“We fight back with beauty.”
That was the brief nugget of wisdom I gleaned from my final reading of God, Improv and the Art of Living. I have a practice for my morning devotional to pick some sort of book that speaks to me, is broken up into short one-page sections, and gives me a different lens at which to look at life. I have spent the last two months making my way through MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s delightful book on living our lives as if we were on the improv stage. I chose it, one, because improv scares the bejesus out of me and, two, because I had this sense that life in the church is probably going to marked by a persistent improvisational nature for years, maybe decades, to come.
It’s been a good read and a good ride for me, these few minutes every morning with MaryAnn. Once again, she spoke directly to my heart earlier this week as she recounted circumstances that seemed too great to overcome or to find any hopeful outcome. In speaking to a friend who was facing a seemingly hopeless situation about how she coped the friend offered this beautiful sage-like wisdom:
“We fight back with beauty.”
She said it to me. She said it anyone who is feeling hopeless about their lives. She said it to an America that wonders if we will ever recover the unified “one nation” that we recite in our pledge. She said it to all those who have to find meaning outside of history and time.
I have noticed this shift in myself over recent years. I know that when I was younger I was able to commit to goals and missions and causes in the belief that if I just worked hard enough, creatively enough and long enough I could almost single-handedly make the world more just, kinder, fairer, more merciful and humble. I don’t know how much of it is aging or our current environment, but I no longer have that same confidence in my abilities. I am just not big enough, strong enough, and influential enough to mold the world into the image that I have in my head and heart (and that I believe is faithful).
It’s not that I have given up. In fact, far from it.
But I have noticed a shift and this beautiful piece of wisdom, “We fight back with beauty,” touches on what is happening for me. I used to think about enjoying life once I had slain all the monsters around me and made just all of the injustices of life. “Work first, enjoyment later,” was my motto. The only problem is that the work just never stopped!
Now I do what I can do with the hours that I have and then I concentrate on creating or enjoying beauty. I play my guitar (not very beautifully, but I try!). I ride my bike over a rugged snow-capped mountain or along an eye-pleasing country road laden with wildflowers. I cook a good meal blending flavors and colors and arranging the elements as artistically as my clunky left brain allows me to do. I watch superhuman athletes throw a ball from thirty feet into a two-foot net. I walk meditatively along the river.
In a word, I fight back at the hopelessness that sometimes overwhelms me with creating and enjoying beauty. I may not be able to eradicate all of the weeds of the world, but I can plant one flower right at my own feet. I may not be able to make our political environment less vitriolic and hateful, but I can fill the space right around me with kindness, with love, and with poetic beauty.
Personally, I wish I had more fight in me. I wish I believed that if I just marched loudly one more time, or preached just the right fire and brimstone sermon, or put all of my hopes in the next I’ll-be-your-savior candidate that my work would finally be done. I would have been successful in creating an as-close-to-the-kingdom-of-God reality as has ever been done. But, dang it, I just don’t believe it. And because I don’t believe it I just can’t muster up the energy to spend the rest of my life fighting with anger with anger, and vitriol with vitriol.
But I haven’t given up. I have just changed my weapon. I have replaced anger with love. I have decided that it is better to spend my energy creating beauty than destroying ugliness. I have decided that the way to the future is not the eradication of evil, but the expansion of goodness.
Maybe it’s a sign of aging. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity. Maybe it’s pure resignation. But whatever it is, I have decided—if I have to fight I will fight back with beauty. It may not change the whole world, but it changes my world.
And that is just going to have to be good enough for now.