chappelle or Paula Poundstone. Have a dance party while you’re waiting in line, any line, in the kitchen while you’re getting dinner ready.