Raise a (gentle) ruckus

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I attended a protest rally recently.

I didn’t carry a placard, didn’t raise a clenched fist. I joined in with the chanting, but only in a very quiet voice. I felt a bit uncomfortable. That type of resistance just isn’t me. And then I felt guilty for not shouting louder. Did I not care enough?

But is that form of protest my only option? If I’m not a slogan-shouting, flag-waving freedom fighter, how do I best express my despair with the things that are awry in the world just now?

Last week I came across this lovely illustration by Mari Andrew and it reassured me.

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There are all kinds of ways to resist and many of them are gentle and full of grace. They may not be direct or vocal but they are subversive, wrapped in joy and beauty.

One of my favourite writers seems to agree.

On receiving an award at the recent gathering of the Writers Guild, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (creator of tv programme The West Wing) lamented the current state of play in American politics before asking the room:

“So what can we do? A lot, actually. Because the most powerful delivery system ever invented for an idea is a story.”

In other words, show your resistance in your art.

Be creative with your protest.

When the landscape around you is in rubble and ruins, plant colourful flowers that speak of hope and new life. When the news is full of violence and greed, share stories of peace and wild generosity. In the face of uncertainty, paint your truth. Stand toe to toe with despair and sing your splendid joyful song.

As I watched the people around me at the march, read their banners and listened to the chants and angry cries, from somewhere on the other side of the crowd came a very different sound.

Singing.

Gentle female voices raised together in a chorus.

Eventually those ladies marched past me. I couldn’t read their banner to see who they were but they looked like seasoned campaigners, women who had attended many rallies over many years to make their voices heard in the most beautiful way. Raising a gentle ruckus.

They made me feel at home. They reminded me that I don’t have to shout to be heard.

The writer Sally Lloyd Jones said,

“I see all of it [art] as redemptive. Sin has unravelled the fabric of the world and art is one of the ways that we re-weave, however we do it.”

There are large gaping holes being torn all over this wonderful world of ours and it’s up to you and me to pick up our chosen tool or instrument and begin the slow, delicate but deliberate process of pulling the frayed edges back together. I take great heart and encouragement from those leading the creative way. People like Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective, cross-stitching their mini protest banners for London Fashion Week, or Shane Claiborne and his friends, turning guns into garden spades and musical instruments, or Mari Andrew sharing her art on Instagram and reminding people like me that there are many ways to make your voice heard.

And so I salute my fellow marchers, the flag-waving, slogan-shouting masses. I need you. The world needs you. And I will stand with you.

I may simply choose to raise a more gentle ruckus.

Whatever is lovely

Earlier this year I attended a workshop during a conference where we were encouraged to think about our strengths and passions through a series of activities. One exercise involved looking at a range of postcards, each of which named a strength, and picking the one that resonated most with us and then reflecting on some questions. I selected ‘appreciation of excellence and beauty’ and sat down to ponder – and it’s something I’ve been mulling ever since. How is this a strength? What is it good for? Encouragement for people who have done something excellent or beautiful? I hope so. But is there more to it than that?

Recently I was reminded of some verses that I love, but have now come to see with fresh eyes. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4

The surprising and joyful thing that I found afresh in theses verses is the second half of the list. Things that are true, noble, right and pure would seem to be obvious exhortations for us as God’s people, because those seem holy, righteous and all very Christian. But the fact that we are also encouraged to focus on what is lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, with equal measure to the first half of the list, means that there must be some holiness and righteousness baked right in to those things too, right?

Maybe it seems very obvious to you reading this, and I am just thoroughly dense, but until recently I hadn’t fully appreciated the true value in loveliness. I knew that God was the creator who made all things good and beautiful and so of course, seeing his creation made me feel connected to him and brought worship to my soul. But there’s something more to it than that. When I see something lovely or excellent, not just in nature but also man-made, there is a specific type of joy that rises in me, a declaration of ‘yes’ that waters my parched being in a particular way. Admiring an extraordinary painting, an exquisitely made dress or a beautiful building evokes an awe-filled wonder. Somehow, however, I had the impression that this reaction was, dare I say, shallow and that appreciating something simply because of its loveliness was not very worthy, indeed perhaps a little too worldly.

I’ve started to realise how wrong I was. If I’m made in the image of a creator God, who took delight in all kinds of creativity, who did everything with excellence, why would I not be wired to find joy and wonder in what’s around me? Why would those things not bring me incredible pleasure? Setting my attention on what is praiseworthy unlocks something of the Father’s heart in me and for me.

Sunday brought a specific moment of clarity in this. I was exhausted from a busy week and a working weekend and I had a half hour meltdown. Just one of those moments of being overwhelmed and tearful for no one reason that I could put my finger on, but feeling all at sea.004 I came into our little conservatory and sat looking out to the garden. We have a shrub with beautiful purple flowers just outside the window, and the branches were swaying gently in the wind. I looked at the glorious colour, even more radiant in the sunshine, watched as a bee trundled his way around the circumference of the bloom and noticed the contrast of the fir green and sky blue behind this picture.

And peace descended.

In a matter of moments there was calm and a restoration of joy. A simple act of setting my attention on what was lovely had extraordinary impact.

Beauty has a gentle power all of its own. In the midst of a world that can feel dark and dangerous, in the middle of a day that is full of confusion, in a moment that is heartbreakingly empty or impossibly full, taking time to appreciate something that is beautiful can restore some equilibrium.

And so I am making a pledge.

At a time when the loudest voices seem to draw our attention to all that is wrong, I will instead be one who praises that which is excellent. When people draw my attention to the ugly side of life, I will seek out the loveliness. And when I see something that is worthy of praise and admiration, I will call attention to it, draw a crowd around it and together we will take off our shoes and stand on holy ground.