Restore. Reveal.

My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.

Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like originally. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.

Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouged, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and seriously distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.

As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)

Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.

I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.

Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.

Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.

God has so much more for us. So much more.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 NASB)

Precedented: How to Be a Rebuilder

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The situation we find ourselves is not new. I learned recently that my ancestors came from the small town in Europe where the first peasant uprising in the 16th century led to riots, death, and destruction. Systemic injustice builds until something breaks. History teaches us the dangers of looking the other way.

God doesn’t look the other way. In plain and blunt words, he told the people, through the prophet Isaiah, their show of religion that made no difference in their treatment of each other disgusted him.

We would do well to pay attention. From the Voice translation, an extract from Isaiah 58:

Eternal One: They pretend to want to learn what I teach,
As if they are indeed a nation good and true,
as if they hadn’t really turned their backs on My directives.
They even ask Me, as though they care,
about what I want them to be and do, as if they really want Me in their lives.

People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.

Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels,
contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting.
You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.

What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth), and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?
Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?

No, what I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.

A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.

Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.

Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,

If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.

The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.

You will discover there are people among your own
who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins;
You will firm up its ancient foundations.
And all around, others will call you
“Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”

(Isaiah 58:2-12 The Voice)

Seeing the Gold

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When I awoke this morning, I watched gently falling snow transform my garden into a winter wonderland. By the time I showered, dressed, tied back hair desperately in need of a good cut, and made a thermos of hot coffee, snowflakes had morphed into rain. A giant serving of mushy porridgy slush replaced fresh deer tracks on a blanket of white on the street. Wet blobs of snow dropping from branches reminded me more of the glistening on the face of a toddler in need of a tissue than an invitation to a sleigh ride in the lane. Clouds seemed to slouch lower in the valley.

A day that started with Christmas card-worthy potential, photographically speaking, turned into a dull lull on this the shortest, darkest day of the year.

I decided to stay home. I put my camera away and instead plunked myself down to check out social media feed. Socializing there appeared to be as messy as the streets outside. Messier. The minions whose job it is to set up miscommunication, offense and division  apparently have been busy.

Troubles. Conflicts. Obfuscations. Insults. More dismal predictions. Hope sliding into the ditch.

Sadness wrapped itself around my heart. I stared out the window and remembered  another soggy winter day like this one. I know I took photos. I looked for them.

On that day I trudged through the woods looking for something out of the ordinary when I saw something out of the ordinary. Off the main path I caught the glint of a golden Christmas bobble hanging on a little tree.

People sometimes chop down little trees to take home for Christmas, but who decorates a tree and leaves it in the woods? When I asked around later, I learned some local people do this in memory of loved ones who no longer join them at the festive table. The forest provides a quiet place of remembrance for them to go. It felt like finding unexpected gold in the tearful territory of grief.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 50 lately. I somehow feel it is important for the times we live in. In this psalm God tells his children he is about to deal with their lax attitudes toward sin. Perhaps the time has come to “have a little talk with Papa” and for an adjustment in attitude. The psalm begins with images of the beauty of his creative expression in nature and desire to communicate with us, but soon becomes somber.

“Do I need your young bull or goats from your fields as if I were hungry?
Every animal of field and forest belongs to me, the Creator.
I know every movement of the birds in the sky,
and every animal of the field is in my thoughts.
The entire world and everything it contains is mine.
If I were hungry, do you think I would tell you?
For all that I have created, the fullness of the earth, is mine.
Am I fed by your sacrifices? Of course not!
Why don’t you bring me the sacrifices I desire?
Bring me your true and sincere thanks,
and show your gratitude by keeping your promises to me, the Most High.” (verses 9 to 14 in The Passion Translation)

Then this golden invitation and promise (I hear it in a loving, gentle, yet firm Father’s tone):
“Honor me by trusting in me in your day of trouble.
Cry aloud to me, and I will be there to rescue you.” (verse 15)

He also speaks to the downright wicked, those who disregard his words and think they can continue to get away with crimes against humanity. It includes serious warnings not to mess with him or take him for granted.

“The sins of your mouth multiply evil.
You have a lifestyle of lies,
devoted to deceit as you speak against others,
even slandering those of your own household!
All this you have done and I kept silent,
so you thought that I was just like you, sanctioning evil.
But now I will bring you to my courtroom
and spell out clearly my charges before you.
This is your last chance, my final warning. Your time is up!” (verses 20 -22)

It ends with another appeal and a promise.

“The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of grace,
always choosing to walk with me in what is right.
This is the sacrifice I desire from you.
If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”

There it is, like an unexpected beautiful tree of remembrance of a loving relationship hidden deep in the woods on rainy day. This is what his heart desires.

“A life lived in the gratitude of grace.”

This is not about behaviour, or rules, or sacrifices. The way out of the mess we find ourselves in is to renew our relationship by turning to our Maker with gratitude, by receiving his empowering grace to be all he sees when he looks at us, and trust in him in the day of trouble.

He is our hope. He has a plan for our good, because he is good and because he loves us more than we can ever imagine.

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The old carol says: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.