Let me start by saying that today had many “bests”. The Van Gogh exhibit at the Palazzo Bonaparte was remarkable. I did not know that Van Gogh’s dad was a pastor and Vincent was a missionary to the miners in the north. His family went to get him when Vincent gave everything he owned to the poor and stopped eating. Mental illness is filled with both terror and genius. Vincent seemed to think that color could save him as his work went from dark to light. Some of the painting masters had a formula of 1/4 light and the remaining canvas space dark. Then someone took it to 1/3 light. Some Japanese artists did mostly “light”, meaning bright colors. Van Gogh was in and out of the light. He had faith but his lifestyle demonstrated some dark choices. He was the oldest of six children and continued dialogue and correspondence with his brother, Theo, who supported Vincent financially and the artist died in his brothers arms two days after the attempted, then successful, suicide took his life. The local clergy would not hold a service for a suicide victim so, instead, his friends and family gathered and surrounded Vincent with the 80 paintings he had completed in the previous 70 days.
A few important quotes from the artist. “If something in you yourself says you aren’t a painter – it’s then that you should paint, old chap, and that voice will be silenced too…”, then, “Cobalt above all. No blue without yellow and without orange,…”. About him…Through colour he amplified the meanings of reality, even in his depiction of the human figure”. Near his end Vincent said, “The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant colour, well arranged, resplendent”. And one more, “And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris. The French air clears up the brain and does one good, a world of good”.
The fact that Van Gogh was so complex and had faith roots, reminds me of some Bible reading from this morning. Read the 14th chapter of Romans. My summary is that, because we are so different, we should put people ahead of legalism. I read something today about a church that requires the employees, of that church, to tithe. There is a pending lawsuit because a woman had had a car accident and fell on hard times. She stopped donating to the church she worked for. I remember working for a church that employed many single woman, some divorced with children. On a particular building drive, all employees were pressured to contribute. It was hardly a choice. I looked around the room. I knew what I was being paid and had turned down a chemist lab tech position to work in the church. I needed the money but it made sense at the time. I was horrified because if pastors are paid the average salary of the members (used to be a calculation like that) the pastor applying the pressure had no idea what these women felt about sacrifice. Their penny to his pound? Another more recent experience was two leaders related to YWAM haing both shared that their daughters were not following the Lord. Having completed this great teaching, but very specific teaching, makes me wonder if the daughters could actually be following the Lord but in a different way. I met one of these young ladies and no red flag. I’ll never know but God knows the heart – we want conformity. Freedom in Christ is to save us from being compelled to follow men. We are religious whether we want to admit it or not. Romans chapter 14 was written by Paul to the early church at Rome when people where trying to figure out what the church was and how to ‘follow Christ’. I am writing this from Rome. Verse 22 says, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God”. That does not sound like pressuring other believers to keep up with your version and interpretation. Verse 19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification”. That does not sound like making you into me because I know better. Verse 17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (or donating), but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,”. There is so much more to say on this topic of freedom in Christ and none of it is about “sinning so that grace may abound”, but it is about putting people before a program. I’m mad when I see suspected spiritual abuse. If this offends you please reread chapter 14 then go on your merry way serving and teaching Jesus. We do not need to agree and that is quite the point.
Last thing before I go, do not visit the Ministero della culture VIVE Vittoriano e Palazzo Venezia. It is a magnificent building but they treat people like a heard of cattle – much worse than the Vatican that just happens to have many visitors. I paid the entry fee (without explanation), was barred from some displays (without explanation), waited over 30 minutes to use a nasty ladies room (no lids) when the employee ladies room remained unused. Not even good photos of Rome. Maybe my smart phone is smarter than me but my photos are just as good. Oh – they did have a nice military display but most museos also have explanations in English – not one word. Finally – more than 1,000 marble steps but rails on only one side and not well attached and wobbly! I also walked to the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo. Truly amazing! I’m tired but what a great day!