From today’s BBC news page: ‘Art lovers in Miami looked on in horror on Thursday night, when a collector accidentally knocked a $42,000 (£34,870) sculpture by US pop artist Jeff Koons to the ground. She had tapped it with her finger, witnesses at the event said.’
I’m really good at being clumsy. If anyone is going to trip over a blade of grass, or blunder into a glass door, or get trapped in a turnstile, or drop a piece of crystal or break a plate… it’s me. But I know how awful that poor woman must have felt, I can feel her rush of adrenaline, embarrassment and regret, her blush of shame and apology, her appalled shock, as everyone in the room turned, as one, to stare at her. Aaargh!
The evening was the opening of an art fair, and the guests were all VIPs. I think that one of them is feeling a little bit less of a VIP today and I’m sure that moment will stay with her for ever, so that she relives it over and over again in her mind, growing hot and itchy with the memory. Or maybe cold and rigid. Something uncomfortable, anyway. Poor woman. Why on earth would anyone touch an exhibit? Apparently she was ‘just checking’ because she couldn’t quite believe that it wasn’t really a balloon!
How ridiculous that a piece of blue porcelain, simplistic and cartoonish, reproduced in its hundreds, should be considered so valuable. Bonkers. How obscene that while some people have no fresh water supply, some are dying of malnutrition and millions lack even basic medical care, lumps of silliness are presented like little porcelain gods, so that gullible people with more money than sense can stand around, sipping wine and worshipping them. Obscene.
Most of my pals are artists of one shape or another, and as a writer I know that Art is an attempt to reach out and make contact, to share a vision, and give insight and encourage empathy, but this? The balloon dog? The first one, yes. A few dollars. That was a concept from the artist’s mind, worth paying him for the time he took and the cost of the materials, and a margin on top to put bread on the table. The labourer is worthy of his hire. But let’s not get silly about this – one of his efforts, a 10 foot tall balloon dog has sold for 58million dollars, while a ten inch one will set you back 10,000 dollars, and that’s just the tip of the mountain – there are hundreds of the damn things! Hundreds! Red, blue, orange, big, small…. The artist, Jeff Koons, is unperturbed when one of them is broken – when one is destroyed the value of all the others increases. Yesterday’s shattered statue was one of 799 and now there is one less balloon dog in the world! The more we smash the happier the Art dealers will become.
Bonkers. What a world we make, us humans. What a mess.
Anyway, anyway, my friends, talking of the mess we make, I’ve been reading the news from Ukraine, anticipating the Spring offensive and trying to get to grips with the idea of loving our enemy. I find it needs some thought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually boiling over with hatred – I can manage to have good feelings and wish only good things to most people, even the stinker who let his dog foul right outside my front door. Look how good I am at this loving lark, I can love even him (or her)!
Gosh, I am so good at loving, eh? I mean, OK, this dog owner isn’t my actual, gun-toting, blood thirsty enemy but they’re a bit annoying. I mean, I deserve a pat on the back that I even try to love them, eh?
But the Ukraine war. Real enemies. How am I getting on with loving them? The Russian soldier, advancing on a village where the young have fled and only the old remain. Can I love him? Not so easily. But I don’t have a choice. I must love him. How do I love him as he robs and kills and rapes? How do I love his officers who command him to do these things, who train their missiles on residential streets and hospitals? How do I love Vladimir Putin? Well, I don’t get to choose. I must pray for him … and for him … and for him…. and the prayers must be more than a form of words. They must be a form of love.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
I confess that I find it much easier to pray whole heartedly for the Ukrainian soldier than I do for the Russian aggressor, but I know that, in the confusion of war, atrocities are committed by both sides. How then do I pray for all of them? Is that even possible? Will I end up babbling and muttering, while I think of other things? I’ve become aware that my prayers for the invading Army are sometimes (often) dutiful and meaningless.
So I’ve started praying for the mothers. The mothers. That’s the way I enter into prayer for the soldiers, whether they’re Russian, Ukrainian, mercenary, whoever. If we think of the mothers and the fathers, and the wives and children of these soldiers, we begin to understand their tragedy and to share it. It becomes possible, necessary, to pray for the soldiers themselves and to care. To feel pity for the young Russian lad sent to fight and kill in a war he is not even allowed to call a war, poorly and hastily trained, badly equipped, bewildered, lied to, threatened with death if he refuses, maybe away from home for the first time. The lad crying of the cold, terrified. And then his officers, how do we pray for them? The same way. Think of their families, of the lives they thought they would lead, the stresses on them, the propaganda they have lived with, the demands made upon them.
And then, think of the love of Jesus. That knowing all this, knowing all their weakenss and their dreams and ambitions, knowing all their cruelty and their vulnerability, their humanity, they are still and always precious in his sight. Precious Russian soldier. Precious Putin. So precious that God became man for them, so precious that Jesus died for them.
That makes it more attainable, the caring thing.
But here’s the truth – I’m split in two. I am a soldier’s daughter, and a soldier’s sister, and an ex-soldier, and I want Putin to be defeated. Gloriously defeated. I want him brought to his knees and I want that with a certain degree of relish. Oh, yes. I really really do. I scan the news every day for developments in the war, the land taken and re-taken, the casualties, the supplies, the weather. And sometimes, especially when the report is that Russia is advancing, prayer is hard.
So. I ain’t perfected this prayer thing yet!
I take comfort from Philippians 1:6 ‘And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.’
I am a work in progress. When that silly blue dog sculpture was shattered, someone gathered up all the fragments because even they are worth a load of dosh in this crazy world. When something is loved, even when it’s broken, smashed, it has value.
There’s an analogy there, if I could only find it.
Psalm 51:17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.