February 27, 2012

The Disciple Experience

Another guest post from SPU professor, Dr. Brian Bantum, reflecting on his participation in a recent art installation ("Paradigm Shift") based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

Going through Mark was the first step in beginning to conceptualize the art/theology installation. We were encouraged to look for and identify main themes that could serve as a foundation. While reading Mark, I couldn’t help but notice the stupidity of the disciples. I didn't expect them to be geniuses, but their shortcomings and lack of understanding seemed to jump out at me as Mark gleefully highlighted their collective ignorance. Jesus had to regularly repeat himself and break down parables in further explanation for them. The man was even driven to anger because of them! Going through the gospel, I find myself thinking, “How dense can these guys be?” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is right there beside them, in the flesh, traveling and performing miracles and yet they are unable to make clear connections. The twelve had, unfortunately, fallen under my unforgiving and severe eye of judgment.

Well, God is never one to give up on an opportunity to open my eyes to a bit of empathy and insight. Little did I know, while working on this installation, I would experience a very humbling change of heart toward the twelve chosen men of God. As much as I hate to admit it, over the nine days building the piece, I found myself in very similar situations as the “duh-ciples.”

There I was, a visual communications major who had never built anything larger than a small box in her life, and I was expected to build 12 ft walls with intimidating power tools that could probably take my fingers off if I wasn’t careful. I was a bundle of timid anxiety from the first day out. While building the piece, I often found myself unable to comprehend the big picture of what we were doing at the moment. Even though Professor Feldman would patiently explain it to me multiple times, I could feel the look of complete and utter incomprehension plastered to my face as he explained why we were doing what we were doing. Thankfully, the man is a saint and kindly waited as my brain tried to wrap itself around the foreign concept of curved wall blocking. After repeated experiences like this, I found it was easier to stop asking why. I realized it was difficult for me to visualize the pieces while they were still naked 2 x 4’s and scattered bits of plywood. I found that if I was just obedient and patiently completed the task I was given, step by step, the walls slowly began to take shape and understanding began to dawn on me.

As we continued and became more familiar with the process, the work made more sense and was easier to grasp. Nevertheless, there would always be those times when we were asked to do something new and I would find myself completely lost without anything to hold on to except for the reassurance that Professor Feldman knew what he was doing. It was in the midst of this experience that I realized I was just like the disciples. I had thrown myself into a large project that I had no idea how to begin or where to start. I had no more skill of carpentry and architecture initially than the disciples had in public speaking and evangelizing. We were ordinary people thrown into situations beyond our comfort zones, but we were there because we wanted to be. We may not have understood everything that was going on, but we had a leader who knew what he was doing and whom we trusted in. Thus ended my brief reign as a superior being to the disciples. Now, I take comfort in having shared a similar fish-out-of-water situation. I feel that if the twelve and I were able to talk over a hot beverage, we could commiserate and bond over our common failings. Like the disciples, I may not always see and understand the big picture at first, but I try my best to remain obedient and keep the faith in the one to whom I have entrusted my life. As long as I take it step by step, it will be built.

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